Treebeard Trust is a charitable foundation set up by Barnaby and Cassandra Wiener in 2011. Our mission is to support transformational initiatives which have the potential to create a healthier planet and fairer society.
We strive to do what's right rather than what's popular or easy, and are willing to take appropriate risk
We are willing to critically examine our decisions and be open about what has not worked. We want to take responsibility for our actions and decisions.
We will interact with others with clarity and openness.
We view the world, and come to decisions, from a position of empathy and care.
Like most foundations, grant-making is a critical element of our strategy. Every year we allocate around 5% of our endowment to this activity. We think of our grants as investments with a purely social or environmental return. Most of our grant partners are UK-based and they work across a number of sectors, although we have a particular focus on three areas: Environment; Refugees & Vulnerable Migrants; Violence Against Women & Girls.
Unlike many foundations, we also expect our financial investments to work in support of our mission. We currently deploy about 30% of our endowment in Impact Investments. These cover a range of asset classes (equity, debt and property) and different types of organisation (for profit and non-profit) operating in many different fields. The unifying feature is that all our impact investment partners exist to tackle a pressing social or environmental problem and simultaneously deliver a financial return.
The rest of our endowment is allocated to more conventional investments, both public and private market. Here our mantra is to be as responsible as possible. We are mindful that ALL investments have an impact, and we want to ensure that, at the very least, none of ours are negative.
The underlying premise of our funding model is that all our assets can be deployed to create social or environmental impact, and that it is not only charitable organisations who have a role to play in creating a better world. And we try to invest time as well as money. We advocate on behalf of causes we are passionate about and try to support our partners, by amplifying their work, or by providing advice, connections or simply a general sounding board.
In communicating with all our partners, we are mindful that we are coming from a position of privilege. We aim to be respectful, approachable, supportive and transparent; and we are reflective about the power imbalance that we recognise exists in all funding models. But we are rigorous in our approach to evaluation. We want to support exceptional teams and projects, and seek out partners who set themselves clearly defined goals and measures of success.
We don’t solicit applications for grant funding or financial investment. We do not have the resources to evaluate a large number of proposals and we do not want time-pressed applicants to spend their time in this way. Instead we draw on our own research, and in particular on our growing networks to identify potential partners. Funding opportunities are proactively identified and researched by our Director or Impact Investment Advisor, and discussed at an early stage with trustees, who then decide whether or not to continue due diligence towards a final funding proposal. All investment decisions, grant or financial, require approval from our trustees. These are not restricted to trustee meetings or certain times of year and can generally be turned around within a week or two.
Monitoring and Reporting
Lasting change takes time, especially when working to change the wider system. We are prepared to commit for the longer term with our partnerships, grant and financial. We prioritise transparency and honesty over rigid frameworks and quantitative measurement. We expect our partners to communicate how they are progressing towards their goals and to be clear about how they will monitor that progress, and impact, along their journey. We recognise that ‘impact’ does not look the same for different types of work and organisation; a national campaigning organisation would not approach impact in the same way as a grassroots community group. ‘Evaluation’ for Treebeard is therefore not just about outcomes and outputs – it’s also about an organisation’s ability to learn through its work, and how it responds to challenges and achievements it faces. For both types of investment (grant and financial), having established through our due diligence that the organisation has systems in place to monitor impact and finances, we then like to focus on fostering a close relationship through regular but informal communication. We want to be strategic and purposeful with our grant making, but at the same time light-touch, flexible and risk tolerant. This is often a tricky balance to strike. We recognise that improvement is always possible, and we seek out and use our partners’ feedback and thoughts on their experiences of working with Treebeard to reflect on how we do things better.