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The road to becoming a more strategic funder

Since it was established in late 2021, the Dukes Foundation has been committed to doing good and bringing about social change in the world. 

We have long recognised that there a plethora of not-for-profits in and around our Dukes school, colleges, and other settings with endless needs. It has been a challenge to decide which groups to prioritise for funding.

Along with my committed Board of Trustees, I spent my first ninety days in post gathering input from Directors, teachers, staff, and parents regarding how the Dukes Foundation’s grantmaking strategy could be more effective as well as better reflect Dukes Education’s values and goals. As part of hearing from all four corners of our Dukes family, I also plan to tap into the thoughts of Dukes students.

In parallel with this appraisal of the Dukes Foundation programme, I was keen to continue the Foundation’s ‘reactive grantmaking approach’, willingly engaging with charities and other worthy causes that were actively referred to me by directors, other staff, and Heads and Principals.

Following an open and transparent process, the most compelling of these engagements were selected and actively encouraged to submit funding proposals for consideration by the Dukes Foundation Board. 

I believe that we should always allow some scope for this level of responsive grantmaking. Here are just a few reasons why the Dukes Foundation has benefited from adapting this responsive approach:

  1. It has enabled the Foundation to support a variety of grantseekers and a broad range of focus areas that are seen as important to the Dukes family and aligned to its wider values [insert hyperlink of themes].
  2. The Foundation has the flexibility to respond swiftly to emergencies such as the Turkish Syria earthquake disaster, agreeing to match the extraordinary fundraising efforts of Dukes Education schools and colleges.
  3. We are agile enough to consider and respond to small, innovative local projects.  

However, in the first Board meeting under my leadership, and based largely on our initial strategic discussions with our main stakeholders, the Dukes Foundation Board of Trustees agreed to commit to allocate at least 55% of the Foundation’s annual grant expenditure to providing bursary support and widening access initiatives. Partnering with Dukes schools, this grantmaking is principally to support talented young people to benefit from a gift of Dukes education. We are now developing an ambitious annual funding strategy to build an endowment for this increased bursary provision.

This decision is significant on several levels but, most importantly, signals a move by the Foundation to transition towards to a mix of both responsive and strategic grantmaking. In allocating percentage of our grantmaking budget for responsive grants, we will ensure that we can be nimble in reacting to emergency situations or address short term important needs of our communities. And as a strategic funder, the Foundation has taken ownership of being accountable for successful outcomes and achieving bold targets regarding transforming young people’s lives and life chances.

So, what next for the Dukes Foundation? After a short period of consultation with our heads and principals, across the Dukes Community – the Foundation will outline a bursary funding process with these stakeholders –defining a clear process, priorities, and strategic initiatives. I will be proposing to the Foundation Board that we should be ready to commit at least five years to this level of investment in strategic grantmaking for bursaries and widening access. Our increasing strategic grantmaker approach will see us develop an ambitious roadmap for achieving our widening access goals, and capitalise on opportunities for leverage, learning, and leadership from across the Dukes community.

We will also create a separate process for ‘responsive’ grants, where we will define a specific theme for each funding round for Foundation support for each given funding round and where we seek to identify charities more proactively to meet community needs with innovative approaches and initiatives.

This is an exciting time for the Dukes Foundation as we continue to redefine ourselves as a responsive grantmaker and strategic bursary funder.  By weighing up carefully and addressing important questions about grantmaking approach and balance, time frames, processes, strategies, and communications, the Foundation will manage the transition in ways that are open, engaging, transparent, and forward-looking. Above-all, this results-oriented funding approach will enable the Foundation to create extraordinary impacts for young people all over the world for generations to come.

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