What is ACF doing about diversity, equity and inclusion?

The foundation sector is increasingly grappling with issues of diversity, equity and inclusion.

And rightly so.

It’s a pressing concern, with widespread implications that relate to how and who we fund, the range of our mandate, and how we might look to work through and beyond the limits of existing power structures.

As the membership body for trusts and foundations in the UK, ACF both recognises and takes seriously our role in enabling, supporting, and challenging the sector as it seeks to make these changes.

Part of this involves being alive to the range, variety and scope of the practice already being undertaken, sharing good practice and ensuring there is a space for meaningful discussion.

But more than this, we also realise that it requires ACF itself be willing to act.

It also requires us to be open to challenge and criticism, both of the work we are doing and the manner and speed with which we are delivering it.

We actively welcome such feedback as we work together to move the needle. This is part of being a responsive membership organisation, and as such we are committed to being transparent about the work we have done, that which is in train, and that which is currently being planned. 

In that spirit, here is the first of what I hope will be multiple and varied updates about the work ACF is doing on diversity, equity and inclusion.

Specific initiatives will of course yield discrete outputs and products which we will share as soon as they are available.

We are aware this is not enough …

Before we go any further in sharing the work we have undertaken as an organisation, it is important to note that we consider the programme to be evolving and currently incomplete. The issues surrounding diversity, equity and inclusion are complex, dependent on a number of factors, and have implications across a range of foundation activity and practice. We know that meetings and technocratic interventions will not be sufficient or transformative on their own, and we are committed to exploring additional actions and initiatives on an ongoing basis.

We are building an evidence base …

ACF commissioned the most robust evidence possible on the nature and scale of the diversity challenge faced by foundation boards. We worked with Cass Business School, using data held by the Charity Commission for England and Wales. The report did not make for comfortable reading.

You can read it in full here.

And you can read our summary of the findings here.

We have made it a major work stream …

ACF’s Stronger Foundations initiative includes a major workstream on diversity, equity and inclusion. The initiative aims to help charitable foundations and grant-making trusts identify and pursue excellent practice in six aspects of the work of a foundation, each taken forward by a working group of members. The diversity, equity and inclusion working group launched first, in May 2018. Its principal purpose is to examine, discuss and debate challenging questions about foundation practice related to its theme. The group's work will contribute significantly to the raw material gathered through the initiative as a whole, from which ACF will create a variety of products, including a 'rapporteur's report' summarising the breadth of discussions and evidence gathered, as well as a self-assessment tool for foundations.

The DEI working group is comprised of senior foundation representatives drawn from across ACF's membership, who are meeting 7 times over an 18 month period. The meetings, which vary in format depending on the topic and desired content, include presentation of evidence (by experts from within and beyond the foundation sector), provocations and challenges, small group discussions, whole group exercises and visits.

The group's full terms of reference can be found here and snapshots from the individual meetings here.

More information about the initiative and the other working groups is found here.

We are actively platforming challenge …

At our latest annual conference, the plenary session and keynote addresses talked directly to the issue of diversity, equity and inclusion, especially as it relates to social division and power. In addition to the plenary discussion, we offered breakout sessions on ‘Talking about race – challenges and actions’, and ‘Nothing about us without us; working with disability’, as well as a lunchtime briefing session on diversity in foundations with the 2027 coalition.

You can find resources and presentations from the conference here.

We are highlighting the issues …

ACF has either written about, or had its research on diversity cited in; The Financial Times, Civil Society News, Third Sector and on Radio 4’s You and Yours. While a small part of the picture, raising awareness has a role to play in building support for action.

We are looking at our own practice …  

ACF knows that it has to be reflective on its own practices as an organisation. To that end we have begun to adjust our own recruitment and HR processes.

Our constitution requires ACF’s board to be elected by its members, and our trustees have explicitly encouraged members to nominate Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people, and those with lived experience of disability, who were previously under-represented. Within the limits set by our constitution we have also used other tools such as co-options to the board.

We are running targeted events for trustees …

As well as talking to foundation boards on a one-to-one level, ACF has also run bespoke events on the issue of diversity. Our annual Chairs event included an extended discussion on this topic, and saw Chairs from across the sector engage deeply with the issue.

We are engaged in cross sectoral work …

ACF’s policy and external affairs team has been engaged in a number of meetings designed to map activity across the charitable sector and seek ways that its various stakeholders can work together to ensure maximum impact. While such initiatives are still in the exploratory stage, we firmly believe that diversity, equity and inclusion are vital considerations for the whole sector.

We are producing briefings, content and information …

ACF has produced or hosted a range of content related to diversity, equity and inclusion. This ranges from basic guidance on diversifying your board, to a series of provocative and challenging blogs and videos that have been produced by, or in conjunction with, the diversity, equity and inclusion Stronger Foundations working group. 

We are seeing change …

While there is obviously a long way to go, the level of engagement and enthusiasm ACF has seen from its members indicates a deep and growing willingness to tackle questions head-on, hear challenge, examine practice and work towards solutions that will improve both the sector, and crucially, those it exists to support. There are foundations that are looking at how best to embed DEI frameworks in all of their work, there are foundations who are restructuring their governance and there are foundations who are adjusting their funding practice to place questions of DEI firmly in the centre.

We are continuing to ask what more we can do …

As I mentioned up front, we know that ACF will have to continue to work on and develop both its activity and the support it provides to members. There are questions still to resolve about how we build DEI training into our learning and professional development programme, what additional evidence might help the sector focus its efforts, how to ensure the work does not become siloed and how progress can be driven and tracked across time.

In doing so we recognise both the urgency of this challenge, and the fact that it cannot be fixed overnight. As ever, myself and my team look forward to working with our dedicated and supportive membership on these vital issues.

Carol Mack
Chief Executive, ACF

We support UK foundations and grant-making charities