When Barings Bank collapsed in 1995, it was a massive blow for its charitable arm, the Baring Foundation, which saw its grant-making capacity shrink by 85 per cent overnight. Despite that setback, the foundation has remained a strong and influential force in the third sector. Today it finds itself runner-up in the Most Admired Charity category.
"My guess is that people voted for us because of our record over time," says David Cutler, chief executive of the charity. "Our trustees have consistently tried to keep our work relevant and extremely focused."
The foundation's grants budget for 2008 is £2.7m. Cutler says: "We believe that something positive can come out of a crisis. Having to adapt to less grant money meant we really had to think about our aims and what our niche could be."
Formed in 1969, the foundation focuses on a few key themes, notably strengthening the voluntary sector, international development and the arts. It recently funded green audits to help charities understand how climate change links to their charitable objectives. It may provide funds in the future for charities seeking to reduce their carbon footprints.
Another high-profile campaign, and the current focus of its Strengthening the Voluntary Sector programme, is about helping the voluntary sector maintain independence.
"That programme seems to have struck a chord with the sector and people see it as an important issue," says Cutler. He says that the theme was chosen by the trustees. "It was they who highlighted the importance of a voluntary sector independent of government," he points out.
The foundation works closely with the charities it funds. "It sounds like a marketing slogan, but we really try to treat the organisations we fund as partners," says Cutler. "We see a great deal of each other and there will be several visits from the foundation during the course of a grant."
David Emerson, chief executive of the Association of Charitable Foundations, says he is not surprised the foundation is so well regarded. "One of its strengths is a very engaged and thoughtful board of trustees," he says.
Emerson adds that the foundation has shown "a consistent focus on the organisational strengths of charities and a concern for the issues faced by smaller organisations". The foundation is not large, he adds, but it has managed to get the most out of its grants, and that has helped it to be more effective and influential than its relatively small size might indicate.