Strongest foundations learn from failure, says report by Association of Charitable Foundations

The strongest foundations learn from failure, have a culture of learning and base their decisions on lived experience, according to a report by the Association of Charitable Foundations

The report, Impact and Learning: The Pillars of Stronger Foundation Practice, published today, looks at the seven qualities displayed by the charitable foundations that have the biggest impact.

A stronger foundation, the report says, is one that can demonstrate it is pursuing these pillars.

The report’s conclusions were drawn from the experience of the ACF’s impact and learning working group, external experts, wider literature and the ACF's own analysis. 

The seven pillars identified by the report include understanding the foundation’s mission and the impact it is seeking to achieve, believing that everyone in the organisation has a role in making that impact, and a proactive attempt to understand how its operations affect others. 

The other pillars include thinking collaboratively to pursue impact, basing decisions on evidence and lived experience, considering all available tools in pursuit of income, and an ability to learn from failure.

These pillars can be interpreted and pursued by all foundations whatever their remit, size or starting point, the report says. 

Carol Mack, chief executive of the ACF, said that, at their best, charitable foundations were the most transparent and efficient way of transforming private wealth into public benefit.

But she added: “How many can say they are truly deploying all of their resources, to best effect, at any given time, in pursuit of their mission?

“A stronger foundation is one that weighs its choices carefully. It is also important to consider the negative impacts, however unintentional, that foundations can have.”

She said the ACF was confident that the report would be relevant for all foundations, including corporate and family foundations, and those with few or no paid staff. 

“The recommendations are built around seven pillars of good practice,” she said. “We are confident that there will be scope for all foundations to continue developing, learning, and sharing what they’ve learned along the way.”

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