The group is comprised of senior foundation representatives drawn from across ACF's membership, who will meet 7 times over an 18 month period. The meetings, which will vary in format depending on the topic and desired content, will include presentation of evidence (by experts from within and beyond the foundation sector), small group discussions, whole group exercises and visits. The group's full terms of reference can be found here.
Meeting #1 (July 2018) - introductory session
ACF has hosted the first meeting of the Impact and Learning working group, chaired by Jane Steele, Director of Evidence and Learning at Paul Hamlyn Foundation. The group discussed what impact and learning means for foundations, why they are important pursuits, and features of current practice. The group identified that, in a foundation context, impact and learning are closely linked, but distinct, areas of interest.
Over many years, a great deal of evidence has been collected on both, taking account a wide variety of interpretations.
Impact is often interpreted as how foundations:
- achieve impact with their resources to achieve their own mission;
- support the missions of others;
- measure the impact of the allocation of resources.
Learning is often understood as how foundations:
- learn about the impact their resources have made (in terms of the impact individual grants, the collective impact of a programme or portfolio of funding, and the impact of their own activities and processes);
- fund learning activities (e.g. research) and use external sources of evidence;
- are informed by their grantees, partners and communities they support in order to do so more effectively; and
- apply this learning to inform, review and revise their strategy and grant processes.
Meeting #2 (September 2018) - Achieving impact in pursuit of mission
This session explored ways in which foundations seek to achieve impact in pursuit of their own missions, drawing upon an in-depth case study of Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales (LBFEW). Duncan Shrubsole, its Director of Policy, Communications and Research, gave an overview of the process by which it learned from its previous strategy in order to develop its new one (with an underpinning aim of "we fund, we develop, we influence").
He described the changes the foundation made as a result in conceptualising its work and in its practical application with a mission "to partner with small and local charities to help people overcome complex social issues and rebuild their lives".
This included a move towards longer-term grants and more flexible, unrestricted funding of small, local charities, as well as proactive and targeted research projects.
Duncan also described how in order to become a 'learning foundation' it was essential to ensure that staff at all levels had licence to contribute to the process of developing the new strategy. He also summarised the many ways that the foundation seeks to deliver excellent 'customer service' , one aspect of which is to enable grantees and unsuccessful applicants to provide honest feedback about its processes.
The group then considered the transferable and non-transferable elements of LBFEW's approach to other foundation contexts, and the extent to which there were aspects that could be applied universally regardless of a foundation's particular remit and resources.
Meeting #3 (December 2018) - Impact in a place
Speaker Snapshot: Dr Cat Walker
Meeting #4 (March 2019) - Grantee feedback: do we really want to know?
At the fourth meeting, the working group considered the question: grantee feedback: do we really want to know? To stimulate discussion, Anne-Marie Douglas and Kenny Imafidon from Peer Power presented their approach to engaging young people who have been impacted by adverse childhood experiences. Anne-Marie, who founded Peer Power in 2016, emphasised the importance of enabling young people to come up with their own priorities and interests, and involving them in the decisions that affect them.
Kenny Imafidon, who sits on Peer Power’s advisory board, had five key messages for foundations based on his experience of working with grant-makers and grant-seekers. These were:
- Be aware of the power imbalance.
- Practise what you preach.
- Facilitate a place for learning.
- Offer more than money.
- Foster collaboration.
Jane Steele, chair of the working group, then fed in her experience of how Paul Hamlyn Foundation has been using grantee perception reports carried out by the US-based Center for Effective Philanthropy. Based on this and the points made by Kenny above, the working group discussed what they had heard and applied it to their own contexts.
The group considered the role of trustees in working with grantee feedback, from learning lessons to integrating those views into the board’s composition. Issues of willingness were also surfaced: grantees’ willingness to tell the truth, and foundations’ willingness to listen to and, importantly, act upon feedback received. There were also questions from foundations about their processes, and whether they are conducive to soliciting honest feedback, taking meaningful action, and sharing it with sector colleagues.
Below you will find a suggested reading list, which the working group identified and considered as part of its deliberations. If you would like to send suggestions to us, please do by emailing Max@acf.org.uk
- How foundations are using total Impact approaches to achieve their charitable missions (2014), Cabinet Office
- More than grants: How funders can use their influence for good (2017), NPC and Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales
- Learning Together: Actionable Approaches for Grantmakers (2015), Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO)
- The evaluation roundtable, IVAR
- Future of Foundation Philosophy: the CEO Perspective (2016), Center for Effective Philanthropy
Foundation Giving Trends 2018 (2018), ACF - special feature on place-based funding (pp 14-15)
Working in Place: Framework Summary (2016), IVAR
Place-based giving schemes: funding, engaging and creating stronger communities (2018), DCMS, Dr. Catherine Walker
Summary of learning about working and funding in place-based ways (2018), Big Lottery Fund
Benchmarking: foundation evaluation practices (2016) Center for Effective Philanthropy