FAQs

Frequently asked questions and answers about the Foundation.

About the Foundation

Q:

What is the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation?

A:

The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation is one of the largest independent grant-making foundations in the UK.  Our aim is to improve the quality of life for people and communities in the UK both now and in the future.  We fund the charitable activities of organisations that have the ideas and ability to achieve change for the better.

Q:

Where does the Foundation get its money from?

A:

The Foundation's funding comes from its investments.  At the end of 2013 our portfolio was worth £827 million.  The Foundation's portfolio covers a number of asset classes (i.e. types of investment).  The Foundation's original endowment derived from shares in M&G that Ian Fairbairn gifted in 1961.  The Foundation does not receive or solicit any income from donations or other sources.
Read more about our investments.

Q:

What are the Foundation’s aims?

A:

Our aim is to improve the quality of life for people and communities in the UK both now and in the future.  We do this by supporting organisations that work in the arts, education and learning, the environment, and social change.

The Foundation is one of the largest independent foundations in the UK.  We make grants in the region of £35 million per annum.  Our funds are generated by our investment portfolio.  We aim to achieve a total return of RPI + 4% on a rolling five year average.  Additionally we operate a Finance Fund (£26 million) which invests in activities that aim to deliver both a financial return and a social benefit.

Q:

Who was Esmée Fairbairn?

A:

Esmée Fairbairn (née Bethell) was born in 1887 into a wealthy family in Yorkshire.  Her first husband was Hugo Stobart with whom she had three sons, Simon (d. 1941), Oliver (d. 1984), Paul (d. 1997).  Ian Fairbairn and Esmée married in 1941.  During the Second World War Esmée worked with the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service (WRVS).  She was also involved with the early Citizens Advice Bureaux movement.  Esmée was killed in an air raid in London in 1944.
Read more about our history.

Q:

What do you fund?  What kind of grants does the Foundation make?

A:

The Foundation aims to improve the quality of life for people and communities in the UK both now and in the future.  We do this by supporting organisations that do charitable work in the arts, education and learning, the environment and social change.

We are happy to consider applications to fund core or project costs.  View our featured grants and explore grants we've made to understand the type of work we fund.  Our Guide to applying outlines our priorities and exclusions for funding.

Q:

How do you decide how much to spend each year?

A:

The Foundation's board of trustees approves a budget for the Foundation each year. Currently the Foundation's spend budget is c. £35million. This budget is linked to the long-term performance of our investments.

Q:

Who are Esmée’s trustees and where do they come from? Is the founder’s family still involved?

A:

We currently have 11 trustees a number of which are members of the founder's family.

The Foundation has a nominations committee that makes recommendations to the Trustee Board on new trustees.

Q:

What is the Foundation’s governance structure?

A:

The Foundation is a registered charity.  Its board of trustees meet regularly and set the overall strategic direction of the Foundation.

The trustees work with an executive team to set funding criteria and make decisions on what to support.  The criteria on which the Foundation assesses applications may change over time and is outlined on the Foundation's website.
Read more about our Governance.

 

Q:

Do you do anything other than grant funding?

A:

The Foundation is keen to make the greatest possible difference with our money.  We provide a range of support to our grantees through our Grants Plus programme where we think that our grants could achieve more with additional help (e.g. evaluation, communications advice, fundraising support, business planning).  We also make the meeting rooms in our office available for grantees to use free of charge.

As well as grant-making we have a Finance Fund which makes social investments to support non-grant forms of finance.

Funding

Q:

Do you fund for profit organisations if the work proposed is charitable?

A:

The work you are applying for must be legally charitable and your constitution must allow you to do the work.  We provide funding for a range of types of organisation (not just registered charities) though in practice the majority or organisations we fund are charities or non-profits.  If you are not a registered charity then we will want to see a copy of your constitution, to check that there is sufficient public benefit and protection against private benefit (such as what happens if there are any surpluses or if the organisation closes down).

Q:

You say you only fund work that is ‘legally charitable’ - what does this mean?

A:

The Charities Act 2006 defines a charitable purpose, explicitly, as one that falls within one of 13 descriptions of purposes and is for the public benefit.  The 13 areas are listed at the Charity Commission website.

We fund registered charities and other forms of organisations - however, when funding non registered charities we would still expect the work to fall within the definition of what is charitable.  When funding non registered charities we also need to see a copy of the applicant organisation's constitution.

Q:

We are a social enterprise/CIC (community interest company) are we eligible for funding?

A:

The Foundation funds social enterprises and community interest companies.  In both cases we would want to see a copy of your constitution alongside an application.

Q:

You require to see our constitution if we are not a registered charity - what is a constitution?

A:

A constitution is a document that outlines the rules that will govern your organisation (e.g. how many trustees/directors will you have, how they will be appointed).  It should cover what an organisation is set up for and how it is run.  Your local Council for Voluntary Service (CVS) or other local capacity building organisations may be able to help with developing a constitution, or if there is a membership organisation for your sector.  If you do not have a signed constitution then we will not be able to make a grant to you.

Q:

We want to make an application but: we do not have a set of accounts, track record or constitution.

A:

The Foundation understands that new and emerging organisations are an important part of civil society - and recognises they may not have the documentation and record of established organisations.  In these cases we will want to know more about the people involved (and their personal track records), a clear view of what the organisation's plans are, and budgets for the proposed work.  We are unable to support groups that do not have a constitution.

Q:

Where does the foundation fund geographically?

A:

The Foundation funds work across the UK (or work where there is a clear primary benefit in the UK).  Note: the Foundation does not fund work in the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man.
 

Making an application

Q:

Can I speak to someone over the phone to see whether we are eligible for funding?

A:

For a conversation to be meaningful we first need to read your first stage application.

We will call you if we need to know more.  Existing grant-holders should get in touch with their grants manager at the Foundation.

Q:

Do you have funding deadlines? When are these?

A:

There are no deadlines – we assess applications on a rolling basis so you can submit an application to us at any time.

Q:

Will I receive feedback if my application is declined?

A:

Because of the breadth of our interests and high number of applications we receive, we are unable to provide tailored feedback for applications declined at first stage.  Feedback is available for applications declined at second stage.

Each year we receive over 3,000 applications.  Only one in ten will be funded.  This is because we support organisations across the UK and because our interests are broad.  Given that competition is fierce it is helpful to identify the main reasons why we decline applications at first stage:

  • Applying for work which is commonly provided across of the UK. We are unlikely to fund activities which look like many others being delivered in communities across the UK.  This is no reflection on the quality or importance of this work.  However, with limited funds it is very difficult for us to prioritise between the many excellent, but similar, organisations that apply to us.  We are only able to consider support if the proposal demonstrates something genuinely innovative or if there is something exceptional about the circumstances.
  • Applying for work that is not a close match with our priorities. The guide to applying  gives detailed information about our funding priorities. We strongly advice you read this carefully before submitting an application. Please don’t try to fit a square peg into a round hole - if your work genuinely doesn't fit with our priorities then you would probably be better to consider applying to other sources of funding
  • Poor application. It is important that your application tells us all we need to know to make an informed decision. Too often we get applications mainly focusing on the issues rather than being specific about the proposed work, the beneficiaries, the organisation’s track record and partnerships. These hints and tips  give you more information about what we look for in an application.
Q:

How much can we apply for? What is the maximum amount we can apply for?

A:

You should apply for the amount you need (although we generally will be looking for organisations to be developing a sustainable funding base, so this means not over-relying on any one funder).  The Foundation does not set limits and makes grants across a fairly wide spectrum of sizes.  Looking at grants we’ve made will give a useful indication of typical grant sizes.  The Foundation rarely makes grants that are smaller than £5,000.

There is no maximum.  However, the Foundation makes only a small number of grants in excess of £500,000 and it is unusual for the Foundation to give a grant of this size or larger to an organisation with which it does not already have a relationship.

Q:

Can my organisation have more than one grant at a time?

A:

In most cases we only make one grant to an organisation at a time through the Main Fund.  In exceptional circumstances we will consider an additional grant, please speak to your grants manager.

Q:

Do staff ever come out to visit?

A:

Our staff regularly visit applicants and our grantees.  However, because of the number of applications we receive and the number of live grants we have at any one time, we are unable to visit every applicant or every current grant-holder.  We will get in touch with you if we would like to visit.

Q:

We already have a grant from the Foundation.  Can we discuss further funding?

A:

If your organisation already has a grant from the Foundation, and you would like to discuss further funding, you should contact your grants manager six months before the grant is due to expire.

Q:

How long will I have to wait for a decision?

A:

We aim to acknowledge your first stage application by email within a week of receiving it.

We expect to decide about whether to take it further within a month.

At second stage, we expect to notify you of the decision within four months of receiving your second stage application.

Q:

If my application is refused at either first or second stage, may I apply again?

A:

You may come back to us at any time with a new application.  However, please wait for a decision on one application before submitting another.

If your application has been declined, re-submitting the same or similar application is not going to be successful.  You should revisit the Guide to applying and look at what we fund as well as our sectors for further guidance.

Media enquiries

Q:

Where should media enquiries be directed?

A:

If you are a journalist and wish to speak about the work of the Foundation please call our press office 020 3544 4967.

Social investment

Q:

Do you do social investment?

A:

Yes.  Through our Finance Fund which makes loans and other investments into charities and social enterprises.  At the end of 2013, we had over £22.7 million committed as offers to invest in charities and social enterprises, of which just under £15.3 million had drawn down.  Historically, we have offered over £27.0 million of facilities to charities, social enterprises and the intermediaries that support them.

Our interest in social investment is to increase the overall flow of funding into the charitable sector as well as to be able to recycle some of our own funds.

Q:

What do you invest in?

A:

We seek to make social investments that achieve the overall mission of the Foundation, to enhance the quality of life of people in the UK.  Broadly, we expect these to fall into the areas of the arts, education and learning, the environment and social change.  We will consider investments outside of these categories, but the bar to investing gets progressively higher the further away from these you move, and the closer to our general foundation exclusions you get.

Q:

What kinds of investment instruments do you use?

A:

We are generally not constrained in the kind of instrument we use to make an investment.  We have made secured, unsecured and subordinated loans, bought shares in private companies, limited liability partnerships and industrial and provident societies, as well as revenue participation rights.

Q:

How long do you invest for?

A:

We would like to recycle our funds to re-invest them in the next wave of social investments, so we are reluctant to invest where there is no exit, or defined term.  The longest we have invested for is 10 years.  The shortest, 22 months.  Most investments fall in the 4 to 7 year duration.

Q:

What return do you seek?

A:

Ideally we would like our initial investment back, with a financial return to match long term inflation and the risk we are taking.  We are prepared to lower the expectation of return to reflect the social impact achieved by the investment.  In practice, this has meant committing to returns projected to vary from -5% (i.e. we expect to lose 5% of our investment each year), to +20% per annum returns.

Q:

Can my organisation have more than one investment at a time?

A:

Where an organisation is developing or running multiple funds, we may make an investment in a second or third fund.  We do not generally expect more than 10% of the Finance Fund to be allocated to a specific fund manager.

Q:

Do I need to have matched funding in place before applying?

A:

No.  However, it may help to have funding commitments from other sources and certainly a credible investment raising plan.

Q:

What happens if my application is successful?

A:

We will send you a "heads of terms" offer letter.  We will then negotiate a legally binding investment agreement between us.  While you will be expected to comply with the terms and conditions of the agreement, we will also expect this to be a working document.

You will also need to report to us on your progress with the work we are supporting. The frequency of both the financial reporting and social reporting we require will usually be set out in our investment agreement, or in a side letter.  We value reporting from our investors. They provide important insights and learning that we use to improve our investment process and our relationship with the wider community.