‘Culture wars’ criticism of charities slammed by Association of Charitable Foundations CEO

The Association of Charitable Foundations chief executive Carol Mack has urged grant givers to remember “you are best placed to know what is right for you” in the face of criticism from the media and politicians of their work to tackle racism.

Her comments follow recent concerns raised by right wing media and politicians over charitable organisations that are looking to address historic links to slavery and racism.

Mack says that foundations “are getting caught up in the crossfire and beaten up in the media” amid “so-called culture wars and the increased scrutiny this brings”.

This is despite trusts’ “serious, thoughtful approaches to reviewing their history and past links to slavery”.

She told charitable organisations: “But a guiding light through the media storm, and what is most important through all of this, is your own mission as a foundation, and staying true to that.

“You are best placed to know what is right for you – not a journalist fishing for a controversial story nor a politician hoping to be noticed.“

Speaking at the ACF’s virtual annual conference Mack said that “alongside the moral case, there is the case related to impact and mission” for foundations to tackle racism”.

She said: “The existence of racism and other discriminatory and harmful practices and cultures limits the ability of foundations to support the causes, people and communities that you care about.

“And there is also a strong business case. Including diverse perspectives and experiences are critical for foundations to reach their full potential.

“Taking these three cases together – the moral case, the impact case and the business case – foundations who are more diverse, more inclusive and working towards more equitable opportunities and outcomes will be confident about their role in society and well placed to welcome scrutiny.”

She urged charitable organisations to ensure they keep “good records” of their decisions to ensure all their work relates back to their charitable objectives.

Foundations addressing slavery links

Foundations and trusts that have sought to address their historic links with slavery include the Barrow Cadbury Trust, which apologised in July after discovering that the origins of its wealth were derived from the profits of slavery 100 years ago.

In April Joseph Rowntree endowed charitable organisations pledged action to address their “shameful” colonial past and links to slavery.

Among politicians to criticise charitable organisations for tackling their roots to colonialism and slavery is Oliver Dowden, when he was Culture Secretary before becoming Conservative Party co-chair in Boris Johnson’s autumn reshuffle.

Dowden was particularly critical of Guy’s and St Thomas’s Foundation and the Churchill Fellowship.

Levelling up

In her conference speech Mack also called for foundations to “be at the heart of” the government’s levelling agenda to tackle regional social inequality.


She said that foundations can “work independently of frantic political timescales” and “deploy flexible approaches that few other funders and few other investors can take”.

“I am definitely not saying that foundations should cast aside their independence and seek to ape the state,” she added.

“But foundations can choose to complement public spending and work in partnership with those that the public sector might otherwise neglect.”

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