New ACF research shows foundation grant-making remained high, despite growing challenges for foundation sector

14 December 2021

The Association of Charitable Foundations (ACF) has today (14 December 2021) published Foundation Giving Trends 2021, its annual research on giving, income and assets among the 300 largest foundations. The research is made possible by support from the Pears Foundation. 

Overall, Foundation Giving Trends 2021 finds that foundation grant-making has continued to grow, rising by 7.8% this year (excluding the Wellcome Trust). Giving by family and personal foundations grew by nearly a quarter (23%), though corporate giving fell by 12% in real terms.

Voluntary income to the top 300 foundations increased strongly in 2019/20, by 11% in real terms. Investment income did not see the same level of growth, and fell by over six percent if Wellcome Trust is included. 

The report authors, Professor Cathy Pharoah and Dr Catherine Walker, have also looked at how foundation spending and assets have compared with the UK economy as a whole. This analysis, based on the 100 biggest family foundations, finds that both foundation assets and spending have grown significantly more than the UK economy has since the early 2000s. 

The research, which is based on analysis of annual accounts of the largest philanthropically-funded foundations in the UK, also looked at the response to Covid-19. This additional research was based on a further qualitative analysis of the reports and accounts of a purposive sample of 50 foundations. The survey found that foundations responded swiftly and decisively, committing significant amounts to emergency funding and changing practices almost overnight. 

Commenting on the report, ACF Chief Executive Carol Mack said: “This year’s research shows how foundations have stepped up when the Covid-19 pandemic hit. Significantly, foundations are continuing to choose to maintain or increase their grant-making, despite the fact that this research covers a period with the economic uncertainty of Brexit in 2019 and then right into the pandemic in 2020.

“The research provides a valuable oversight of the key trends in foundation giving, income and assets and I’m sure ACF members will want to look at the findings to see how the sector as a whole responded at a difficult time”.

Professor Cathy Pharoah said: “The series of Foundation Giving Trends now goes back to 2008. The series provides a powerful route to track how foundations spending, income and assets have changed over time, as well as detailing the drivers of changes on a year-by-year basis. This year’s report is particularly important to help understanding of the situation for foundations as the profound impacts of Covid-19 began to be felt across the sector.”

Dr Catherine Walker said: “This year’s report highlights the various ways in which foundations responded to the early phases of pandemic. The foundations studied for this analysis responded quickly to the crisis, committing significant amounts to emergency funding, and changing some practices almost overnight. Not only did foundations ‘show up’ but in many cases they led the way, forging a path to get money to the sector quickly and working collaboratively with other funders.”

View the report here or watch a video with Dr Cat Walker and Dr Cathy Pharoah exploring the key findings.