Foundations are rising to the Covid challenge – How can yours?

New research published this week by the Association of Charitable Foundations [ACF] demonstrates the strong commitment foundations are making to the charity sector across the UK. The research has found that 86% of charitable foundations expect to maintain or increase their grant funding in 2021, despite 40% anticipating a negative impact on their own finances.

The report – Rising to the Challenge: Charitable foundations’ – is based on surveys carried out with 80 foundations across the UK, with balanced representation from small, medium and large grant-making foundations.

Given that the charity sector has been among the most hard hit by Covid over the last 12 months, this timely report provides welcome reassurance for many struggling charities. It shows that philanthropists and other private-sector bodies plan to extend Covid relief activities for the duration of this year at least.

The report’s key findings, below, delineate exactly how charitable foundations are stepping up. They also serve as inspiration for those philanthropists looking at how their foundation can better support the recovery effort.

Download the report


Key report findings

  • Nearly all respondents (96%) said they changed their work in 2020 in response to the Covid pandemic. This has included introducing new grant programmes, increased funding, and closer collaboration with other funders.
  • Nearly all foundations (86%) are planning to maintain or increase spending on grants to civil society organisations in 2021. This is despite 40% expecting a negative impact on their own finances.
  • Many respondents plan to maintain or return to their usual funding programmes or areas of focus in 2021, but apply a ‘Covid lens’ to their work or offer additional support to particular groups.
  • Half of respondents plan to create or renew Covid-specific funding programmes this year. More than 8 out of 10 stated an ongoing commitment to increased flexibility for grantees and reduced administration for funding applicants.
  • 45% of respondents plan to maintain their 2020 level of grant spending in 2021, and 41% plan to increase it, but many were uncertain about the longer term.
  • Two thirds say they will work differently in 2021 because of the ongoing impact of the pandemic. Nearly half of this group intends to do so throughout the year, and the same number expects this to extend beyond 2021.


What can philanthropists take from this research?

The ACF report highlights a number of ideas philanthropists can consider to improve their foundation’s strategy for helping charities recover. Many foundations have already introduced new grant programmes, but may still benefit from collaborating with partner organisations to share resources. Partnering with other foundations may also allow for new co-funded programmes to be created. An additional consideration is whether foundations can reduce administrative barriers in their funding application process. This may involve taking restrictions off of funding, streamlining forms or providing additional assistance to applicants. The report also sheds light on the necessity of understanding the long-term impacts of Covid, suggesting that ‘usual funding programmes’ will still need to be iterated to account for Covid once they are renewed.