ACF strategic review 2022 week 2: ACF's character

21 February 2022


We’re in week two of a month-long conversation about all things foundation, as part of ACF’s five year strategy review. We’ve been hearing about the challenges and opportunities the future holds for foundations, and you can read my summary blog about that here. For the second week, we had a more bracing conversation as we turned the spotlight on ACF and listened to the three words that you would use to describe us.

All of the contributions gave us helpful food for thought and I’d like to take this opportunity to say a big THANK YOU to everyone who participated.

To help us make sense of 54 very different words, we mapped them against ACF’s four organisational values: we care, we are open, ambitious and evidence-based.

Encouragingly your feedback chimed with the values ― particularly open and evidence-based. However, we had less resonance on care and much further to go on ambitious. So in the spirit of open-ness, here’s a brutally honest heads up on what you told us.

Thinking about care, it was fantastic to see the words ‘committed’ and ‘champion’. There is real strength in these qualities, and they speak to where we want to be as an organisation ― building on this will be something for us to focus on in the new strategy. Personally, I rejoiced to see the words ‘friendly’ and ‘supportive’ ― as a membership association this is a really important part of our organisational culture. But clearly this is not how all members feel ― with the words ‘fringe-focused’, ‘semi-detached’ and ‘unresponsive to phone calls’ all suggesting that we need to be more in touch and also to attend to the practicalities.

On open there was a lot of alignment, with foundations describing us as ‘collaborative’, ‘connected’ and an ‘enabler’. Some saw barriers to participation ― notably that we were ‘expensive’ or ‘exclusive’. Removing obstacles to engaging with us will be something we think hard about as we consider our strategic priorities and future business model.

Evidence-based also resonated with members ― describing ACF as ‘relevant’, ‘useful’ and ‘informative’. The words ‘academic’, ‘research’ and ‘neutral’ suggest that perhaps we can do more to apply the evidence we have to reach a wider audience.

We had the least alignment on ambitious and the strongest words in opposition ― ‘uninspiring’, ‘old-fashioned’, and even ‘extinct’. These all indicate we have the furthest to go in this area and the most work to do with our new strategy. It’s important that we find a path to being the opposite of these words ― inspiring, modern, active and dynamic ― and it is crucial that our new strategy gives us this ambition.

So this week we are asking one simple question: what two things would help foundations be even more ambitious and effective?

We look forward to hearing from you!

Respond here


Carol Mack OBE

ACF chief executive