ACF Annual General Meeting 2020 - CEO’s report

ACF's Annual General Meeting 2020 – CEO’s report

Carol Mack, ACF's CEO, delivered her report to members at the AGM on 23 September 2020. This is her speech in full


Looking back at the AGM minutes from January, so much has happened that I find it hard to believe it was only nine months ago. In these remarks, I’ll focus on some of the specific activities we undertook over the past year and look ahead to future plans.

Clearly Covid-19 has been the dominant factor in all of our lives over the past 9 months.

We do not know when and how this will ‘end’. But what we do know is that the money that has been lost to the causes and communities you care about – through lost opportunities for charities to fundraise and to trade – and the additional demands that Covid-19 has created far outstrip the resources that foundations can bring to bear on these issues.

So, it is more important than ever that foundation money is well spent – that it doesn’t unknowingly duplicate or leave gaps by oversight.

In the first few weeks of lockdown ACF brought together members online in a series of meetings for you to share your insights and practical responses to the emergency. Collaboration has always been at the heart of ACF and these meetings showed that more than ever you wanted to work with other funders in your response to this unprecedented crisis.

Already many of you are working together in new ways to align and co-ordinate your funding. The London Community Response Fund led by London Funders is a fantastic example – a pooled and aligned fund uniting 50 funders and distributing £18m to date. ACF is in touch with a range of other collaborations – funders coming together to share knowledge and funding on issues from children and young people to community justice. But it can be difficult to get a picture of what is going on and how to join in.

To tackle this challenge, ACF is working with members to launch a Funders’ Collaborative Hub, which will make these collaborations more visible and provide a single place for funders to connect with others who want to work on an issue. With support from several members inspired by those early meetings we have been developing the Hub over the summer. We’re already working behind the scenes to connect funders with the collaborations, and will formally launch the Hub website in October.

Looking ahead we hope that the Hub will support you in your individual and collective response to Covid-19 and in particular the recovery and renewal that will so desperately be needed.

I’d also like to reassure you that while we have rightly and rapidly altered our plans to focus on Covid-19, we haven’t been blown completely off course. Rather the virus has raised the stakes of our role to support foundations to be ambitious and effective in the way that they use their resources for good. 

The past year has seen the culmination of our Stronger Foundations initiative, with the publication of six reports, developed with you, our members, on six different aspects of foundation activity; from Strategy and Governance to Funding Practice. We are incredibly grateful to the 100 members who gave up their time to serve on the six working groups that explored these topics.

Our Head of Policy, Max Rutherford and his team worked through all of the insights you generated to produce 6 reports setting out pillars of excellent practice on these areas – and we ran well-attended virtual launch events to provide opportunities for you to engage with the findings. From these events and from your feedback we know that the pillars resonate with you – and that many of you are already using them to support your work.

We also know that being faced with 40 pillars of ambitious and excellent practice across six subject areas can perhaps be a little daunting. So, we are developing some tools for you to navigate through the reports and prioritise some of the key pillars – to help you work out what’s most important to you. We’ll be sharing more about this at our annual event for foundation Chairs in October, and at our annual conference on 25 & 26 November – both of which are taking place online for the very first time. As you can see from our website we have some great speakers lined up for the conference, so please save the dates and keep an eye out for our communications about when and how to book.

We are also looking at how we embed the Stronger Foundations work in all of our member support – the training events that we run, and the resources we provide.

I’ve mentioned two of the big initiatives that we’ve been working on this year – but I would like to reassure you that we haven’t given up on our day job either.

First and foremost, we are here to support you – and we have continued to do this over the past 12 months.

I’m very proud of our Funder Network website, which we relaunched last year. It is a brilliant online community that gives you the opportunity to ask and answer questions of your peers. I had a look just now and in the last couple of weeks there have been discussions on topics ranging from probationary periods for trustees to the role of blockchain and artificial intelligence in grantmaking, and everything in between. Funder Network is free to use, and I thoroughly recommend it.

ACF’s Katie Bower and the hardworking membership team have done an amazing job at putting all of our network meetings and training events online – and we are finding that a wider range of members from across the UK are now able to attend. When we are able to start face to face meetings again, we want to consider how we can continue to be so readily accessible to members who cannot easily travel to London. We are also in the early stages of implementing a new database which will enable us to better tailor what we offer to meet the need of individual members.

Gail Cunningham, our Head of Investment Learning, has taken our Social Impact Investors Group online, as well as all of our endowment seminars and events – this has been a growing part of ACF’s membership offer for some time and Gail is now looking at how we can build on our Stronger Foundations Investment report to develop our work in this area.

As recent events in California reminded us, the climate crisis has not gone away – and following on from our conference on this topic last November, ACF is now hosting the UK Funder Commitment on Climate Change, again developed by you our members. 48 foundations have signed up already, and over the next year we would like to see this number grow. We have been instrumental in efforts to develop an international funder commitment on climate change, and national initiatives in France and Spain, through our links with the DAFNE network, which brings ACF together with sister organisations from across Europe.

Closer to home over the past year Rick Hebditch, ACF’s Director of External Affairs and his expert team have represented you on a wide range of policy issues. To give just two examples:

This year we successfully argued to Treasury and HMRC that charitable trusts should not have to register with the Trust Registration Service, because they are already regulated by the UK’s three charity regulators. We worked closely with other infrastructure bodies like CFG and NCVO and BOND on this and were delighted to be able to save many of you from a wholly unnecessary and additional layer of administration.

We raised the profile of foundations with Westminster Select Committees. As a result of our evidence the Liaison Select Committee recommended that all select committees should consider foundations as a valuable source of expertise in their inquiries on a wide range of topics.

After a rigorous and competitive process, we joined the SORP Committee, which now gives us an opportunity to feed the issues that matter to foundations into the way that charity accounting standards are set throughout the whole of the UK

If you want to keep up to speed with our policy work on your behalf, then I’d urge you to join our Members' Policy Forum – free for members to join - you’ll get regular updates and you can also suggest topics for the Forum to engage with at its meetings. The Forum is a valuable space for foundations and policy makers to consider issues of common concern.

Longstanding friends of ACF will notice that I’ve namechecked several new faces so far, and we have indeed been making some long overdue investments in our member services. One of the reasons that we have been able to do this with confidence, is because of our corporate partnerships programme, now in its third year. Our four official partners, Cazenove, CCLA, Mercer and Ruffer, not only provide financial support, they also share the expertise that makes our investment training programme possible.

As our members, I know that you are interested not only in the services we provide to support you, but in the health of ACF itself so that we are around to serve foundations in the long term.

I would like to take a moment to look inward at ACF and how we do what we are doing. To have an honest conversation among friends.

We are very mindful of the mantra that we should practice what we preach, and are looking at how we apply some of the Stronger Foundations principles to what ACF itself does. Like some of you, we are in the early stages of grappling with many of these topics. Last October for example we published our first ever Diversity, Equity and Inclusion policy for ACF on our website and nearly one year on we are now reviewing our progress against that policy.

We are making changes to how we appoint our board, encouraging and actively engaging with all members to promote ACF trusteeship, so that the board is diverse and representative not only of our broad membership but society itself.

We have also changed the way in which we recruit our staff. We now shortlist with the BeApplied platform that enables you to sift blind, we anonymise CVs, and we don’t ask for unnecessary qualifications and experience. And we’ve Introduced flexible working arrangements.

But we still have a long way to go before our staff team reflects the diversity of the population of the UK, and this will be something we will need to continue to work at.

We are also mindful of the leadership role that we play in the wider sector. Following the publication of our Stronger Foundations report on Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) we set up a resource page to support members in their work in this area. We published a DEI Charter for our Social Impact Investing Network. We published good practice principles for integrating a DEI lens into funding the Covid-19 response, developed by Comic Relief and others. And we hosted a webinar that took a critical look at foundation responses to the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on Black and minority ethnic people and communities – 200 members attended – and we know from the feedback we received that many of you found this helpful.

More broadly we are committed to reviewing ACF’s own strategy through a DEI lens and will be picking this up as part of our strategic review next year.

Our current strategy has been in place for 4 years and next year will be its final year. I hope that you will agree that we have lived up to our promise to support foundations to be ambitious and effective in the way that they use their resources for social good. In 2016 you, our members, asked us to strengthen our policy voice, and to be more challenging of our sector. I believe that with your help, we have delivered on this.

We are all living through a global pandemic – the ACF team, like all of you, are dealing with different and difficult individual circumstances and challenges. Every single member of the team has done an absolutely phenomenal job in continuing to turn up daily and to serve you in their individual roles. I am deeply grateful to them all.

I would also like to thank our amazing board for their support, their leadership and their ambition for what ACF can achieve for the foundation movement.  Most especially I would like to thank you our members. Thank you for your belief in the power of networks, and in the value that an association like ours can bring to foundations, individually and collectively. I would particularly like to thank all of you who speak at our events, join our working groups, write for our magazines and convene our networks.  Many newcomers to our sector comment on how generous foundations are with their time and with their expertise, and without this we would all be much the poorer. Thank you all for everything that you do to make ACF possible – now, more than ever, it is greatly needed.



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