ACF sets out seven characteristics to help foundations improve learning and impact

06 Feb 2020 News

Trusts and foundations should ensure that their processes are proportionate and not inadvertently discriminatory, when thinking about the overall impact they have, according to a new report from the Association of Charitable Foundations (ACF).

The new report, Impact and Learning: The Pillars of Stronger Foundation Practice, is the second report emerging from the Stronger Foundations initiative and looks at how foundations understand the total impact they have.

It sets out seven characteristics of excellent practice, which include understanding the mission, basing decisions in evidence, using all the tools available, avoiding harmful processes, learning from failure and thinking collaboratively. 

These pillars are relevant to all foundations, whatever their remit, size or starting point, according to the report. But ACF’s chief executive, Carol Mack, said foundations must weigh up when to use the tools.

Mack said: “Not every tool will be deployed or appropriate in every situation. There will be trade-offs. But a stronger foundation is one that weighs its choices carefully. It is also important to consider the negative impacts, however unintentional, that foundations can have. 

“As our first Stronger Foundations report on diversity, equity and inclusion explored, boards that lack diversity may not be attuned to the full impact of their decisions and processes.
“But there are other types of negative impacts: an investment portfolio that does not reflect our values; burdensome application or reporting processes; ameliorating symptoms, rather than tackling the causes of the problems we are seeking to address. We are confident that this report will be relevant for all foundations, including corporate and family foundations, and those with few or no paid staff.”

The report is informed by the Impact and Learning working group, external experts, the wider literature and ACF's own analysis.

The report’s pillars “will continue to evolve and the bar for excellence will continue to rise”. But ACF says that by embedding this approach in everything that a foundation does, it will ensure it is not only fit for purpose, but confident of its mission, and realising its potential.

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