The strategy development project ran from November 2021 until September 2022. It encompassed consulting with members, sector infrastructure bodies and other civil society organisations using different techniques. For example, during a month-long online conversation, a different question went live on ACF’s website every week and responses were invited. After each week concluded, Carol wrote a blog to share some of the feedback. Members were also invited to focus groups to share their thoughts on ACF’s emerging ambitions and goals.
ACF’s board was engaged throughout the process, including a special board away-day.
“Eastside People helped with the diversity of interactions we had,” says Carol. “These included internal meetings, staff away days, telephone interviews with members, member workshops and board meetings.”
She adds that, as an external consultancy, Eastside People brought a fresh pair of eyes, the ability to challenge, and a unique approach to facilitating conversations about questions such as the organisation’s strengths and weaknesses, or what role ACF should play for its members. “They have a repertoire of tools for this,” says Carol.
ACF also engaged another consultancy to focus specifically on diversity, equity and inclusion. “Eastside People were really keen to work alongside these consultants,” says Carol. “The interaction was seamless.”
Once all the ideas are gathered in a strategy review, finding a way forward can sometimes appear overwhelmingly difficult. As Eastside People’s Ruth Dwight puts it: “It’s messy in the middle.”
The role of a consultant at this stage is to draw on their experience to guide an organisation onwards. “The Eastside People team were reassuring about the challenges, for example, when there is no consensus about what all the data means or what the next steps will be,” says Carol.
“We can provide an objective viewpoint,” says Ruth, “and provide the confidence that we will get through it.”
In January 2023, ACF launched a concise, ten-page strategy to guide its work over the next five years. “Our members were telling us about the challenges they see, specifically around addressing inequalities, the cost-of-living crisis and the ongoing impact of the pandemic,” says Carol. “They also want to respond to the climate crisis, act more on diversity, equity and inclusion and work together on stronger grant-making and investment practice.”
ACF is committed to “strengthening trusts and foundations so they can rise to the challenges of our times”, she says, so the strategy “sets out ACF’s vision of diverse, vibrant and effective foundations working together for social good”.
Now ACF is working on an implementation plan for the strategy as well as a theory of change, with input from Eastside People. ACF is at a “point of acceleration”, says Carol. “It’s a shift in momentum.”
Read the Association of Charitable Foundations’ (ACF) Strategic Plan.