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Ethics IN philanthropy

Executive Summary

This report captures the perceptions of 166 individuals working in the grant giving sector (predominantly in the UK), in a wide range of roles and seniority. The report interrogates the details of ethical philanthropy and grantmaking. It seeks to explore two overarching questions: firstly, to question the ethics of philanthropy itself, linked to the origins of wealth. Secondly, it seeks to explore how ethics play out in our grantmaking practice, and how grant makers can shift their practice to be more equitable, and to respond to the calls for much needed reform. 


Key Findings

Ethics and the Origins of Wealth

  • Almost 80% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that where organisations had been found to have benefited from wealth created through harmful or exploitative practices, they should make reparations.

  • While the above statement clearly demonstrates strong support for making reparations where philanthropic funds are known to have come from unethical sources, the majority of respondents could not identify the ultimate origin of their organisation’s wealth. 

  • When respondents identified that the source of their income was a donation from a wealthy individual, they did not or could not specify how the individual’s wealth was accumulated. Similarly, where their income was profits from business, or investment, detail was not provided on how this business or investment activity made their profits in the first place. 

  • This signifies a critical need to increase organisational transparency regarding the origins of philanthropic wealth; to engage in conversations with organisations on understanding their wealth origin, why it's important, and how their history needs to be reflected in how and to whom they grant their funding to in the present day. 

What can you do? Join us by using the #KnowYourWealth hashtag on Twitter and encourage grantmaking organisations to declare the origins of their wealth publicly on their website and to ensure that the historical origin of their wealth is reflected in how and to whom they grant their funding to in the present day.


Key findings 

Ethics in grantmaking 

  • Those working in the grant giving sector continue to feel most accountable to trustees, followed by senior management, rather than the communities they serve. 

  • This is compounded by the lack of transparency surrounding recruitment to these roles, with only 41% of respondents believing their organisation has transparent Trustee recruitment practices.

  • In a large proportion of grantmaking organisations, the individuals with the greatest responsibility and accountability, are also those who are recruited in the least transparent manner.

  • The majority of respondents work for organisations that have not been accountable to communities experiencing racial inequity or their staff members who are from communities experiencing racial inequity.

  • Others lack transparency on how they are planning to take action to address racial inequity in their organisation and grant making practices. 

  • Inadequate recruiting procedures at the highest levels of grantmaking organisations, coupled with top-heavy power structures, perpetuate issues of accountability and transparency.

  • Only 8% of respondents agreed that their organisation was doing enough to combat inequity, and many commented that the bulk of the work is only being done by particularly interested staff, or, is reliant on the emotional labour of staff from communities experiencing racial inequity. Lack of competent management or Trustee support in this work continues to be a key barrier.

  • In the majority of cases, respondents felt fairly confident there are appropriate procedures in place to address misconduct within their organisation. However, they were less confident about procedures in place for whistleblowing, bullying and harassment and incidences of discrimination. Indeed, 25% of respondents stated that their organisation did not have the relevant policies in place. This is particularly alarming given an increase in reports of racism and discrimination in the sector, including at major UK based charities.

  • The research finds that for many grant makers a burden of stringent reporting and complex grant conditions continues to be placed on partner organisations - even though the sector was able to reduce and in some cases abolish these during the pandemic. This reflects the continued power imbalance and lack of trust between grant makers and partner organisations. 

What can you do? Ask your HR team (if you have one!) what policies are in place and assess them against good practice. Encourage your organisation to reflect on your grantmaking processes and continued flexibility in your day-to-day grantmaking. Keep up momentum from positive changes made to your process during the pandemic.  


Over 70% of respondents ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ that foundations require reform. The report offers a vision of ethical philanthropy and highlights numerous examples of 'good practice' already taking place which contribute towards this.

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