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Foundations should be ‘neighbourly’ but don't need integrated strategies, says report

05 Feb 2020 News

Charitable trusts and foundations should work in a “neighbourly” way rather than have integrated strategies, a study has concluded.

The report, The Strength of Weak Ties: how charitable trusts and foundations achieve more by working in complementary ways, is based on an in-depth study of 25 national and regional trusts and foundations. The research was commissioned in 2019 by Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland, and is authored by Tony Chapman, the director of policy and practice at St Chad’s College, Durham University.

The purpose of the research was to ask: “Should foundations work together much more closely, with shared strategic objectives in mind, to maximise the benefit to North East England from their collective effort?”. The research also analyses evidence on the extent and patterns of distribution of funding in North East England using data from Third Sector Trends and 360 Giving.

Emerging evidence from the Third Sector Trends Study indicates that 32 per cent of voluntary organisations believe that grant income from foundations will increase in the next two years, including 18 per cent who expect that grant income will increase “significantly”.

The report finds that while foundations “cherish their autonomy”, they do not make choices in isolation.

Indeed, although trusts and foundations achieve more by retaining their autonomy, they should work together in complementary ways or as “good neighbours” to one another. “By working as autonomous institutions but in complementary ways, foundations achieve more,” it said.

The report finds that it is difficult for foundations to adopt formal, “collectively-owned” strategies, and in any case these may create no more social benefit than is produced now. 

Although some foundations work together formally, this tends to only constitute a small element of their overall activity. “Most foundations choose not to embrace the idea of working together ‘strategically’ because this could undermine their autonomy. But they believe strongly in working in complementary ways and being good neighbours to one another.”

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