The Grant Givers' Movement conducted a Sector Pulse Survey and received over 140 individual responses. 70% of respondents are directly involved in distributing grants ranging in seniority from Grants Admin to Senior Grants Managers, 15% are CEO/Directors or Senior Management Teams and the rest included those who work in another role in a foundation, foundation trustees and a few consultants to foundations. There were respondents from across the funding sector encompassing public, private, family foundations, corporate foundations, livery companies, and community foundations. There was a 60% completion rate, with an abundance of qualitative feedback elicited.
We wanted to find out: how those working within grantmaking organizations perceive their own power as individuals; the dynamics within grant making organisations; and most importantly - the power balance between grant makers, grantee partners, and the communities we seek to serve. The overwhelming consensus was that there is a power imbalance in UK grant making and this needs to change. However, there are still real or perceived barriers to acting on this.
1. There is an overwhelming consensus that not only does a power imbalance exists between funders
and grantee partners, but that there is much that we know can be done to address and re-balance
power. However, whilst there are some examples of good practice it is not yet the norm and as a
sector, we just aren't acting. Given that over 80% agreed that power should be rebalanced and
almost 80% agreed that better redistribution of power would lead to more impactful grant making -
we know that change is not only important, but possible.
2. Grant makers told us they have far greater trust placed in them than power and that they also
had a good amount of influence. Whilst respondents may not have ‘direct’ power they do have the
ability to create some change by way of their influence and the trust placed in them by foundations.
3. Just over 50% agreed that their organisations were taking steps to rebalance power. Respondents
shared rich examples demonstrating what is happening to redress the power imbalance, and this
corresponds with what grantee partners are telling them needs to change. 24% said they were not
taking steps and the remaining 25% neither agreed nor disagreed.
4. A range of factors inhibit a trusting relationship between grantee partners and funders.
Respondents cited issues such as: funders creating a ‘race to the bottom’ in terms of low pay in the
sector; funders applying punitive measures when things don’t go according to plan; Grantee Partners
not wanting to ‘bite the hand that feeds them’; lack of lived, thematic or even sector experience on
boards which leads to misunderstanding and mistrust; and one directional learning, flowing only from
grantees to funders.
5. Respondents told us they felt foundations were most accountable to their board, the group they
were felt to be least accountable to was end beneficiaries.
6. Respondents felt that some key barriers remain in place. To name a few, these include: old,
embedded structures and boards which see little reason/driver to change; the resource required to
actually re-balance power led several to worry that unless this came alongside the will to change,
things wouldn’t change; and concerns over value of jobs depreciating or job loss.
7. Respondents feel that now is the time to make changes within the sector, and they cite
#CharitySoWhite and #ShiftThePower as examples of movements catalysing this. Many of those in
grant making positions stated that they felt trusted in their jobs and this results in a good amount of
influence for them to change practice within their institutions.
The report concludes that re-balancing power within the grant making context on a practical level means recognising that grant makers are not always the best people to make funding decisions. Through introducing greater levels of participation in grant making by those with lived experience and by investing in expert knowledge and sharing of knowledge - power can be shifted into the hands of people and communities. There are some good examples of this across the sector; through communities participating in funding decisions, to foundations investing in those from disadvantaged backgrounds and with lived experience to enter philanthropy, but they are not the norm. Achieving greater equity is about restoring power and resources to affected people and communities and recognising the existing
power held within them. It is also necessary to recognise that power is deliberately broken down in certain communities (e.g. through structures of colonialism, racism, patriarchy, capitalism), and our responsibility is to then restore power through philanthropy in the communities that have been impacted by these wider systems of oppression. Restoring this power will go a long way to ensuring philanthropy perceives its existence as the pursuit of justice, rather than mere charity.