Grantmaking Trusts and Foundations


There are some 7,500 - 10,000 registered trusts and foundations in the UK (depending on your definitions). There are a small number of large grantmakers which give out public money - e.g., The Big Lottery is the single largest grant maker in the UK giving out around £650 million each year; while the various Arts Councils in England, Scotland, Wales and N. Ireland distribute around £500 million of Grants-in-Aid from central government money. There are also a large number of "private" grantmakers which may be set up and run by companies, families or individuals.

Foundation giving trends 2016

The latest report on grant-making foundations in the UK has found that grant spending reached £2.7 billion last year, finally closing the gap on the level that was given out before the financial crash of 2008. However, a slowdown in asset growth and voluntary income may herald leaner times ahead...

Foundation Giving Trends is produced by Professor Cathy Pharoah of the Centre for Giving and Philanthropy at the Cass Business School with the Association of Charitable Foundations and funding from Pears Foundation. The report ranks the Top 300 foundations by the value of their grant-making and provides aggregated data on the size, shape and nature of foundations’ contribution to UK civil society.

This year I was involved in the production of the report, specifically the section on "Where the money goes" - an analysis of 16,500 grants showing that education and health top the billing:

Where do grant-makers give?

There have been various attempts at mapping the UK's trusts and foundations, some of whom have been around for centuries, but the world of trusts and foundations has remained stubbornly opaque...until very recently. DSC's report unveiled where UK grant-making foundations give:

Trust funding versus level of need demonstrated by income deprivation (Sector Insight: UK grant-making trusts and foundations, 2015)

Trust funding versus level of need demonstrated by income deprivation (Sector Insight: UK grant-making trusts and foundations, 2015)

Sector Insight: UK Grantmaking Trusts

In 2015 the Directory of Social Change (DSC) published its contribution to the debate on trust funding and its place in the voluntary sector landscape, authored by Dr Catherine Walker and Tom Traynor.

The report provided a detailed insight into the operational activities and impact of UK grant-making trusts and foundations, including an analysis of their assets, income and charitable expenditure in the form of grants, where their funding is given, who their beneficiaries are and the causes they have supported. Also included in this report are the findings from a survey which provide a deeper understanding of the practices of these charities, the challenges they face and their wider operating environment.

The report covers the top 2,500 grant-makers, giving a total of around £2.65 billion, which represents around 88% of all grant giving in the UK.

‘Timely and important … a fascinating insight into the funders’ world... For me the real value of this report is that we can at last begin to understand the distributive impact of grant-making in the UK.’
— Dame Suzi Leather, chair of LankellyChase Foundation and former chair of the Charity Commission

Key findings

The latest estimates by the Directory of Social Change (DSC) are that there are around 8,000 practising grant-makers currently in the UK. The total value of grants awarded by these funders is in the region of £3 billion each year, which represents almost 8% of the voluntary sector’s income.

  • The assets held by all of the trusts and foundations in our sample total almost £45 billion
  • Actual grant spending has recovered to pre-recession levels
  • £1.88 billion in grants was given in the UK, with about £767 million given overseas
  • £418 million was allocated to England; £80 million to Scotland; £65 million to Wales; £3 million to Northern Ireland
  • 30% of the regional funding was given in Greater London; the South East received 13.4%, followed by the North West, which received 12.7%, the West Midlands (9.8%), the South West (7.4%), the North East (7.1%), the East of England (6.8%) and Yorkshire and the Humber (6.5%). Last in line of the regions was the East Midlands, which received only 6% of the total regional amount
  • While there is little correlation between the proportion of grants given to a region in the UK and its relative deprivation, there is a much higher correlation between the proportion of grants given to a region and the density of registered charities operating in the area
  • 48% of trusts fund general charitable purposes; 38% support social welfare; 34%, health; 33%, education and training; 27%, religious causes; and 25% support the arts, cultural activities, sport and recreation
  • In financial terms, health-related causes account for 29% of the money given by the trusts and foundations in our sample, while 21% is given to children and young people
  • 12.6% of respondents received fewer applications than the previous year, 58.2% received about the same and 29.2% received more
  • Only one-fifth of applications are successful, with more deemed ineligible
  • Applications are more likely to be successful when a funder provides informal support before an application is made