PHF should…

As part of the strategic review of the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, David Russell of The Social Enterprise submitted a response to the call for contributions as to the future direction of the organisation. The response was first published on the PHF should… website.

Practice and promote the concept of ‘mission-driven ambition’

The Paul Hamlyn Foundation should seek to lead by example in practising and promoting the concept of “mission-driven ambition” of charitable foundations. The concept was flagged up to me by my fellow Clore Social Fellow, Nikki Jeffery, who attended the recent annual conference of Association of Charitable Foundations where this concept was a key discussion area for the day.

The concept relates to how charitable foundations can best maximise all assets at their disposal – financial, physical, intellectual etc. – to deliver their goals. This approach can in turn be adapted by grantees, resulting in broader and deeper social impact across the sector.

Though there is ever greater focus on the field of social investment, this as yet has not meaningfully extended to how foundations can “socially sweat” their other assets. There is a huge social return that can be generated by doing so. For example, not only assessing how a foundation’s endowment can be put to best use to deliver mission-related goals through its investment strategy – but how its procurement policy, property portfolio, people’s potential, etc., can also generate social returns.

A commitment to mission-driven ambition extends beyond assessing the triple-bottom line of the foundation – in respect to the financial, environment and social impact of its work. It envisions a 360° perspective of the foundation’s contribution to the sector through its work. This should be fundamental to everything that it undertakes. It matters less as to whether this should be reported, but more that all stakeholders are aware that this philosophy is driving its decision-making process. Thus, it is factored into the grantmaking, procurement, investment etc.

Over my five years in post at Survivors Fund (SURF) I have tried to realise to some degree this ambition. As an organisation committed to support survivors of the genocide, we have tried where possible to recruit survivors on to our staff – who now account for 50% of our ten person office. When travelling to Rwanda, I stay in accommodation run by and benefiting survivor’s organisations. In the UK, it is more difficult to translate that commitment into contributing to our mission to rebuild the lives of survivors, but it is still possible, such as by sharing our winning proposals with organisations that share our commitment to survivors.

The next best thing when a mission-driven decision is not possible is to account for how a decision can add value to the sector – hiring our meeting rooms at a charitable organisation, commissioning other charities to undertake our evaluation, investing in an ethical pension.

PHF has already established itself in a position of leadership amongst charitable foundations in this regard, but there is more that it can do. And in turn, there is more that it can help its grantees to do in this area too and certainly a great deal more to encourage other foundations to do. Maybe its influence can even extend beyond the sector.

This is as much about culture and mindset as it is about measurement and evaluation. The focus of monitoring and impact reports is often on the outcomes of work. As important, but often ignored, is an assessment and audit of whether and to what degree an organisation’s assets are contributing to its mission, which includes how and what means it is employing to achieve those outcomes.

Therein lies the missed opportunity, and unrealised potential, of the charitable foundation today, to challenge the sector’s current obsession with outcomes – and to determine how other contributions to social impact that are less easy, but potentially more meaningful and relevant, can be measured.

By definition, all charitable foundations and their charitable grantees are united by a shared mission of delivering public benefit. PHF should have the ambition to leverage all its drivers to lead the sector in achieving this mission by utilising all means and maximising all assets at its disposal.

About thesocialenterprise

The Social Enterprise was established in 2007 by David Russell to develop creative and innovative approaches for individuals and organisations that seek to deliver social value. We work with charities and businesses, and our starting point on any project is to determine how we will generate a return on investment in our services – whether through a more effective working approach or delivering greater social impact.
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