ACF members are becoming stronger foundations by pursuing ambitious and effective practice, finds new report

8 March 2022

A new report published today by the Association of Charitable Foundations (ACF) has found that a growing number of its members are pursuing ambitious and effective practice, driven by a desire to make the most of their resources that are increasingly in demand. Amid the global pandemic and a greater focus on inequality in society, foundations are seeking to strengthen their governance, be more transparent, reduce the burden on grantees and improve their staff and board diversity. 

The report, ‘Becoming Stronger Foundations’, showcases more than 50 practical examples of how ACF members are putting into action the ‘pillars of practice’ from ACF’s Stronger Foundations initiative. More than half of the examples are from smaller foundations awarding less than £1m a year in grants, showing that no type or size of foundation has a monopoly on being ambitious and effective. 

All foundations reported areas where they had further distance to travel, as well as at least one area where they felt they were at an advanced stage. Foundations were likely to consider themselves more advanced on issues related to funding practices, engagement and strategy. Most felt they were just getting started or making some progress in areas of investment and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), which were also the areas where foundations had the most ambitious plans for future progress.

Examples of actions that were shared by ACF members include encouraging anonymous feedback from grantees, offering more flexible funding, speaking in public about key issues affecting civil society, introducing targets for board diversity, publishing details about their investments and including people with lived experience in strategy development. 

The report draws on data gathered by ACF’s Stronger Foundations self-assessment tool. More than 50 foundations used the tool in the year after it was launched in December 2020, completing a total of 110 self-assessment surveys during that time. Foundations scored their own practice in relation to the 40 pillars of practice set out in ACF’s Stronger Foundations thematic reports. The pillars were previously developed with ACF members following two years of inquiry on topics ranging from funding practices, investment, impact, and DEI.

Carol Mack OBE, ACF’s chief executive, commended the report to everyone working in the foundation sector:

“Many ACF members have told us that the pandemic offered a stark reminder of why being a stronger foundation is so important. Perhaps more than ever, foundations are seeking to ensure that all their resources achieve as much impact as possible for the causes and communities they serve. Amid a pandemic that put unprecedented demand on their people and resources, foundations across the UK — from the very largest and most well-resourced, to those that are small and volunteer-run — continued to improve their practice and achieve even greater impact. This report celebrates these efforts and aims to inspire all ACF members to find ways to become stronger foundations in the years ahead.”

ACF hopes the report will inspire all foundations to pursue the Stronger Foundations pillars of practice. All ACF members are invited to give the self-assessment tool a try and use it on an annual basis to measure progress towards becoming stronger foundations.

The Association of Charitable Foundations (ACF) ( is the membership body for UK foundations and grant-making charities. Driven by a belief that foundations are a vital source for social good, our mission is to support them to be ambitious and effective in the way that they use their resources.

For more information about this report or Stronger Foundations, please contact Max Rutherford, head of policy and practice, at [email protected].