CEO blog | Evidencing the collective impact of foundations

25 April 2024

Carol Mack, ACF chief executive, reflects on the value of data.


The world of foundations can sometimes seem rather mysterious to those not deeply immersed in it. An important aspect of our work at ACF is to demystify this world by evidencing the collective impact of foundations in supporting a wide range of charitable causes for public good and the vital contribution that they make to society.

From 2014 to 2023 we committed to doing just this through our annual Foundation Giving Trends (FGT) research series, led by Dr Catherine Walker and previously Dr Cathy Pharoah, in partnership with Pears Foundation. The resulting reports showed how giving by the largest 300 foundations rose from £2.4bn in 2012-2013 to £3.7bn in 2020-2021. It also tracked how foundations consistently adapted over time to a daunting series of challenges, including the Covid-19 pandemic, economic volatility and the cost-of-living crisis.

UK grant-making
Over the past nine years since we began publishing FGT so much has changed.  There has been a growing recognition of the power of data in informing decision-making, promoting transparency and contributing to a more effective and equitable sector.  The need for better, more diverse philanthropic data is greater than ever - something that Charity Commission board member Rory Brooks, CBE, emphasised at our recent spring reception for ACF member trustees.

We’re thankful to all of our members, who have told us how valuable FGT has been over the years in providing time series data on the collective contribution of foundations. This has enabled ACF and others to demonstrate the vital role played by our sector, as well as individual foundations. We’ve also been very aware that FGT hasn’t answered all the questions that many of our members have been sitting with – for instance, FGT didn’t include community foundations or foundations who receive government funds. It also didn’t say anything about what causes the grants go to or how foundations make those grants. For some time, we have been wanting to change to how we provide data to our members.

Looking to the future
We are therefore excited to transition from the FGT series to collaborating with others in a new partnership to create an interactive data platform for grant-making data spearheaded by 360Giving. The UK grant-making platform is due to be launched in June this year and will provide an overview of grant-making across different sectors. It will undoubtedly provide more dynamic and accessible insights on foundations and their contribution to society.

Foundations in Focus
Here at ACF, we are keen to continue our work to help foundations understand the context in which they are operating and to evidence the unique contribution of foundations to public good. I am therefore excited to announce that we will soon be launching a new ‘Foundations in Focus’ research report which will provide valuable narrative and commentary on foundations’ experiences to complement and contextualise the quantitative data from UK grant-making. I’m most grateful to the Pears Foundation for funding the FGT series over many years and for funding this new report, which will focus on foundations’ perspectives on grant-making and investments in 2022-2023. 

We are reaching out to a sample of our members to ensure that our report represents a broad and diverse range of foundation perspectives, but please do get in touch with Jade Yap, our senior research manager, if this is something you’d like to engage with – we’d love to hear from you.

As always, we’re driven by a deep belief that foundations are a vital source for social good. It is our hope that ‘Foundations in Focus’ will build on the evidence base for the collective impact of foundations and support them as they continue to rise to the challenges of our times with ambition, determination and confidence.