Frequently asked questions

Tremayne Hall, Locality

What is Esmée Fairbairn Foundation?

Esmée Fairbairn Foundation is one of the UK’s largest independent funders. Our aim is to improve our natural world, secure a fairer future, and strengthen the bonds in communities in the UK. We do this by contributing all that we can to unlock change by people and organisations with brilliant ideas who share our goals. Read more about our aims.

In 2019 we made grants of £35.8m to a wide range of work in the arts, children and young people, the environment, food and social change. We also have a £45m allocation to social investments. View our funding data.

Our funds are generated by our investment portfolio. Read more about our approach to investment.

The foundation is named for Esmée Fairbairn by our founder, Ian Fairbairn - read more about them and our history.

What do you fund?

Our grants support organisations’ core or project costs, including staff salaries and overheads. We also provide unrestricted funding for charities. We do not give grants for building or equipment costs, or individuals. See other exclusions from our funding.

Our social investments start with the social need and tailor the investment to it: adapting and selecting financial instruments that are most appropriate. We invest directly into organisations and indirectly, through funds. Our social investments can support a broad range of capital costs as long as there are plans in place to generate income and support the capital investment.

We encourage organisations to apply as part of a partnership or collaboration, and welcome work which fits more than one of our impact goals or funding priorities.

You can search all our grants and social investment data on GrantNav to understand the type of work we support. Read more about our strategy and aims.

We only fund work that takes place in the UK (or where there is a clear primary benefit in the UK). We do not fund work in the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man.

What kinds of organisations do you support?

Most organisations we give grants to are charities, but we do fund other types of organisations (including Community Interest Companies, and companies limited by guarantee) as long as the work they are doing with our grant funding is legally charitable. The Charities Act 2006 defines this as work that falls within one of 13 descriptions of purposes and is for the public benefit.

For organisations that are not registered charities, we need to see a copy of their constitution - a document that outlines the rules that will govern the organisation - to check that: there is sufficient public benefit; there is good governance; and there is protection against private gain.

For good governance, we want to see

  • 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 organisations that are not registered charities – an asset lock clause in their constitution designed to ensure that the assets of an organisation, including profits or surpluses generated, are used for the benefit of its community or to further its activities and mission.

A general term used to cover all the provisions designed to ensure that the assets of an organisation, including profits or surpluses generated, are used for the benefit of its community or to further its activities and mission.

You may find the Charity Commission useful for information and advice on Governance and also this document on Internal Financial Controls.

By exception, when we proactively seek out a new idea to support ourselves, we might make grants to organisations which don’t meet all these governance standards provided that we are satisfied that the work is charitable, and has adequate safeguards in place. This might be through a conduit organisation, by providing a restricted grant, or by using a contractual arrangement.

For social investments, we only invest in organisations that have charitable aims and mission, but we can support more commercially based activities where it is clear that the organisation's primary purpose is social impact.

How do you make decisions?

Esmée Fairbairn Foundation is a registered charity. Our board of Trustees meet regularly and set the overall strategic direction of the Foundation. We currently have 11 Trustees, a number of which are members of the founder's family. Read more about our governance.

Trustees approve a budget each year, which is linked to the long-term performance of our investments. Currently our spend budget is approximately £40million. We also have a £45m allocation to social investments.

The Trustees work with an executive team to make decisions on how to use our resources and make funding decisions.

How do I apply for funding?

All details of our application process can be found here, along with our funding guidance.

There are no deadlines – we assess expressions of interest, and make funding decisions, on a rolling basis so you can apply when it suits you.

We don't accept applications for grants of less than £30,000. In 2019 our median grant size was £130,000 over 3 years, and we made two grants of over £1m.

We don't accept applications for social investments of less than £100,000. In 2019 our mean social investment size was £437,000.

If you're not successful, you can apply again without needing to wait. However, unless your expression of interest is very different, it's unlikely to get a different result, as we will already have looked at your organisation details and website to judge whether your work is a potential match for our aims.

The majority of our grants support organisations' core costs, or are unrestricted, and in most cases we only make one grant to an organisation at a time. If you have an idea for an additional grant that could contribute to our impact goals, speak to your funding manager.

We will give feedback to every organisation we ask to submit a full proposal. Feedback will not be given on expressions of interest, but we will track and use our team’s assessments to amend our guidance, answer frequently asked questions, and give more general application advice on our website and twitter.

Is my organisation eligible for funding from Esmée?

You can take our short quiz to see if you meet our minimum criteria for funding. You can also find our general exclusions in what we don't support.

How will you assess an organisation's annual turnover?

We look at an organisation's latest set of accounts to assess annual turnover. As we are not considering applications from organisations with an annual turnover of less than £100,000, this means that if your last set of accounts shows a turnover of less than £100,000, your organisation will not be eligible for Esmée funding.

We will be working with partners to identify new ideas we could support which are at an earlier stage and might not meet our eligibility criteria. We will contact organisations proactively to apply for this support.

Can you help me with my online application?

As of October 2020, we have a new strategy and a new application process. If you were working on an application using our previous system, you will not be able to access this now.

We will develop guidance here once the system is running, based on questions asked during the first few months. If you have a question, please email questions@esmeefairbairn.org.uk

Can I apply as part of a collaboration?

Yes, we encourage collaborative approaches across our aims. We can fund both existing or new collaborations.

One organisation will need to apply as the 'lead' - they will be treated as the grant-holding organisation in our system and hold responsibility for the progress of the work.

We'll need the collaboration partners to confirm their involvement. Not all partners have to be registered charities. You'll also nominate two contacts; one from the 'lead' organisation and one of the partners.

You can include anticipated costs of setting up and co-ordinating networks or partnerships in your application.

Why do you turn down applications?

See why we turn down applications.

How can I ask a question about the application process?

If you have a question about applying for support that isn't already here, please email questions@esmeefairbairn.org.uk.

Where should media enquiries be directed?

If you are a journalist and have a press enquiry, you'll get the quickest response if you send details to communications@esmeefairbairn.org.uk.

Do you pay the Living Wage?

Esmée 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.