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Our AI-focused Innovation Hub event at Linklaters HQ on Friday 2nd June covered the need-to-know aspects of recent developments in AI for BAMER-led non-profits.

Alongside the event, we decided to test the chatbots’ performance on basic fundraising questions around prospecting for trusts and foundations. 

Out of the six funding programmes Bard recommended, only one actually exists.

Given that the quality of AI systems’ outputs comes largely from the quality of their training data, the inaccuracy we found in the chatbots’ responses speaks volumes about the historic lack of mainstream funding to support BAMER-led non-profits, and especially grassroots race equality work. Many of the UK’s largest funders made significant commitments to address the situation in 2020—and our panel discussion at Dragons’ Den 2022 covered the issue in detail—but for now, they’re still no match for specialist resource centres like BAMER HUB, events like Meet the Funder, #BootCamps, and #BrunchBriefings, and accelerator programmes like AVOCADO+ and AVOCADO+ Lite.

Question 1: Where can I get funding for non-profit work on race equality in northeast England?

First, we asked Bard, Google’s chatbot, which it says is powered by the large language model LaMDA.

Out of the six funding programmes Bard recommended, only one actually exists.

First, it suggested we apply to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF)’s “Race Equality Fund” and “Community Resilience Fund.” JRF has funded race equality work—by the Runnymede Trust and Voice4Change England, for example—so it’s not misleading for Bard to point to them. But the foundation confirmed to us it has not operated funds under the specific names Bard came up with.

Bard also suggested we apply to the Big Lottery Fund’s “Community Fund and their Awards for All Fund.” Big Lottery Fund is the legal name of the National Lottery Community Fund (NLCF), not its parent organisation, a change that happened in 2019. The Awards for All programme in England is not specifically focused on race equality work, but at least it exists. And it does fund some race equality work, including initiatives for the 75th anniversary of Windrush this year.

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Finally, Bard pointed us to the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation (EFF)’s “Social Change Fund and their Social Innovation Fund.” EFF did have Social Change as a funding priority from 2015 to 2019, mentioning inequality, injustice, and marginalisation, although it’s not actually a ‘fund’ or a funding stream and is four years out of date now. EFF told us it did not have a specific social innovation fund, but does support social enterprises and social innovation initiatives. They also fund social justice and race equality work through their current strategy.

We asked the same question to Bing. Here’s what it said:

You can apply for funding under the racial equity programme by Lloyds Bank Foundation [1]. This programme is for registered charities and community interest companies (CICs) working with people experiencing inequity because of their race or ethnicity [1]. You can also check out the Race Equality Foundation, a national charity tackling racial inequality [2].  

1 –

2 –

3 –   

Bing performed much better than Bard here, on accuracy, timeliness, and particularly sourcing, which Bard didn’t provide at all until directly asked.  

But the link to the Race Equality Foundation (REF) is a little misleading since REF is a research and infrastructure organisation, not a funder.

Given that the quality of AI systems’ outputs comes from the quality of their training data, the inaccuracy we found in the chatbots’ responses speaks volumes about the historic lack of funding to support BAMER-led non-profits.

The EHRC’s Race Legal Support Fund is relevant and is still open, but it’s aimed primarily at lawyers representing people who have experienced prejudice and discrimination, not at non-profits—which might be why Bing didn’t include it in the main text.  

Lloyds Bank Foundation did announce a Racial Equity fund in March 2023. The page Bing provided as a source has been taken down, presumably because applications closed on 31 May, but it was still live and the fund was still open on the day we gave it this query.  

Between Bing and Bard, then, our first query produced one directly relevant and accurate result, three ‘ballpark’ results which were accurate but not strictly relevant, one out-of-date result, and four results which contained completely false information.

Question 2: What’s the largest grant funder in the UK?

The answer we expected was the Wellcome Trust, which distributes so much grant funding that ACF’s yearly ‘Foundation Giving Trends’ report disaggregates it from every other grant funder.  

Bard returned what we expected, and added a list of the top 10. But amongst that top 10, it included the Robertson Trust, which came 33rd on ACF’s list in 2022, and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which came 122nd. 

We asked Bard for its sources and it returned articles from Civil Society, the Charity Excellence Framework, and Beauhurst—none of which mention the Robertson Trust, nor JRF. It said it also used its “knowledge of the UK grantmaking landscape.”  

The Robertson Trust announced it intends to provide £200 million over 10 years in its 2020-2030 strategy, so it’s possible Bard saw the figure and mistakenly read it as annual. It wouldn’t be the first time a chatbot has mixed up financial categories: in Bing’s opening demo at a Microsoft event in February, it confused gross margin categories with and without adjustment and impairment charges, and apparently invented an inaccurate figure for operating margins.

Bing pointed to formula grants, an internal government mechanism for funding public bodies like local authorities, police, and schools. For now, there’s just no substitute for tailored, expert-led training.

When we asked Bing to name the UK’s largest grant funder, it answered with formula grants from the Department for Education (DfE), citing £60.7 billion for 2019 to 2020.  

Firstly, they’re not the latest figures: the 2021-22 statistics were published in April this year. Secondly, formula grants are an internal government mechanism for funding public bodies like local authorities, police, and in this case, schools: they’re not available to the private or third sectors.  

DfE general grants, which are specifically for research and the voluntary sector, totalled £4.8 billion in 2021-22, much more than the Wellcome Trust’s £793.7 million—but government grant-making is quite different from trusts and foundations. (We cover both with BAMER HUB resources, which we automatically filter and highlight based on each member organisation’s results in our Digital Resilience Check tool—so if you’re interested in income through commissioning, BAMER HUB can help.) 

Bing seems to have partly recognised the issue with formula grants, because it added that the “largest grant funder of community activity in the UK” is the National Lottery Community Fund—a direct quotation from the NLCF website. The ACF doesn’t include NLCF in its Foundation Giving Trends reports because “its funding results from a government mandate although derived from the public purchase of lottery tickets,” but NLCF’s 2021-22 Annual Report says it distributed “nearly £600m” to the UK’s communities, so it does appear to be the UK’s biggest community-focused grant funder.  

A word of caution—Large Language Models are stochastic, which means they can generate different results for the same query on different days or for different users.  You might get dramatically better or worse results than we did for the same queries. 

For now, though, there’s just no substitute for tailored, expert-led training—which is why we run the AVOCADO+ Accelerator Programme and its Executive cousin, AVOCADO+ Lite, along with BAMER HUB. You can always contact us to find out more about our programmes for BAMER-led non-profits. 

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