CEO Blog | What's in store for '24?

19 January 2024 

Carol Mack, ACF chief executive, looks ahead for what 2024 has in store for trusts and foundations. She considers the general election, climate change, continued increase in demand for foundation giving, and AI.

Happy new year! As is traditional, this January blog is looking ahead for what 2024 has in store for trusts and foundations. What trends and coming events are there in the wider environment that will have an impact for funders? 

A double whammy of elections

The most obvious place to start is that there will be a general election in 2024. This is currently tipped to be November, so could be just days away from the US election on 5 November. In what is an increasingly febrile environment, this may intensify scrutiny of those foundations and charities engaged in work where opinion is polarised. We’ll have a pre-election seminar in the spring to help guide members through this time. 

Polling strongly suggests the next Westminster government will be Labour-led. There has been good engagement between Labour officials and civil society and ACF has taken opportunities to advocate for the role of foundations. I attended the Labour and Civil Society Summit on Monday 22 January to learn more about Labour’s vision – you can read my reflections here

Government and regulator interest in encouraging philanthropy
Next month, the Charity Commission for England and Wales (CCEW) is set to unveil its new strategy. It will be interesting to see how far this reflects its newfound interest in encouraging philanthropy and whether the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) or the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland (CCNI) also start to talk about their role in philanthropy. 

We’re holding a reception for member trustees in March with Rory Brooks CBE, member of the board of CCEW, speaking about the role of foundations so this will be a great opportunity to probe more deeply into what the sector can expect. Meanwhile the Westminster government is recruiting a philanthropy adviser role into DCMS to support the Charities Minister.

This echoes a wider global move for countries to develop a strategy for ‘more and better’ philanthropy. Australia has set a target to double philanthropy by 2030 and Ireland’s government led work to create a ‘national philanthropic policy’. Will the UK follow suit? We’ll be keeping a close eye on this in 2024.

Continued increase in demand for foundation giving

Last year, four local authorities declared bankruptcy, and a survey by the Local Government Association (LGA) last month found that nearly one in five council bosses believe they will go bust in the next six months.

With rates of poverty and housing insecurity continuing to climb, charities have been stepping into the breach to meet basic needs and cover services no longer funded by central or local government. Those charities filling the gap, especially smaller ones, are facing heightened challenges themselves, with those serving Black communities particularly vulnerable: in recent research 59% said they are uncertain about operating beyond six months. 

All of this is leading to an ever-increasing demand on foundations for funding. While foundations have an important role to play, they cannot possibly cover all of the funding gaps and meet the increased demand. 

Whilst the worry for operating charities is their future existence, our members have shared with us the impact this has on the funder side. Many report an ‘overwhelming’ level of applications. A steady rise that has ‘exploded’ since the summer. 

Maintaining fair, transparent funding practices, sticking to timescales and giving quality feedback to applicants is a herculean effort when demand is much, much higher than usual. This takes its toll on foundation staff wellbeing – something we know our members are alert to. 

Climate is every funder’s business
Whatever their charitable mission, over 100 foundations are already demonstrating their commitment to tackling the causes and impacts through our Funder Commitment on Climate Change, showing that climate is everyone’s business and not just the preserve of environmental funders. 

In an election year, there is a growing concern that the climate issue may be exploited for political gain. We've observed a shift in rhetoric among some politicians, moving away from framing climate action as a matter of collective interest to portraying it as a 'luxury belief' and overlooking compelling evidence demonstrating the intricate connection between poverty and climate change.

Given that 2023 has been confirmed as the hottest year on record by a significant margin, and with the adverse impact of global warming becoming ever more evident, I can think of no more important theme for our ACF leaders forum 2024 than the climate crisis  and it is inspiring to see our members using their power and resources to address this existential challenge of our time. 

Exploring AI tools for foundation work

We are seeing some ACF members explore and experiment with AI tools in their own work and contribute to wider debates about its potential to advance the public good. Of course, there are big risks associated with this, including transparency, the robustness of the data informing these tools, and the potential for AI to exacerbate the biases embedded in its programming. 

Over to you

So that’s my take on what’s in store for 2024. Do you agree? What have I overlooked?  Please do share your thoughts by email to me and join the ongoing conversation by coming to our events and making the most of our resources.

There are no certainties in predictions but one thing I can be sure of in 2024 is that foundations will continue to play a vital role in society using their resources wisely to rise to the challenges of our times.