If you are interested to know what has been written about sustainability over the last few years but don’t have the time. Read our rapid review of the literature. 

The key questions for this brief review were to:



(a) Take a small sample of relevant UK and international literature, in order to provide some context for the interviews and discussion for the research into sustainability



(b) Undertake a quick review of examples from IVAR’s own research where this has appeared (directly or indirectly)



(c) Undertake a review of a sample of trust and foundations websites/annual reports to identify if and how ‘sustainability’ is used/talked about



We decided in May to extend coverage to include some US sources from research and consultancy organisations engaged with foundations and the non-profit sector, and to examine reports of organisations that had decided to not survive.

Over the last 18 months we have been taking an in-depth look at how UK trusts and foundations approach funding in geographical areas. Out of this study we have developed and tested a framework that can be used to plan and implement place-based funding.

The framework summary is a way of organising a conversation when planning or reviewing place-based work. The purpose is not to identify ‘good’ or ‘bad’ practice but rather to provide a prompt for discussions, helping funders to consider key questions about place-based approaches and the degree to which there is alignment between the answers to the questions.
This paper, produced for the Evaluation Roundtable event on 27th April 2016, offers a practical resource for foundation staff in assessing and/or improving their processes for the design stage of commissioning external evaluations. It does not cover all aspects of the evaluation cycle but, drawing on insights from Roundtable discussions to date, it addresses concerns raised by a broad range – in terms of size, type, stage of development and approach to evaluation – of foundations.

In the UK, over the last five years, there has been a significant increase in demand for different types of evaluative activity. How this activity is defined has become increasingly amorphous. Experiences shared through the Roundtable show that attitudes to, and organisation of, evaluation are different in every foundation, and inextricably bound to broader cultural factors. Discussions about process alone will not answer critical questions about what it means to use evaluation effectively.

This broader question of what it means to be a learning organisation (covering questions about organisational culture, and the sharing and use of evaluative information) is the theme of the 2017 Roundtable.

Find out more about the Evaluation Roundtable

This report presents the first ever picture of evaluation within larger trusts and foundations in the UK. It is based on the findings of an online survey completed by 34 trusts and foundations.   The survey was designed to address a gap in knowledge identified at the inaugural UK Evaluation Roundtable in March 2014 to:  

  • Understand the range of evaluative activities that trusts and foundations are undertaking and how these activities are being organised and invested in
  • Explore perceptions about how well trusts and foundations are making use of evaluative information to inform their work
  • Explore the challenges that trusts and foundations are facing in relation to their evaluation practice
Turning a corner looks at:  
  • The current operating environment for voluntary organisations – the risk of paralysis, working with others, staying rooted.
  • What helps voluntary organisations to thrive – understanding mission and fit with the bigger picture, tailored support and flexible funding.
  • Funders and the voluntary organisations they support – strategic approaches and building relationships.

The report draws on a year of IVAR’s research to offer a detailed snapshot of – and our reflections on – life for senior staff and trustees in frontline social welfare voluntary organisations.   In February 2013, we assessed what we had learned from our year in the field by collectively analysing 25 research reports. In particular, we wanted to shed light on what our findings tell us about the current operating environment for voluntary organisations, including what helps them to survive or thrive, as well as the implications of this for charitable trusts and foundations.

Thinking about… core funding draws on learning from our own and others’ research and interviews with key informants from seven charitable foundations providing core funding to shed light on why, when and how to use core funding.   This publication will be of most use to staff and trustees of charitable trusts and foundations that are engaged in providing core funding or are interested in doing so.   Core funding is not a new issue, nor is it always problematic – many foundations already give core funding and have done so for many years. However, it continues to be a topic of debate and discussion for both foundations and voluntary organisations. We hope this publication will contribute to thinking in this area.
This report from 2012 outlines findings from the ‘Recession Watch’ research project led by IVAR and working with six foundations: Comic Relief; the Cripplegate Foundation; The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund; Esmée Fairbairn Foundation; Henry Smith Charity; and The Tudor Trust.

The research aimed to generate and share learning about changes in grant need (primarily among social welfare voluntary organisations) and grant-making in the context of a rapidly changing and challenging policy and funding environment – with a view to modifying or changing practices and relationships.  

This report outlines findings from 59 interviews with voluntary organisations that had received, or were in receipt of, funding from at least one of the participating trusts.   The report explores the current operating environment of grant holders; the kinds of support that organisations require at the moment; and, finally, the role that trusts and foundations might play in supporting voluntary organisations and, by extension, their beneficiaries.
Thinking about… merger, has been jointly produced with Bates Wells & Braithwaite solicitors. This publication is written for organisations considering merger as a possible option. A merger is one of the most challenging steps a voluntary organisation can make – aside perhaps from formation or closure. It can create tensions as well as excitement, be the cause of much debate and lead to permanent and irreversible change. Our research suggests that, in order to work, mergers should be treated with a degree of caution; they certainly need to be thought through patiently and carefully.

Thinking about… merger is not a guide to financial aspects of merger, nor is it a step-by-step ‘toolkit’. Instead, it brings together the experiences of a wide variety of voluntary organisations and advisors that have contemplated or carried out mergers to highlight different dimensions of ‘thinking about merger’: reasons for thinking about merger, stages in the process of merger (including legal aspects) and what can help to make a merger work.
Making a difference celebrates ten years of IVAR’s work. The publication presents ten projects in the words of those we have worked with to illustrate the diversity of our work and the difference that IVAR makes. Our approach – collaborative, practical, problem-solving – results in meaningful and lasting change to individuals, organisations and communities. Making a difference illustrates this impact using case studies from a range of our work, including merger support, organisational and strategic reviews, the Partnership Improvement Programme and primary research.