New figures reveal diversity gaps in British philanthropy


Andrew Milner and Charles Keidan


British foundations are falling short when it comes to embracing diversity. A new report commissioned by the foundation umbrella body, the UK’s Association of Charitable Foundations (ACF), highlights a striking lack of racial, age and gender diversity in the make-up and composition of foundation trustee boards.

Based on data from the Charity Commission analysed by the Centre for Charity Effectiveness at Cass Business School, the report finds that the board members of foundations are 99 per cent white, 60 per cent of trustees are over 65 and only three per cent under 45, and male trustees outnumber female trustees by two to one.

The report states ‘the fact that these trustees look largely to themselves for recruitment support and more generally for advice guidance and support, will do little to promote greater diversity amongst new trustees coming forward.’ The report also notes that majority of foundation trustees operate in organisations that are small and have few paid staff, which means that the trustees often exercise both governance and executive functions. The data found that 72 per cent of trustees are involved in organisations ‘without any form of senior staff function’.

The figures are likely to increase pressure on foundations to do more to improve their diversity at a time when their privileged tax status is already being called into question.

Paul Ramsbottom, CEO of the Wolfson Foundation and chair of the Foundations Forum, a group of larger foundations, acknowledged in an Alliance podcast that foundations are ‘behind the curve’ on diversity. Earlier this year, ACF launched a working group on diversity which is expected to make proposals as part of its ‘Stronger Foundations’ initiative.

The UK figures reflect a sector wide ambivalence across Europe towards embracing diversity. A recent European Foundation Centre (EFC) member survey, debated at its 2018 Annual General Assembly, found that 41 per cent of respondents had no diversity policy and 28 per cent did not plan to develop one. These figures come despite a warning from EFC’s CEO, Gerry Salole, that a lack of diversity ‘probably limits their intelligence about what is happening on the ground.’

Meanwhile, leading German philanthropist Ise Bosch, the winner of this years German philanthropy prize, used her acceptance speech to call for change among Germany’s 22,000 strong foundation sector, noting that only one of the largest 35 German foundations had a female CEO.

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