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Duty to Care?

How to ensure grant-making helps and doesn’t hinder

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  • We use ‘voluntary organisation’ to describe organisations belonging to the charitable sector; voluntary sector; community sector; voluntary and community sector; voluntary, community and social enterprise sector; third sector; NGO sector; and civil society, having an annual turnover of less than £500k.
  • We use ‘trust’, ‘foundation’ and ‘grant maker’ interchangeably to refer to independent charitable trusts and foundations. Unless otherwise indicated, ‘funder’ also refers to independent charitable trusts and foundations.
  • We use ‘grantee’, grant-holder’ and ‘funded organisation’ interchangeably to refer to voluntary organisations in receipt of funding from independent charitable trusts and foundations.

The day-to-day existence of voluntary organisations continues to be precarious, and they report that the challenges facing the most vulnerable in society are deepening.


We believe that foundations could be making adaptations to their grant-making practices in response to the circumstances and needs of small to medium voluntary organisations.


In this study we looked at examples of foundation practice from applications through to reporting, and propose actions and questions that other funders might consider.


What can we do to make it easier for people and charities to do their job well?’

Corra Foundation

Life for voluntary organisations in 2018

  1. The instability we described in our 2012 Duty of Care study feels like a permanent fact of life
  2. After recent scandals, the public and media have higher expectations of transparency and professionalism
  3. Organisations are trying hard to adapt and it is an ongoing journey (e.g. investing more in measuring and evidencing outcomes/impact; taking steps to diversify funding sources; and broadening service offers.)
  4. Organisations struggle with commissioning and procurement processes 
  5. Organisations have been able to keep going thanks to the determination of their people
  6. Maintaining services is more common than growth and more organisations feel vulnerable.


Yes, we all need to be more enterprising and get a mix of funding but in a time of austerity and shrinking resources of funding across the board, just how Richard Branson-like do people think we can be?’

Voluntary organisation

Foundations adapt

Core Funding


How foundations are adapting to the new context


  • Becoming more accessible and lightening up application processes
  • Enabling more honest relationships and communication
  • Being more realistic about expected outcomes
  • Understanding and taking on more risk
  • Introducing core funding
  • Advocating and giving a voice
Core Funding


Becoming more accessible and lightening up application processes


Lightening up processes has been about becoming more accessible as well as creating the time and space for more face-to-face contact. 


'We used to ask people to apply and say how they met all four criteria but now we ask them to choose one and say how they meet it; for small grants we've worked to ensure that smaller charities don't get crowded out.'
– Wharfedale Foundation
Core Funding


Enabling more honest relationships and communication


There has been a recognition of the benefits of giving and taking honest feedback, and putting "conversations" at the heart of reporting. 

'Every organisation has commented on how much they value this sort of contact with the funder. In very stressful times, having someone "interested" is very affirming.'
 – Corra Foundation
Core Funding


Being more realistic about expected outcomes


Having more honest conversations with funded organisations has also enabled more realism in agreeing targets and outcomes - an area of difficulty for many funders. 


'As a result of post-grant conversations, staff now think differently about outcomes ... there was a realisation that staff needed to get better at talking through with applicants/grantees what outcomes are realistic and then agreeing achievable targets'
– Esmée Fairbairn Foundation
Core Funding


Understanding and taking on more risk


A willingness to take more risk has been important in increasing reach and funding people with different experiences and ideas, and adapting processes accordingly. 


'With the world changing fast, good ideas are needed from less traditional routes, from people who can adapt their thinking to the new realities.'
 – Paul Hamlyn Foundation
Core Funding


Introducing core funding


The introduction of core funding brings its own challenges and learning. 


'The core strengths programme – a core funding scheme for smaller voluntary organisations – arose from thinking about key challenges for organisations and how some "pretty modest unrestricted funding can help" by providing funding which can be used flexibly – "not just for salaries but for basic costs, such as paying the rent or the bills for heating and lighting".'
 – Comic Relief
Core Funding


Advocating and giving a voice


A hallmark of funders' commitment to responsiveness is whether they use their influence and networks to give funded organisations a voice. 


'We have close relationships with both senior and operational staff at the Council and with some Councillors. We can offer them leverage and access to "on the ground intelligence" and to other funders, as well as models of innovation and good practice.'
 – Cripplegate Foundation


Conceive of the interaction between funders and voluntary organisations as relational – rather than contractual’

Call to action

We have identfied three areas of practice where trusts and foundations might consider adapting or innovating for the benefit of the grant-holders they seek to support and serve.

Read the report


What would really help is a three year significant grant so that I can develop the model rather than spend so much time writing funding applications and end of period reports.’

Voluntary organisation

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