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Half of foundations are trying to 'rebalance power' in the sector, finds survey

28 May 2020 News

Funders should seek to rebalance power dynamics in their work, according to the overwhelming majority of foundation staff surveyed by the Grant Givers’ Movement (GGM).

A report by the GGM, Beyond Words, which analysed survey responses by 140 people working at UK foundations, found that 82% of respondents agreed with the statement: “It is important that foundations share power (e.g. with the charities they fund, through decision-making on grants, and setting strategic priorities).”

Just under 80% agreed that “more equal distribution of power means that foundations will make better grants”.

Half of those surveyed said that their organisations were taking steps to try and redress power imbalances, while 24% said they were not.

Only 4% respondents said that their foundation was most accountable to the “end beneficiaries” of their work. 39% said they were most accountable to their trustees.

Wages fears

Some of those surveyed also reported being worried that the structure and level of grants means foundations end up supporting low pay for charity staff.

The report says: “High scrutiny is paid [by survey respondents] to maintaining low salary levels by funders, creating a ‘race to the bottom’, where partners feel undervalued. Signing up to be a living wage funder could be a way to combat this.”

‘Herculean task’

Beyond Words also argues that it will take substantial action to bring about these changes to power balance. It says: “While some organisations are taking steps to share power, our survey revealed that respondents believe that we still have a long way to go.

“We asked respondents what they saw as the barriers to sharing power. Most respondents feel that what needs to change are old, embedded structural barriers which form the status quo. Responses reflect a sense that this is a herculean task, that changing this requires fundamental ideological and cultural change at organisational and sector level.”

Tribute

The report pays tribute to recent movements which have focused attention on the sector’s power imbalances.

It says: “Overall, respondents overwhelmingly felt that the issue of restoring power was being talked about, in part because of social movements like #ShiftThePower and #CharitySoWhite creating a groundswell around power and trust.

“With the rise in sector-wide conversations around improving processes, cultures and practices in grantmaking, respondents felt that the present moment offers a unique window of opportunity that should be grasped quickly.”

Don't hide power

Max Rutherford, head of policy at the Association of Charitable Foundations, said: “Charitable foundations are increasingly aware of the steps they can take to realise their potential, increase their impact and make the most of all of their resources.

“Key to this is understanding the power they hold and using it strategically. This doesn’t mean hiding power away or pretending it doesn’t exist, but deploying it in ways that achieve maximum public benefit and avoid causing harm.”

Rutherford added that the GGM report “will help to increase the momentum towards a stronger and more equitable foundation sector”.

The Grant Givers’ Movement

The GGM was founded two years ago. The current organising group includes Ciorsdan Brown, Chrissy Cattle, Laura Lines, Roxanne Nazir, Heather Noble, Shyrina Rantisi and Rosine Uwineza, all of whom work for UK-based foundations.

The pulse survey of GGM members was conducted in autumn 2019, and recorded the views of foundation staff across a range of seniority levels, as well as some foundation trustees and consultants working with funders.

GGM has agreed to maintain the anonymity of its membership.

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