Funding Strategy

In March 2015 we published our new five year Funding Strategy. You can read or download the full document on our publications page.

Our aims and funding priorities are listed in what we fund.  On this page we talk about the context for our work and how we're thinking about impact and effectiveness.


This is the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation Funding Strategy for 2015 to 2019.  We have developed it with Trustees, staff, stakeholders and grantees and informed it by external research and analysis.  It sets out the following:

  • Our understanding of the external environment in which we will be working and funding over the next five years.
  • The long term goals that we have for our funding and the values that underpin them.
  • An explanatory framework for our funding priorities and opportunities for positive change that we will prioritise in the next five years.
  • Plans to monitor our impact and effectiveness so that we keep our funding relevant. This includes changes to the way we fund programmes and activities.


The operating environment for foundations has changed dramatically in the last five years.  We expect that the following factors will continue to influence our work for the life of this strategic plan.

Crisis Funding

We expect the austerity drive to continue with statutory provision retrenching, inequality growing and the boundaries between the social, the public and private sector becoming increasingly permeable. We can see that philanthropic funding will not fill the emerging gap and so, whilst we are responsive to need, we recognise that this can no longer be our only driver. We must develop longer term strategies that do not draw us into short-term crisis provision.

Uncertainty and Risk

Statutory funding has moved from grants to large scale contracting for services and the adoption of Payment by Results. This transfers financial and social risk from government to service providers. It means that charities are operating more like businesses and adopting new forms of funding and social investment. There is now a fierce, competitive tendering environment dominated increasingly by large, private sector, prime contractors. The independence and purpose of the sector is under threat, politically and in the media. This means that the nature of our funding is now as important as what we fund. We will maintain our focus on core, flexible and long-term funding together with mission-driven social investment.

Political uncertainty

The political landscape across the UK is becoming more unpredictable and there is likely to be more national and regional devolution. Policy, service delivery and funding are also being devolved.  Local authority funding already accounts for half of the sector’s income. This brings opportunities for collaborative, multi-stakeholder ways of working. Organisations that are involved with changing systems will need to engage much more broadly and creatively. As a funder, we will need to develop skills to enable us to assess and manage risk and performance in this new and fragmented world.

Innovation and Change

All these pressures mean that progressive organisations and communities are looking at innovative and entrepreneurial solutions.  Organisations are crying out for space, time and faith to re-design and innovate. We see strong, well-run organisations adopting new avenues for sustainability and impact. They are challenging old models, developing business skills and trading activities. They are forming new partnerships or consortia and considering social investment as part of their long term, strategic plans. They are also looking at efficiency by changing bank account or energy suppliers, bulk buying, using complementary technology/social media, seeking pro-bono support, and increasing volunteering opportunities. Communities are beginning to investigate local, independent solutions for themselves. Esmée’s style of funding and our appetite to back new ideas or risky areas is more valuable than ever.

Esmée’s aims

See the aims that make up our theory of change.

Funding priorities

See Arts, Children and Young People, Environment, Social Change, and Food.

Single funding platform

We will introduce a single funding platform - a ‘tools in a toolbox’ approach – so that any applicant approaching Esmée can be offered the right package of grant-making, social investment and capacity support. This will be supported by the introduction of a single approvals structure across all grant-making and social investment by 2016. 

Impact and effectiveness

We are developing an impact and effectiveness framework. This will be proportional and light touch so that it recognises some of the complexities and ambiguities of our work as well as the realities faced by those that we fund. The emphasis will be on how to use evidence to help us to learn and organisations to grow, strengthen and be more effective. The framework will be made up of the following building blocks:


We are creating a data strategy to ensure that we are collecting the right information.  We will map all of our funding across the following:

  • Grantee outcomes:  Since January 2013, grantees have been asked to identify three outcomes associated with the funding they receive from Esmée. We will add to this by agreeing indicators associated with progress against each grantee outcome from January 2015.
  • Esmée outcomes/exit:  We will map our grants and social investments against our funding priorities. This will help us monitor and learn from our funding over time. It will allow us to spot and understand emerging trends in the underlying sector and will also help guide our decisions around exit.
  • We will also track the people and communities we expect to benefit from these outcomes as well as evidence of any systemic changes. We do not attribute these to our funding but will use them as indicators of effectiveness.


We will implement a reporting mechanism to provide the following:

  1. Internal Dashboard for monitoring and decision making.
  2. Evaluation framework for our funding that looks at progress against expectations, exit outcomes, key learning and opportunities for future funding areas.
  3. Annual strategic reviews involving staff, trustees and external expertise where required.
  4. Opportunities to communicate and celebrate the success of those we fund and to share evaluation and learning with other Foundations and the broader sector.