EDITORIAL: Secret culture of grant makers is obscuring goals

Lucy Maggs

The activities of many grant-making trusts are shrouded in secrecy.

Grant-making trusts give out more than £1bn each year, but it's virtually impossible to find out how they spend their money, how much they have and what they are trying to achieve.

The result is that many valuable charities cannot find out about funds that may be on offer and grants are given again and again to the same organisations.

Being open about grant making not only benefits charities applying for money, but also helps trusts achieve their objectives. If they encourage applications from a range of organisations they can then make sure the money goes to well run projects working towards the same goals as the trust. Having a strategy that is clearly communicated means that grants are given in a systematic way and money is used most effectively.

Admittedly, there are some grant-making trusts paving the way. The Lloyds TSB Foundation and the Barrow Cadbury Trust for example have both developed clear strategies for grant giving and are open about where their money goes and what they are trying to achieve.

But some grant-makers argue that it is easy for these larger trusts with paid staff to be open, and that for smaller trusts it is not feasible as they simply don't have the resources. If they broadcast their criteria and encouraged applications, they would be swamped by forms - which they would have to pay someone to process. By keeping things low key they spend the minimum on administration and, therefore, give the maximum possible to good causes.

Although they may be saving costs in the short term, in the long run they are wasting money as their lack of strategy and openness means they cannot give effectively. These smaller trusts may not be able to stretch to the staff and admin of their larger cousins, but by improving their communication they could benefit the whole sector.

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