UK foundations failing at diversity, suggests new research


Charles Keidan and Elika Roohi


An analysis of 100 foundations in the UK found that on average, most foundations have poor practice when it comes to diversity.

This finding was published in Foundation Practice Rating, a detailed assessment of foundation practices on accountability, diversity, and transparency conducted by Giving Evidence – the first report that has ever independently assessed UK charitable foundations against these criteria.

Only one foundation published their trustees’ diversity breakdown, the  Rating found, and the average grade for diversity across the foundations sampled was a D – the lowest score on their rubric. No foundation scored an A.

Most foundations provided so little information on diversity that it was not possible to gather information about diversity for the foundations included in the sample. And very few foundations had mechanisms to communicate with people that have visual or hearing impairments.

‘It is clear from this report that we as foundations have much to do to bring us up to the standards of practices and disclosures on diversity that are expected of organisations with public purposes,’ said Danielle Walker Palmour, Director of Friends Provident Foundation and a driving force behind the Rating said. ‘There are myriad sources of excellent help and advice specifically for foundations available to us and I challenge my colleague’s trusts to grasp the nettle and join us on our journey to not just give more but give in a way that is fairer, more accountable, and transparent.’

Accountability and transparency

Reviewing publicly available data, Foundation Practice Rating’s research found that foundations collectively scored better on accountability and transparency. Most foundations stated who their staff are, a measure of accountability. And most published at least some information about their funding priorities, as well as previous and existing grantees, a measure of transparency.

‘We always have open recruitment, and we produce job descriptions, and we always show the salary when we’re recruiting, but because we don’t have very high staff turnover, these things aren’t obvious to the outside world,’ said Sufina Ahmad, Director at the John Ellerman Foundation, and one of the funders of the project. ‘So now we’re thinking about where’s the best place to share this; should we put them on our website, and if so, where?’

Despite better practice on transparency, there were still challenges – with almost one in three of the foundations surveyed lacking a website.

The rating also found that, in some cases, foundations would expect a level of transparency from their grantees that they did not hold themselves to. For example, only around a third of foundations published any analysis of their own effectiveness, even though most of the foundations reviewed asked this of organisations that they funded. The research also found that some foundations required grantees to commit to paying the Living Wage but did not appear to have a public commitment to doing so themselves; and some required grantees to consult with the communities they served to determine priorities, but, again, did not appear to commit publicly to doing so themselves.

Improving practice

The authors of the ratings hope that it will guide and encourage foundations to improve their practice by offering pointers toward existing sources of help and advice specifically for funders wishing to improve.

In many cases, community foundations scored better than average across the project than other foundations. The same was true of the foundations that funded the Foundation Practice Rating project, a list which includes the Friends Provident Foundation, Barrow Cadbury Trust, Blagrave, Esmee Fairbairn, John Ellerman Foundation, Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, Lankelly Chase, Paul Hamlyn Foundation, and Power to Change.

Members of the Association of Charitable Foundations also scored higher than average. Max Rutherford, Head of Policy at the association noted that around 40 per cent of the foundations assessed in this project are ACF members. ‘I’m pleased to see that three-quarters of the foundations rated A or B are ACF members’ he told Alliance. Rutherford also emphasised that diversity, equity and inclusion are the areas where ACF members tell us they have the most ambitious plans for future progress. ‘Today’s report helpfully shines further light on the areas where foundations need to make progress and offers practical ways for them to do so’, he said.

Indeed, there appears to be much room for improvement. Only three foundations scored an A overall, while 22 foundations scored Ds including the Dr Mortimer and Theresa Sackler Foundation and the Goldman Sachs Charitable Gift Fund (UK) which recorded a string of straight D’s for diversity, accountability, and transparency.

According to the authors of the research, foundations’ reactions have been ‘remarkably positive’. Endorsements from foundations listed in the report included one from a new foundation CEO who commented ‘This has got us thinking a lot about how we improve… and we are developing a new strategy – so it’s a timely opportunity to give this more thought and focus.’

Foundation Practice Rating is launching its report in a digital event at 2 p.m GMT today. For more information, click here.

Charles Keidan is Executive Editor at Alliance, and Elika Roohi is Digital Editor.

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