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Grantmaking by biggest foundations rose sharply last year

14 Dec 2021 News

The UK’s biggest foundations gave out grants worth nearly £3.5bn in 2019-20, a sharp rise on the previous year, according to research.

The Foundation Giving Trends 2021 report, published today by the Association of Charitable Foundations (ACF), analyses income, spending and the value of assets at the country’s 300 largest grantmakers, covering trends both before and during the Covid-19 crisis. 

ACF said that the research shows foundations “stepped up” to support charities during the pandemic, despite the economic uncertainty it caused.

Giving up at family foundations, but down at corporates

The 300 biggest foundations gave out £3.48bn in grants in 2019-20, the research found. This was up 7.8% in real terms compared to the year before.

The rise does not include data from the biggest grantmaker, Wellcome Trust, because its size means even small changes in giving can skew overall results.

ACF also found that giving by personal and family foundations was up 23% in 2019-20, while grant-making by corporate foundations dropped around 12%.

Total giving by the biggest foundations has risen in real terms every year since 2014-15, the report said.

The total value of the foundations’ net assets fell slightly, from £45bn to £44bn, excluding Wellcome Trust. The report said that this is partly down to “a large dip in asset value” at the start of the pandemic.

Biggest grantmakers

Wellcome Trust was the most generous foundation in 2019-20, based on the value of grants made, in giving out £679m.

It was followed by the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (which gave out grants worth £192m), then the David and Claudia Harding Foundation (£100m) and the Leverhulme Trust (£89m).

Extra cash for Covid-19

The report said that foundations “responded swiftly to the crisis, committing significant amounts to emergency funding, and changing practices almost overnight. 

“Not only did foundations ‘show up’ but in many cases they led the way, forging a path to get money to the sector quickly, through emergency grantmaking, swifter processes, and unprecedented levels of collaboration”.

Extra investment during the initial Covid-19 crisis included Wellcome Trust putting £51m into vaccine research and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation releasing £16m as part of a package of “additional support” for charities.

Economic uncertainty

Carol Mack, the chief executive of ACF, said: “This year’s research shows how foundations have stepped up when the Covid-19 pandemic hit. 

“Significantly, foundations are continuing to choose to maintain or increase their grantmaking, despite the fact that this research covers a period with the economic uncertainty of Brexit in 2019 and then right into the pandemic in 2020.

“The research provides a valuable oversight of the key trends in foundation giving, income and assets and I’m sure ACF members will want to look at the findings to see how the sector as a whole responded at a difficult time.”

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