How are trusts and foundations like snowflakes?

In the latest BBC documentary series with Brian Cox, Forces of Nature, he explained that snowflakes look similar because they are formed by the same forces but every one is also different as each is formed by travelling a unique path.

Grant makers are the same. There are around 10,000 Trusts and Foundations in the UK alone. Each has different aims, priorities and criteria. They are all similar in that they are trying to make a difference through allocating their resources as best they can. But each is different because of all the choices made along the way.

This weekend I was a guest lecturer on the Cass Business School Charities Masters course as part of the Grantmaking, Philanthropy and Social Investment module (see link). I guided students through just some of the choices needed to create a grant making programme, from the strategic considerations such as: ‘Do you want to help people or change the world?’ to the practical aspects such as: ‘Which assessment methods will you use?’

Each step in the process of creating a coherent grant making programme involves making a decision and the order the decisions are made in matters. For example, if you decide to respond to the needs defined by applicants then it is much more likely that this will dictate an open grant process. For the students, each decision they made created much debate as there are no right answers. The result was that within the session the students created grant making programmes that all started from the same point but, two hours later, were all - like the snowflakes - completely different.