Foundations and safeguarding: emerging thoughts and next steps

The issue of safeguarding within the charity sector has been brought into sharp focus following a number of high-profile revelations over the last month. The risks of getting this wrong and harming the very people a charity is seeking to help have been brought into sharp relief. Never has the first principle of social action - do no harm - seemed more relevant.

Put simply, foundations, like the rest of the sector, have a duty to ensure they are doing what they can to get things right.

As both funders and as charities themselves, foundations have an important role to play in recognising risk and vulnerability and in thinking through how to optimise their decision-making, monitoring and relationship management in the service of those organisations and individuals they work with.

At ACF, we have already heard from a large number of foundations who are keen to refresh or look again at their processes as well as learn from the leading practice that already exists.

In response, ACF convened a small intelligence-gathering meeting of foundations with significant expertise in this area. This was intended as a first step towards the production of a framework for foundations, designed to enable them to think through their approach in a way that remains meaningfully aligned with their charitable objectives.

ACF will share a first draft of this framework with all those who have registered their interest in safeguarding with us over the past few weeks, before sharing the final version of the document more widely. In the meantime, we have set up a dedicated LinkedIn group for foundations in order to facilitate immediate intelligence sharing between peers.

What is already clear from our discussions is that foundations are, of course, ready and willing to meet robustly any and all regulatory duties on safeguarding and associated matters, but in doing so are also keen to approach their particular role with an informed awareness of the unique challenges and opportunities that come along with their position in the charitable ecosystem.

Equally, ensuring strong and impactful relationships with grantees remains a key concern, and facilitating this over the course of a funding relationship requires a tailored approach, with considerations relating to proportionality, trust, information sharing and monitoring all needing to be taken into account.

So, while recognising both the urgency and the importance of the issue, it is also clear that foundations are keen not to slip into the role of proxy regulators, an approach which would likely be detrimental to the establishment and preservation of vital and effective funding relationships over the longer term and also beg questions about grant volume and internal expertise.

Instead, foundations are looking at how they might best contribute to the enhancement of safeguarding by being rigorous, diligent, transparent, and crucially – solution-led. Through the relationships they build and maintain, foundations are well placed to be a part of raising standards through open, honest dialogue and working with grantees to build capacities, capabilities and cultures in which the needs of beneficiaries are paramount.

Of course, underpinning this approach are a host of knotty tensions, practical questions and regulatory considerations. And it is these more detailed issues that we hope to address in our forthcoming framework.

In the meantime, if you have any further thoughts please do get in touch:

Carol Mack
Chief Executive
Association of Charitable Foundations

We support UK foundations and grant-making charities