New ACF report shares seven pillars to strengthen learning and impact at foundations


Alliance magazine


The Association of Charitable Foundation (ACF) has published a new report which sets out seven characteristics of excellent practice in a foundation, which include collecting understanding its mission, using all the tools available, avoiding harmful processes, and learning from failure. 

The new report ‘Impact and Learning: The Pillars of Stronger Foundation Practice’ is the second report emerging from the Stronger Foundations initiative launched in 2018. And following the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion offering published in October 2019.

Commenting on its publication, ACF Chief Executive Carol Mack said: ’At their best, charitable foundations are the most transparent, intentional and efficient way of transforming private wealth into public benefit. They are an immense source of public good. I take it as a given that foundations strive to have a positive impact on the world.

‘But how many can say they are truly deploying all of their resources, to best effect, at any given time, in pursuit of their mission? A foundation’s resources – its toolkit – may include grantmaking, investments, voice, data, people, knowledge, networks, brand, buildings and more. Some of your greatest assets may hold intangible or untapped potential. Your public profile – could you lend your platform to those without one? Your respected research – who would benefit from knowing more about it? Your digitally-savvy team – could they make your processes better or more user-friendly?

Informed by the Impact and Learning working group, external experts, the wider literature and ACF’s own analysis, the report asserts that these pillars can be interpreted and pursued by all foundations whatever their remit, size or starting point.

Mack added ‘Not every tool will be deployed or appropriate in every situation. There will be trade-offs. But a stronger foundation is one that weighs its choices carefully. It is also important to consider the negative impacts, however unintentional, that foundations can have. As our first Stronger Foundations report on diversity, equity and inclusion explored, boards that lack diversity may not be attuned to the full impact of their decisions and processes.

Jane Steele, Chair of the Stronger Foundations Impact and Learning working group, said: ‘The most important thing was to be clear to ourselves and the foundation sector that the impact of the foundation, and the impact of the organisations that we fund, are different things. This report invites foundations to examine the impact of their own work and behaviour. Are we using our resources (including money, influence, relationships, knowledge) wisely in pursuit of the impact we want to make in the world? Are we working in the most effective ways to support those who are achieving impact on the ground? This report and its guidance on evidence and learning could not be more timely. As foundations, we know that the uncertainty, flux and complexity that surround our work show no signs of lessening. All of this underlines the importance of listening, of reflecting on evidence and of learning from and with those we support. These pillars of stronger foundation practice are a resource for all foundations that aim to optimise the impact of their efforts.’

To download and read the report visit:

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