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Foundation giving remains strong despite income volatility

Almost two-thirds of the top 300 foundations increased their grant-making in real-terms in 2017/18. However, the majority of those increasing their grant-making also experienced a fall in their income, assets, or both, according to new research published by the Association of Charitable Foundations (ACF).

Total giving by the top 300 foundations in 2017/18 was £2.9bn. This was down on the previous year due to a drop in giving by the UK’s largest grant-maker, Wellcome Trust (whose overall spending is set to increase but whose grants fell in that year). However, after adjusting for the Wellcome Trust, the overall trend showed a real increase of 9.9% in grant-making.

Further analysis shows growth in both family and corporate foundation giving in 2017/18. Family foundation giving grew by 4%, when Wellcome Trust is excluded, and corporate foundation giving grew by 2.2%, when a large one-off transfer of funds is excluded.

The findings come from Foundation Giving Trends 2019, the latest edition of the annual report on the finances and funding of the top 300 UK independent philanthropically-funded charitable foundations by grant-making. The research is carried out by Cathy Pharoah, Visiting Professor at the Centre for Charitable Giving at Cass Business School, and Dr Catherine Walker of The Researchery. The research is supported by Pears Foundation.

In this year’s special feature, ACF takes look at the challenges it sees foundations meeting in the current context, including climate change, diversity, and transparency.

Commenting on the report, ACF Chief Executive Carol Mack said:

“This year’s research highlights foundations’ ability to respond to the needs of those they fund, even when their own fortunes are turbulent. In particular, our decision to focus this year’s special feature on trends beyond the numbers has given space to consider the external factors affecting foundations, from the question of board diversity to the urgent challenge of addressing the climate crisis.

 Foundation Giving Trends is a valuable contribution to our understanding of foundations and the funding environment, and relevant to the wider voluntary sector, government policymakers, and the academic community. Producing such an annual analysis allows us to monitor trends that inevitably will have knock-on effects for the wider foundation sector and beyond.”