Set up in 1969 by Barings Bank, the Baring Foundation awards grants totalling between £2m and £3m each year. Individual grants vary between £50,000 and £250,000 over an average of three years.
The total was at the lower end of this scale last year due to the recession, according to David Cutler, the foundation's director.
During the crash, the value of the endowment fell from approximately £70m in 2007 to £50m in 2008, he says. It has now managed to creep back up to £60m.
The foundation supports a range of charities and currently focuses on three areas: the legal advice and advocacy sector; arts organisations that work with elderly people; and international development organisations that work with displaced people.
The focus on the chosen areas typically remains for at least five years, but there is no hard and fast rule about this, according to Cutler.
"International development was set up in 2001, arts was last year and legal was three years ago," he says.
"The areas only change when there is a good reason, though. They probably won't change in the near future - even international development, which has been going for a while. There are still many displaced people in Africa."
The number of organisations the foundation funds each year in each area also varies. This year, there were nine recipients in legal advice and 10 in arts. It plans to fund five recipients in international development.
Cutler says the numbers are likely to be similar in 2011.
With such large sums of money available, competition for one of these grants is always extremely tough.
Cutler says the trustees of the foundation always decide to whom the grants are awarded. The foundation's guidelines are taken very seriously during the decision process.
"A bad grant application tends to be one that ignores our guidelines," he says. "We are always overwhelmed by good applications. People who don't follow the guidelines will not get through."
Once a grant has been awarded, he says, the foundation tries to become involved with the charity, without interfering.
Charities usually report back once a year about how the money is being spent, but in general the relationship depends on the circumstances.
"A charity with a £250,000 grant in Africa will get a different level of involvement from us than one with a £50,000 grant in London," says Cutler.
"Whatever project it is, though, our staff and trustees will visit the organisation several times during the course of the grant."