Grant-making foundations - partners for good?

03 November 2017

A new report finds that innovative partnerships make foundations better at delivering social good...

It’s often thought that foundations don’t do enough in partnership – that they prefer to act on their own and can sometimes, therefore, be less efficient than they could be at delivering social benefit. But a new exploration of foundations acting in partnership found that many are delivering huge social impact across the spectrum of causes and across every size and type of foundation.

For a second year running, foundations’ grant making in the UK has reached a record high, rising by 12% to £2.9 billion, according to the newly-published Foundation Giving Trends 2017 – covering the top 300 foundation grant-makers. The 12% rise comes on the back of a 5.5% growth in investment income and a 1.9% growth in voluntary income, demonstrating foundations’ ongoing commitment to quickly translating upticks in income into new giving.

Family giving rises by 20%

The report, which ranks the top 300 foundations by the value of their grant-making and provides aggregated data on the size, shape and nature of foundations’ contribution to UK civil society, also details the specific growth trajectories of family and corporate foundations. It shows family giving growing by around 20% this year, and now accounting for almost two thirds of the total grant making, and corporate giving rising by 9% to £269 million.

For the first time, the report also explores the many innovative partnerships undertaken by foundations, including with the public and private sector, designed to drive social benefit in a wide variety of areas. Examples of partnership working are given, one from each decile of the data, showing that partnerships occur in every size and type of foundation in the top 300.

Innovative funding

The analysis shows that innovative examples of funding happen within partnerships with other organisations – either other smaller or larger foundations, or public or private sector bodies. At the report’s launch the authors noted that they think this may be at least partly due to the extra squeeze on resources experienced during the difficult last decade – necessity being the mother of invention, and partnerships being a good way to make the money work harder and go further. Ten examples are given in the report. They include the following:

From the top decile

Brighton’s “South East Dance” company was established with initial funding from the Wolfson Foundation, Arts Council England, the University of Brighton, Brighton and Hove Council and developer U+I, among others, and quickly started developing its innovative Hub: ‘The Dance Space’. However, with the funding coming from so many different sources there were some timing issues with capital inflows and work was in danger of grinding to a halt.

That’s when Esmée Fairbairn Foundation stepped in, alongside the Arts Council, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Nesta and the Gulbenkian Foundation, to provide a bridging loan to ensure that work could carry on with no loss of momentum or money. Part of the wider regeneration of one of England’s most deprived boroughs, The Dance Space hub will provide rental income, thereby reducing the need for public funding, support local artists, and run a community development programme addressing social isolation, substance abuse and domestic falls in the elderly.

From the second decile

One of Barrow Cadbury Trust’s strategic objectives for 2013-16 was to promote support for an immigration system that is fair to both migrants and established residents. Part of this work, which directly addresses the refugee crisis in Europe, involved collaboration with other partners, such as BBC Children in Need, City Bridge Trust, Comic Relief, Lloyds Bank Foundation for England & Wales, Oak Foundation, Paul Hamlyn Foundation, the Rayne Foundation and our very own Pears Foundation to establish a pooled ‘welcome’ fund, called New Beginnings, managed by UK Community Foundations.

The Fund harnesses the unprecedented level of offers of migrant support across the nation, and will support small local groups working to welcome refugees and asylum seekers into their local communities.

From the ninth decile

The Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry has worked in mental health for some time. The Foundation states: ‘...we have seen time and time again that unresolved mental health problems lie at the heart of some of our greatest social challenges.’

To aid this issue, the Foundation partnered with Best Beginnings, CALM – The Campaign Against Living Miserably, Contact (a military mental health coalition), Mind, Place2Be, The Mix, Young Minds, and The Anna Freud Centre, to fund ‘Heads Together’ – a multi-charity campaign challenging the stigma surrounding mental health, and enabling people to talk about issues affecting them.

From the tenth decile

The Roddick Foundation has supported Navdanya, a women-centred movement based in India, with core and project funding for several years. Navdanya is a movement that aims to protect India's biodiversity-based food heritage through seed banks, education and campaigning to reduce the country’s reliance on imports, handouts and aggressive farming techniques.

As part of its campaigning work, Navdanya collaborated with a number of other organisations from the UK, US, Africa, Spain and Norway to produce a film trilogy called Seeds of Freedom, giving a voice to small-scale farming communities in the South. The trilogy was supported by The Roddick Foundation, The A Team Foundation, Comic Relief and others.

These innovative and powerful partnerships show not only what can be done when funders act in tandem, but what is already being achieved. This further underlines the importance of foundations in the funding landscape – not as fillers for a dearth of government funding – but as an innovative force for social good.


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Cat Walker

Dr Cat Walker has worked in the UK voluntary sector for the last 17 years, including Charities Aid Foundation where she was Head of Research from 1999-2006, and Directory of Social Change where she was Head of STEAM (Sector Trends Evidence Analysis Metrics) from 2010-2015.

Cat now works as a freelance consultant and is the founder of The Researchery – a policy-focussed, strategic research surgery for those who want to get more out of data for evidence-led social change we can all believe in.

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