Stories in philanthropy

Key learnings from 2017 UK Study Tour

Eight days, three cities, nine UK trust and foundations, one conference: 19 members of Australia’s philanthropic community headed to the UK for this year’s study tour. Here are the highlights.

Nicole Richards, Nov 2017


London, York and Edinburgh were the destinations for this year’s Private Giving Study Tour, led by Philanthropy Australia CEO, Sarah Davies, which focused on the power and potential of social investment.

The purpose of the tour was to inform and stimulate thinking and practice, and provide case studies, options and viewpoints which might be adopted or adapted.

Independent London-based philanthropy consultant, David Carrington, set the context for the tour when he briefed tour participants on the state of social investment, noting that social loans constitute the largest form of social investing with £800 million in secured loans around the UK.

The study group met with and learned about the experiences of nine trusts and foundations: Baring Foundation, City Bridge Trust, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Friends Provident Foundation, Inspiring Scotland, Corra Foundation, Foundation Scotland and Esmee Fairbairn Foundation.

Some of the most pronounced themes and shared experiences that arose from the meetings included the wisdom that grantmaking is only a small part of influencing for change and that advocacy has a key role to play in the funding mix.

Being aware of language and discourse used to re-frame and re-position issues was another key take away—a learning that resounded with tour participant and Fay Fuller Foundation CEO, Stacey Thomas, and has already resulted in action.

“The nuance of language and how we communicate our work and values was also a great thing to reflect on as it is something that should be relatively painless to implement,” Thomas says.

“At the Fay Fuller Foundation, we had agreed to look at our entire resources and use all for positive impact but our language didn’t change internally. This meant that in the busy day-to-day what we distributed in grants, what we invested, and what we spent in administration were all treated differently. 

“Hearing more about how important language and communication was to those foundations we visited, inspired us to make changes.”

“We now refer to our entire resources as our ‘impact portfolio’ and every dollar we allocate within that portfolio, regardless of how, needs to be accounted for by what its impact has been and what we have learned from it.  A change in our language has enabled us to be far more focused.”

For fellow tour participant and Snow Foundation CEO, Georgina Byron, says there were many highlights from the tour, but visits to the Inspiring Scotland Foundation and Corra Foundation (formerly Lloyds TSB Foundation for Scotland) were stand outs.

“I admired their absolute commitment to working collaboratively with their communities including government,” Byron says. “Interestingly, both receive large amounts of government funds that they then allocate to charities, taking a fee for service (8 per cent) and consequently, they have a tight focus on performance measurement.

“I particularly loved Inspiring Scotland’s collaborative and performance-based approach to drive social change and transform lives. They have eight funds, most long-term (10 years) and each fund is focused on tackling an entrenched social problem. Their ‘Performance Advisors’ (not program managers, love their language!) work together with 5-20 charities for each fund,” Byron continues.  “These charities and performance advisors meet quarterly to review their performance against a balanced scorecard and work together for improvement.  

“Their aim is to identify essential proven essential organisations (they don’t invest in innovation) and enable them to become extraordinary charities. They give untied core funding and develop their people’s skill-base to make them strong and resilient. They have an extraordinary professional pro-bono program with 350 ‘pro-bono’ professional volunteers including a big focus on board development and corporate governance.”

Thomas and Byron both stressed the value of spending dedicated time discussing issues with their philanthropy peers who’d travelled with them to the UK.

“The highlight, which was as much good luck as good planning, was the way that a very diverse group of people, with different interests and priorities, were able to connect and learn together in a way that only spending that amount of time together facilitates,” Thomas says.

Insights gleaned from the Study Tour have already prompted Byron to consider how they might be incorporated into the work of the Snow Foundation.

“There’s lots to take back and incorporate,” Byron says. “It’s just a question of working out how and when.

“I’d like to do more long-term and untied core funding to grow the capacity and resilience of for purpose organisations and less program funding. I’d also like to involve grantees and/or experts with the application review process where it’s appropriate and be more conscious about assessment and evaluation and ensure the measurement we ask charities to undertake is useful and actionable for them and us, otherwise there is no point.”

Other action items for Byron include an active review to understand where fund managers place the Snow Foundation’s investments, possible formation of a “pro-bono network that could provide knowledge, skills and time to help organisations become stronger,” and undertaking more advocacy.

The potential to extending the influence of a foundation’s work also struck a chord with Thomas.

“There were some great examples of sophisticated investors, where portfolios were not only mission aligned, but also used to influence. For example, pressuring fund managers on gender diversity or activism through share holdings,” Thomas says.

“While we talk about some of these things here in Australia, a few of the foundations we visited were taking it to another level. Discussing these concepts and how they implemented them has given us courage to really explore this further.”  

“As one foundation said, ‘Your money is talking, even if you don’t hear it’.”


Private Giving Study Tours are just one of Philanthropy Australia's initiatives to support more and better philanthropy. Learn about other Philanthropy Australia initiatives here. 

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