Parting Shot: David Emerson of Association of Charitable Foundations

The ACF has also held up a mirror to the sector, says the outgoing chief executive

David Emerson
David Emerson

Foundations don't often seek the limelight, recognising that their achievements lie in the outcomes for the many bodies they fund. So reflecting on what's changed since I took over at the ACF in 2003 comes less naturally than it might.

My feeling is that foundations remain as quietly committed as they have always done, but where ACF has been able to support them is in providing more opportunities to share their experience and knowledge, helping them make their practice more effective.

ACF has also held up a mirror to the sector by developing an evidence base through our publications on giving trends and our policy work.

Knowing what others are doing has encouraged foundations to be confident in their role and the unique contribution they can make, despite the relatively small sums of money they have available. I hope we have played, and continue to play, a role in helping foundations go further, faster.

We have aimed to identify and encourage the conditions in which foundations flourish, enhancing their collective impact for beneficiaries, although the real skills and insight remain within our wonderfully committed members. But I have also become very conscious of our relative immunity to traditional market forces, which are powerful drivers of change for many other charities. Consequently, the progress of foundations depends on the ability of trustees and chief executives to manufacture their own change, dynamism and development. That is the next structural challenge for independent funders.

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