Our honest reflections from funding and supporting charities to improve on diversity, equity and inclusion


Bonnie Chiu and Lily Lewis


The Social Investment Consultancy (TSIC) collaborated with The Pocressi Initiative (TPI) on an action research project, supporting charities and social enterprises working in the addictions and criminal justice sectors to apply a diversity and inclusion lens to their organisations.

This included: 

Why we started this project 

This project started when Lily learnt through the organisation Impact Experience in 2018 that less than one per cent of funding in the US goes to companies founded by BIPOC. She wanted to know what the equivalent statistics were for funding in the UK charity sector, but couldn’t find anything. No UK charity with majority white leadership that she spoke to was even monitoring anything linked with race or ethnicity. How are you meant to move forward, measure progress and set goals if you don’t know where you are at? 

This is where Bonnie came in. We talked about the importance of research, as an opportunity to open up space to ask how and why, without our own biases or assumptions. We are all aware of the power that foundations have within the sector. They arguably set the tone for the priorities of the field. If funders are not prioritising transparency in how they support organisations (including their own) to develop equity on the mission of one day reaching an anti-oppressive ecosystem, then, are we fit for purpose? Tracking the progress, mistakes and learnings seemed like the most accountable way to move forward on this agenda of equity, and collaborate with other organisations with the same interests.

We went through a scoping phase to reach out to different charities and CICs to see if they were interested, and the majority said yes. We started the outreach at the beginning of 2020, and soon because of Covid, the charities had different priorities and had to pause engagement with us. But soon, the Black Lives Matter movement got more attention in May and we found that from then onwards, the charities became more engaged in working with us again. We ended up with five charities in the addiction and criminal justice sectors, and while each journey is slightly different, they went through three main steps: 

  • Diagnostic: Bonnie supported the charity to understand what aspects of DEI they may want to improve on, through using the Meyer DEI tool and the bespoke questionnaire we designed. This includes collating data and documents they have internally, administering equalities data collection, as well as facilitating 1:1 and group conversations. Organisations were offered compensation for their time.
  • Action planning and signposting: Based on the diagnostic, we came up with an action plan and Bonnie signposted the charities to other kinds of support as needed.
  • Review: Bonnie checked in with the charity after six months or so to see how they had gotten on. 

What we learnt throughout the DEI support journey

  • Sector: The sector of the charity didn’t make such a big difference as to how engaged they were. 
  • Geography: They were spread out geographically across England, and while the importance of race was initially questioned by some, we were able to demonstrate relevance through examining their local data.
  • Size: 4 out of 5 charities were small charities (under a million-pound turnover), and despite what may be commonly expected – that small charities have less capacity to focus on DEI – there was no difference between the big charity and the other small charities in terms of their uptake of our support and progress on DEI. While small charities may be more resource-constrained, larger charities also move slightly slower, so size didn’t seem to be a major barrier for charities to embark on DEI. 

Supporting the charities 

The first step of supporting the charities was to conduct the diagnostic. We came up with this to ensure it covered the breadth and depth of an audit, while bearing in mind the limited capacity of many organisations. Interestingly, only two out of the five organisations we worked with filled out the whole survey, others filled out only parts of it (e.g. focus only on staff, not Trustees or beneficiaries), or not at all. Those who did not fill them in felt that in order to collect the data, it would require a significant overhaul of their whole data collection and they didn’t have the resources to do it. But as funders’ expectations on data capturing evolves (e.g. with the introduction of the DEI Data Standards), we may see more charities needing to collect diversity data. We personally feel that this is a valuable opportunity for funders to provide add on grants to their partners to support them on this journey. 

The second step was to support the charities to develop an action plan and guide them through it. Our projected time frame (six months) became difficult to manage – looking back, we should have been clearer on expectations, time limits and boundaries. Unsurprisingly, the organisations with the strongest action plans and turn arounds had buy-in from their board. We noticed that signs of buy-in may actually be asking organisations to potentially contribute budget to this so there is a stronger sense of ownership.

Stay tuned for our next article where we reflect on our personal learnings, mistakes, and what it can look like for funders to use power dynamics (for better or for worse) to pressure charities to prioritize this work.

Read part 2: ‘Insights from our work funding and supporting charities to improve DEI‘.

Bonnie Chiu is Managing Director at The Social Investment Company, and Lily Lewis Founder and CEO at The Pocressi Initiative. 

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