Foundations should stay true to their mission to avoid being dragged into culture wars and getting “beaten up in the media”, according to the chief executive of the Association of Charitable Foundations.
Carol Mack made the remarks during the ACF’s annual conference yesterday in a speech on the themes of community, identity and belonging, the need for foundations to put social impact at the heart of the levelling up agenda and how they can navigate the culture wars.
“Foundations – with serious, thoughtful approaches to reviewing their history and past links to slavery – are getting caught up in the crossfire and beaten up in the media,” she said.
“But a guiding light through the media storm, and what is most important through all of this, is your own mission as a foundation, and staying true to that.”
Being true meant being bold, robust and clear, said Mack, who also advised foundations to make sure that they kept good records of their decisions.
“The sure way to ensure the [Charity] Commission stays on your side is to properly document what you do and why, and relate everything back to your charitable objectives,” said Mack, who previously worked for the regulator.
She also talked about the need for foundations to ensure their work was not exclusionary or contributing to community dynamics where agency and power were unequal, in what she described as the “dark side of social capital”.
“Evidence from a range of sources suggests that organisations led by Black and minority communities are less likely to apply for funding; are less likely to be successful in getting a grant if they do apply; and, if they do get a grant, are awarded less money,” said Mack.
But she said she believed this was starting to change as “the last year has seen new programmes from several funders to tackle racial inequality”.
Mack then turned to the government’s levelling up agenda.
“As we all know, tackling inequalities between areas is much needed. It should be clear to anyone that community and social capital must be at the heart of levelling up,” she said.
Mack pointed to research by the think tank NPC that estimated almost 90 per cent of the levelling-up funding would go on physical infrastructure, not people or communities.
“I hope that the new Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities under Michael Gove will shift that emphasis and support the social infrastructure that communities need – and it is also vitally important to consider levelling up within communities, not just between them,” added Mack.
“Tackling regional inequality needs to go hand-in-hand with tackling racism, homophobia and all of the other ways human beings have found to exclude others, so that everyone is given an equal chance in life. And key to tackling inequalities in the future will be addressing the climate crisis. With all this in mind, I believe foundations should be at the heart of levelling up in its broadest sense.”
At last year’s ACF conference, Rushanara Ali, the Labour MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, warned that "short-sighted" cuts to the international aid budget would increase the pressure on philanthropic foundations.