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 2015 our portfolio was worth £907 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 mission 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, children and young people, the environment, and social change.

You can find details of our aims - part of our funding strategy - here.

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, with children and young people, the environment and social change.

We are happy to consider applications to fund core or project costs.  Look at what we fund, and what we don't fund. Search our database of grants and social investments to understand the type of work we support.  

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 also make social investments to support non-grant forms of finance.

Q:

Do you have a Living Wage pay policy?

A:

The Foundation is a Living Wage Employer, accredited by the Living Wage Foundation.

The Living Wage commitment means that everyone working at the Foundation, regardless of whether they are permanent employees or third-party contractors and suppliers receives the London Living Wage.

The Living Wage is an hourly rate set independently and updated annually. It is calculated according to the basic cost of living using the ‘Minimum Income Standard’ for the UK. Decisions about what to include in this standard are set by the public; it is a social consensus about what people need to make ends meet.

Employers choose to pay the Living Wage on a voluntary basis. Current levels for the Living Wage and details of how it is calculated can be found on the Living Wage Foundation website

Applying online

Q:

The system is not accepting my details when trying to create a new account

A:

This usually happens when an account for this email address already exists (perhaps set up by a former employee or colleague). Please click on ‘Forgot your Password?’ and follow the steps to have a temporary password sent to this email address, which then will allow you to change it to your preferred password.

Q:

Can we view previous submitted applications?

A:

Yes, if you log back into your account (by clicking ‘Log in’ at the top of our website) and selecting ‘submitted applications’ in the drop down window in the bottom right corner of the accounts page.

Q:

I was working on an application last year, where has it gone?

A:

We're sorry about this. Usually applications expire if not activated / worked on within a 6 month time frame. However, sometimes this period is shortened due to maintenance updates or changes to application forms.

Q:

Why isn’t the application form showing the right details?

A:

Try clearing the cache and cookies of your browser. Try following the instructions at: http://www.wikihow.com/Clear-Your-Browser's-Cache  or http://www.aboutcookies.org/Default.aspx?page=2

Q:

At what stage should I add attachments?

A:

At the end of the online application process, on the last page of the application form, you will be asked to attach the following:

  • Your organisation's most recent accounts (or a budget for the current year if your organisation is new)
  • Your funding proposal (on no more than two sides of A4, font size 12; you haven't already used the text box on the previous page for this)
  • Your constitution or another governing document but only if you are not a registered charity.
Q:

Why does it say our files are not being accepted?

A:

There are two likely reasons why the system is not accepting an attachment:

  • Either the file is too large (needs to be smaller than 10Mb)
  • Or it’s an unrecognised file type (you can only upload files with the following file extension: pdf, doc, docx, xls, xlsx, ppt, pptx, txt)
Q:

Can I attach more information (eg a business plan / impact report) to my application?

A:

We would prefer you not to do this. If you are invited to 2nd stage, we will welcome and be able to engage with more information and you will have the opportunity to explain and document your plans or work in more detail.

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 gain (e.g. a clause that ensures that funds transfer to a charitable body in the event of the organisation closing 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 Charity Commission definition of what is charitable.  When assessing the proposals of 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)/ company. Are we eligible for funding?

A:

The Foundation funds work that is legally charitable, but this can be carried out by social enterprises, community interest companies, and companies limited by guarantee. We are highly unlikely to fund CICs limited by shares or companies limited by shares.

In the case of non-registered charities, we need to see a copy of the constitution to check that there is sufficient public benefit and protection against private gain. Furthermore, we will review the constitutions of non-registered charities for evidence that:

  • There is a minimum of three directors, the majority of whom should not be paid employees
  • The salaries and benefits of employees are approved by a majority of non-executive Directors
  • In the case of CICs - – in addition to the above, an asset lock clause that ensures that funds are not transferred (without due consideration) to a body without charitable objects.
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.
 

Q:

We applied before your 2015 Funding Strategy was published - how will our application be assessed?

A:

If you recently submitted an application, or are in the process of being considered for a grant or social investment, rest assured that our new funding strategy is not very different from how we have prioritised work and made decisions for the past few years. Part of the aim of publishing our priorities and aims is to make our decisions clearer to applicants, other funders, and to our own staff and Trustees. In certain areas – social change and children and young people – our funding priorities are now more specific, but we will continue to assess previously invited applications under our old priorities.

Q:

Do you fund research?

A:

The Foundation does not fund academic research. We will only consider funding research when it forms a strong match to our priorities and the applicant can demonstrate real potential for practical outcomes. We would therefore expect there to be a strong plan for dissemination and ideally strong partnerships to be in place to increase the likelihood of results/recommendations to be taken forward.

Q:

Do you give unrestricted funding?

A:

Yes. We want our funding to enable organisations we support to operate as flexibly as possible. We give grants for organisations' core running costs and for specific projects. In 2014, 58% of our funding was for core costs.   We also offer social investments. You should apply for the type of funding which best suits your needs.

Q:

We are a Cooperative. Are we eligible for funding?

A:

We need to see an asset lock in your constitution to be eligible to apply to us.  The majority of cooperative structures do not include an asset lock and so should not apply.  In exceptional circumstances, where the distribution of surpluses for private gain delivers significant social benefit, we may, exceptionally, relax this rule.  For example, a community renewable energy cooperative that is located in a financially deprived area and that delivers reduced utility bills for its members.

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. We strongly advise you read about what we fund and what we don't fund. 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.  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 what we fund or read our 2015-19 Funding Strategy for further guidance.

Q:

What information will you need at second stage?

A:

This will depend on what you are applying for. We aim to be proportionate and not put anyone to wasted effort. Generally the larger the amount you request, the more information we will need. For some small grants we may want very little extra information. We will always ask for:

  • Financial information for the last two years along with anticipated income and expenditure levels for the current year.​
  • A copy of your latest approved annual report and accounts.
  • A set of management accounts covering the last financial year, if you do not yet have an audited version.
  • A copy of your Constitution, Memorandum and Articles of Association or other rules (only if you are not a registered charity).
  • A job description and person specification for any post/s that you want us to fund.
  • A current business plan, if you have one. 

We will usually also ask fo​r:

  • A summary of your organisation, its work and impact to date
  • Demonstration of the need for your work
  • An explanation of what you want to achieve with our funding, including:
    • up to three key outcomes you aim to bring about by the end of the grant.  
    • details of how you will​ monitor your progress towards these outcomes
    • any risks that might prevent you from being successful
  • A clear plan of the activities you will carry out or approach your work will use
  • Details of relevant staff, trustees or volunteers who will manage the work
  • Your plans to make the work last beyond the lifespan of the grant
Q:

We work across more than one of your sectors, which funding priority should I choose?

A:

We welcome applications which cross more than one of our sectors and your application will be assessed with that in mind. To help us track and report on applications and grants however, we would like you to choose one (the most appropriate) sector and specific funding priority for your proposed work.

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 make social investments?

A:

Yes we do. We provide social investment in a range of different forms to charities, social enterprises and other not-for-profit organisations aiming to achieve social impact. See the social investment page for more information.

To find out more about the social investment sector, please visit www.goodfinance.org.uk

Q:

What do you invest in?

A:

We look to make investments that meet the aims of our funding strategy and achieve high social impact as well as a financial return. For example, we can invest in start-up projects or enterprises, innovative models or services aiming to address social issues, organisations looking to scale or move towards longer term financial sustainability.

Q:

What kinds of investments do you make?

A:

We have a very broad range of investments in our portfolio including loans (secured and unsecured), bonds, equity, revenue participation and Social Impact Bonds.

We work with an organisation to identify the most suitable type of investment to support their needs or if an organisation knows what type of investment it is looking for, we are happy to look at the proposal.

Q:

How long do your investments last?

A:

We do not have a set timeframe for our investments but we want to recycle our funds to re-invest them again so are reluctant to invest where there is no exit, or defined term.  The longest we have invested for is 10 years, the shortest is 22 months.  Most investments last between 4 to 7 years.

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 we have more than one investment at a time?

A:

It is possible for an organisation to have more than one investment at a time, you should contact your Social Investment Manager to discuss any potential future proposals.

Q:

Do we need to have match funding in place before applying?

A:

No, however it may help to have funding commitments from other sources and certainly a credible plan to raise the additional investment required.

Q:

What happens if my application for social investment is successful?

A:

We will send you a "heads of terms" offer letter outlining the investment and then negotiate a legally binding investment agreement between your organisation as the borrower and us as the investor. This agreement will set out the detailed terms, conditions and expectations for the life of the investment.

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 the investment agreement, or in a side letter. We value reporting from our investees. They provide important insights and learning that we use to improve our investment process and our relationship with the wider community.

Q:

Do you support capital projects through social investment?

A:

Yes, we do invest in capital projects if the aims of the project are in line with our funding priorities, within our sectors of interest and there are plans in place to generate income and support the capital investment (i.e. cover the running costs and repay our investment).

Capital projects could include, for example, the purchase, construction or renovation of a building or equipment needed to deliver services or support activities.

Q:

How much can we apply for?

A:

Our minimum investment size is £100,000. We do not have a maximum, our average investment size is around £350,000.

Q:

Do you charge interest?

A:

We would like to get our original investment amount back and we usually charge some form of interest to reflect long term inflation and the risk we are taking with the investment.

We are prepared to accept a lower return if the investment is likely to help achieve a very high level of social impact. On average our interest rates range between 4-7%

Q:

What is the Land Purchase Fund

A:

We work with major conservation organisations within the UK to purchase sites of high conservation or environmental importance with the aim of restoring or safekeeping them for future generations. We purchase the sites and provide a two year window for our partner organisations to raise the funds to purchase the land from us. The land purchase fund is not an open application fund, we will only consider applications from specific partner organisations.

Q:

What is the Arts Transfer Fund?

A:

We invest in the transfer of theatre productions from the subsidised arts sector to the commercial sector with the aim of increasing the financial sustainability of the subsidised sector by retaining more value. If you are a subsidised arts organisation seeking to transfer a production and wish to discuss the possibility of investment please contact us to discuss your plans.

Q:

Can we apply for social investment if we already have a grant?

A:

Yes we are happy to talk to our existing grant-holders about a potential social investment as long as it is to support work that is different to or complements the work we’re already supporting.

Q:

Do the same exclusions apply to social investment as for grant-funding?

A:

There are some variations between our grant funding and social investment. Most notably –

Work that is common to many parts of the UK

If your organisation is seeking investment for mainstream services or core operational activities in order that you can expand, develop and / or secure longer term financial / operational sustainability it could be suitable for social investment. You will need to clearly demonstrate good impact and explain how you will generate income to sustain activities / services in the longer term and repay the investment.

Recreational activities

It’s unlikely we would invest in recreational activities directly but they may form part of a capital project or an income generating activity that will support wider charitable aims. 

Capital costs

We can support a broad range of capital costs through social investment as long as there are plans in place to generate income and support the capital investment (i.e. cover the running costs and repay our investment).

Capital projects could include for example the purchase, construction or renovation of a building or equipment needed to deliver services or support activities.

Energy efficiency or waste reduction schemes

We can consider community renewable energy schemes but this is not a priority area for us at the present time.  

Work that is primarily the responsibility of central or local government, health trusts or health authorities / replacement or subsidy of statutory income

We will not replace or invest in activity that is a statutory requirement but may consider applications to support work delivered in partnership with a statutory agency or complementary to statutory services if there is clear evidence of need and potentially significant social impact.

Examples of this could include providing investment to support the up-front development and operational costs for organisations delivering (or planning to deliver) public sector contracts and services based on ‘payment by results’ models. Social Impact Bonds are an increasingly common example of this type of social investment.

Work that is not legally charitable

We will only invest in organisations that have charitable aims and mission but we can support more commercially based activities where the income generated will be reinvested to support social impact through the wider work of the organisation.