Research Project: The Foundation; Rip It Up And Start Again?


Ahead of the Foundational Thinking Hack we have commissioned an independent, comprehensive and critical overview of the evidence of the practice of grant-making trusts and foundations’ in the UK. the approach is summarised below. Get in touch if you’d like to be involved or contribute.

  1. Evidence and literature review (4 days)

We will undertake a comprehensive review of the available appropriate evidence and research in the field, including:

  • Recent UK research
  • Less recent UK sources
  • Significant sources from overseas, especially the US
  • Informal material and other media
  1. Survey (2 days)

We will carry out an open survey of trusts and foundations’ grant recipients.

  1. Analysis (2 days)

Our analysis of the research and evidence will enable us to draw up a framework to help readers and later project participants make sense of the findings and the field and generate new practical actions. This will likely take the form of half a dozen themes or patterns emerging from the research. We envisage these could be, for example:

  1. Efficiency – issues around transaction costs, the burden on applicants, etc.
  2. Impact – whether foundations are addressing causes or symptoms, taking risks, supporting innovation, change or maintaining the status quo, how endowments are invested, etc.
  3. Accountability – questions of openness, transparency, democracy, inclusivity and the law
  4. Collaboration – the relationship between foundations’ private interest and the wider interest, how they leverage partnerships and other resources, etc.
  5. Capacity – the expertise, diversity and capability of staff, how foundations learn, etc.
  6. Processes – funding conditions and flexibility, reporting, stability in funding relationships, timing of payments, etc.
  7. Presentation of finding (4 days)

Applying this framework, we will be able to draw conclusions with regard to the evidence of the practice of grant-making trusts and foundations’ in the UK. For example, we may find that grant-making trusts and foundation are often:

  1. Efficient internally – but not in terms of the costs they impose upon others
  2. Impactful in the short-term – but too often taking palliative approaches, focused on activities and not underlying change and addressing root causes
  3. Unaccountable – beyond minimal statutory requirements
  4. Uncollaborative – at least in a proactive sense
  5. Capable at what they do – but not at what they should or could be doing
  6. Process driven – rather than impact focused, risk averse, inflexible, etc.

It seem unlikely that any observers would deny that foundations could be better at achieving what they want to achieve. Our analysis may offer them an appropriate framework for action to better deliver their aims in future. We will present our findings in a detailed, but brief, report together with an executive summary. This report will be accessible to readers and later project participants. All sources will be referenced on the “Foundational Thinking website Knowledge Centre.” Several case studies of good and bad practice from the UK and further afield will be dotted throughout the report.


The report will be delivered by the end of February, ready for the Foundational Thinking Hack event in April at Marmalade. This event will take forward recommendations and actions emerging from the research.