The Company We Keep

Membership organisations and trade bodies in the voluntary sector have a problem when it comes to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) – some more than others.   The Institute of Fundraising (@IoFTweets) seems to be leading the field currently (interestingly, an organisation which is 50% core funded by individual rather than organisational subscriptions)

Other bodies have recently done some work on this topic – eg @ACEVO – but others seem strangely silent (eg @NCVO) or are making slow progress (eg @ACFoundation’s Stronger Foundations programme was launched in December 2017 and is still deliberating)

Most membership organisations wish to attract and retain the widest possible membership for logical reasons.  For example, to be representative so that they can speak with authority to those outside the membership.  This inevitably means they will have members which themselves represent a diversity of types, perspectives and interests.

As a result, membership organisations often choose to prioritise issues or adopt positions which reflect the view of the majority of their members – or what they imagine is the view of the majority.

But they also face the financial pressure associated with how they are funded.  Membership bodies risk losing members if they take a stance on some issues – for example, losing conservative members if the organisation adopts a progressive position.  But, equally, the membership body risks losing progressive members if it doesn’t tackle progressive issues.

Membership bodies therefore tend to take a position somewhere on the spectrum from “we reflect our members’ most commonly held views” to “we facilitate members to develop a consensus on issues”  to “we set and enforce standards through member-led self-regulation”.

But some issues are so important and so urgent that the “we reflect” or “we facilitate” approach isn’t sufficient or appropriate.  Membership bodies need to decide when to facilitate and when to challenge – and if they feel they can’t challenge their membership directly on vital issues they should find ways to enable the members to challenge each other.

Where is the challenge to trusts and foundations on Diversity and Equity issues from the membership organisations we belong to?  It’s taken an anonymous group (The Grant Givers Movement @GrantGivers) to offer the first real challenge to our sector.

In part, it’s now up to progressive individuals and organisations to help and require their membership organisations and trade bodies to change – by bringing motions to AGMs, by electing trustees who support action on DEI, by contributing to the cost of projects to improve DEI-related will and capability in the sector and by challenging other trusts and foundations which appear to be ignoring this issue so that more members are demanding action.

Paying our membership fee doesn’t allow us to pass the responsibility for improving our own response to DEI issues onto our membership bodies.  The responsibility for our own improvement will always rest with us.

But, ultimately, we can all choose to invest only in those membership organisations and trade bodies which are tackling this issue in the way it deserves.

Here’s my suggestion for how ACF might move forward now (ideas for additions/ amendments to this are welcome):

Current Problem Statement:

Diversity, equity and inclusion (a social and economic good and a core component of social justice) is under-developed within many UK trusts and foundations and in how many trusts and foundations operate.

Desired Situation Statement:

All trusts and foundations are DEI competent and integrate DEI into their governance, management, operations, investment and funding decisions.

ACF plays a leading role in:

  • making the UK trust and foundation sector more DEI competent;

and in

  • helping to shift the balance of power in trust funding and governance so that both reflect the general population and the communities which trusts and foundations seek to serve.

Statement of Commitment and Action:

ACF will:

  • Make a public statement on its own commitment to DEI and how it promotes DEI internally and in its external activities;
  • Use its networks and influence to work collaboratively to create measurable change on DEI across the UK trust and foundation sector – and the voluntary and community sector more broadly – within 5 years;
  • Ensure that DEI is integrated as a cross-cutting theme throughout its Stronger Foundations initiative;
  • Actively promote the Stronger Foundations outputs to its members and more widely and will embed DEI in its professional development programme – including:
    • Training and events – including annual conference;
    • Resources on trustee recruitment;
    • Facilitating (eg through room availability) peer networks of individuals/foundations wishing to take forward DEI work;
  • Require members to commit to Stronger Foundations related DEI activities/standards as a condition of membership;
  • Establish a CEO/Director network (and work with the Association of Chairs to establish a Chair’s network) on DEI to support trust and foundation leaders who wish to take this work forward in their organisations (similar to the Ford Foundation’s model in the US);
  • Collect DEI data about ACF’s members (eg board and staff) in the annual membership renewal process;
  • Work with others (eg and Funding Trends to ensure that data collection about DEI indicators in funding allocation becomes routine;
  • If necessary, will seek additional funds from organisational and individual members to “crowdfund” DEI related activities;
  • Will report on the impact of its DEI work to its annual conference and AGM and in its annual report.

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