Frequently asked questions

Tremayne Hall, Locality

1.1 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.

2.1 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.

2.2 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.

2.3 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 13 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.

Decisions are made depending on the size of the funding request:

  • Grants up to £60k - Executive Team
  • Grants up to £200k & social investment up to £400k - Executive/Trustee committee, which meets every 6 weeks
  • Grants over £200k and Social Investment over £400k - Trustee Board, which meets 5 times a year

2.4 Why do the exclusions in your online application process include organisations with a turnover of less than £100,000?

The vast majority of organisations we support have a turnover of above £100,000. We appreciate how difficult and time-consuming fundraising can be, and that our funding in particular is not easy to get. We want to be realistic about who we're most likely to fund, and avoid many more organisations being disappointed when there is little prospect of success.

This does not mean we don't support early stage and smaller organisations with a turnover of less than £100,000 - we do and will continue to do so. However, in our experience, online applications are not the best mechanism for identifying them.

See the next question to learn more about our support for organisations who don't meet this criteria.

2.5 Do you support organisations with a turnover of less than £100,000, and how do I apply?

Yes. We have always and will continue to support early stage and smaller organisations who we believe may be a good partner for our strategy, but may not meet our eligibility criteria.

This is particularly the case where we want to pilot, test, disrupt, support new ideas or organisations that we think will be important in terms of meeting our strategic aims going forwards.

To do this, we are choosing to focus our resources on finding these organisations proactively – for instance: by strengthening our networks, targeted referrals and monitoring the sector to seek out organisations that are doing amazing work towards our goals.

2.6 What are you doing to support organisations led by racialised communities or are disability-led who have a turnover of less than £100,000?

We want to find more ways to support smaller organisations led by racialised communities or are disability-led who share our goals, but may not meet our eligibility criteria. As part of this, we are working on expanding and strengthening our networks as well as working proactively to seek out organisations doing amazing work towards our goals. We also fund in partnerships with organisations such as Imkaan, the Rosa Fund, Global Dialogue and Comic Relief who have the experience and reach to do this well and we are learning from them.

We continue to explore other ways we can improve our support for organisations led by racialised communities or are disability-led and very much welcome feedback. If you'd like to share your thoughts or have any questions, do get in touch by contacting communications@esmeefairbairn.org.uk.

We also shared an update on what we're doing on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in a blog in December 2020 and you can learn more about our commitment and action plan here.

2.7 Why is the Cultural Education priority by invitation only?

We are closed to applications while we explore where Esmée's contribution could have the biggest impact in this area. We will make some grants proactively - collaborating with partners, including other funders, to identify work that has the potential for large scale impact, as well as which new models could benefit from wider evaluation and dissemination. We will also share what we learn.

It is likely that these grants will be by invitation only or through partnership with other organisations.

How are you identifying collaborators and partners?

We are trying to identify collaborators through our usual networks and through recommendations.

2.8 Why is the Young People Leaving Care priority by invitation only?

We are currently supporting a fantastic group of organisations, and are focusing on working more closely with them to achieve our desired outcomes. We may invite applications where we feel additional work is needed in one of our focus areas, and we will identify these by working with our partners in the sector.

As we do not plan to make many new grants to organisations we’re not already supporting, this priority is currently closed to applications.

2.9 What if my work fits more than one priority, impact goal or aim?

We think it’s great if your work fits more than one so don’t worry too much if it does. Our application process will ask you to choose an impact goal and priority that is the best match for your work. You will also have the chance to select which other priorities are also a match for what you do.

We also don't have a preference in terms of projects focusing on one of our impact goals and projects that work across more than one impact goal. We want applicants to tell us about their priorities and how they align with our impact goals.

2.10 Are you offering recovery funding from COVID and is it available for organisations you don't already fund?

Yes. We know that many organisations are still in crisis mode as a result of COVID-19 and we want to provide flexibility on our strategy, our application process and in our approach to reporting. You can learn more about this in our guidance for support.

2.11 Does ‘using all your resources’ mean a plan to spend down the endowment?

It doesn’t, but Trustees regularly review how much to balance need now with likely need in future, eg in 2020 we agreed to give an extra £16m from our endowment in response to COVID-19.

2.12 How will you use your voice and other tools such as convening to influence?

Any influencing we do will be with the intention of achieving our impact goals, but it will be in two main ways.

  • Firstly, backing the work we fund. Building on the kinds of facilitative actions we have taken over the past few years, we will aim to give more proactive support to the work we fund, leveraging its impact further through our own actions (making links and connections, sharing and amplifying messages from those we fund).
  • Secondly and more rarely, taking the lead. Where we’ve planned to, as part of our roadmap, we will use our voice to build the case for better support for an issue; support campaigns that are key to making progress towards our impact goals; build alliances to push for change; or join a push for better legislation, regulation or policy change.

2.13 For Funding Plus, do you have a selection of preferred consultants or does the charity find their own?

Feedback we’ve received shows organisations value being able to choose a provider that best understands their organisation’s needs. We therefore do not have a preferred supplier list, but may be able to pass on details for providers that have been recommended by organisations we fund.

3.1 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.

3.2 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.

3.3 What evaluation criteria do you use for Expressions of Interest?

After meeting our minimum eligibility criteria, Expressions of Interest are evaluated based on best fit to our impact goals. See also the main reasons for why we turn down applications.

3.4 How will you assess an organisation's annual turnover?

We normally look at an organisation's latest set of accounts to assess annual turnover. If you do not yet have this available, you can enter the information yourself in the Expression of Interest form.

Please note that we are not considering applications from organisations with an annual turnover of less than £100,000. You can learn more about our reasons for this and what we are doing to support smaller and early stage organisations who do not meet our eligibility criteria, but may be a good partner for our strategy here.

3.5 In the Expression of Interest, what do you mean by ‘BME-led’ organisations and ‘Disability-led’ organisations

By BME-led organisations, we mean that 51% or more of the organisation’s Board and senior management team are from a Black, Asian or from other minority ethnic backgrounds.

By Disability-led organisations, we mean that 51% or more of the organisation’s Board and senior management team are D/deaf or disabled. We have chosen to adopt Arts Council England’s definition for this because we want to keep track of all disability-led arts organisations, but this should also include DDPO organisations (with either a board made up of 75% or more Deaf and Disabled people, or a staff team of 50% or more Deaf and Disabled people, or both)

And how will you use this information?

We are committed to supporting more organisations led by communities experiencing systemic injustice – particularly due to race and disability. We recognise that we have not done enough on this and need to make changes. Gathering data about our work and those who are looking for support from us will help us understand how we are doing and where we can make improvements.

Learn more about our commitments and actions we are taking on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

3.6 What is the success rate of applications?

Under our new application process, 8% of Expressions of Interest submitted go on to be successful applications. This is based on Expressions of Interest submitted since we launched in October to the end of December 2020. In 2019, under our old process, the success rate of applications was 2.8%.

3.7 What is the turnaround time for decisions after initial application?

  • After submitting an Expression of Interest, we will let you know if we will take your application further within four weeks.
  • After submitting a Proposal, we will let you know our decision within three months.

Altogether, the full process for a successful application - from submitting an Expression of Interest to being awarded a grant - can take up to 6 months. See also the question on how we make decisions.

3.8 Can an organisation hold more than one grant?

Yes, but it is unusual. In general, we will accept more than one application for funding (usually, not more than two) from an organisation when:

  • There is not any duplication in terms of the programme of work being covered and we aren't being asked to fund the same costs twice
  • The organisation is acting as the lead in an application on behalf of a partnership, and the other application is for funding for that organisation in its own right and for its own needs

3.9 Can I submit more than one Expression of Interest to the Foundation at a time?

Yes, we will accept more than one application for funding (usually, not more than two) from the same organisation when:

  • There is not any duplication in terms of the programme of work being covered and we aren't being asked to fund the same costs twice
  • The organisation is acting as the lead in an application on behalf of a partnership, and the other application is for funding for that organisation in its own right and for its own needs.

3.10 Can I apply as part of a collaboration/partnership?

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.

3.11 Why do you turn down applications?

See why we turn down applications.

3.12 My application was unsuccessful - can I apply again?

Unfortunately, we receive far more applications than we are able to fund. We appreciate how challenging fundraising can be so whilst an organisation who has been turned down for funding can apply again, the new application should not be for the same work and costs. 

Please look at why we turn down applications before deciding to submit another application. You can also find useful links to guidance & directories for other sources of funding here.

3.13 Can I get help with an application? How can I ask a question about the process?

We don't normally offer calls before Expressions of Interest are submitted due to the capacity of the Team.

You may find the following useful:

If you're still not able to find the guidance or answers to questions you might have, do please send your question in to: info@esmeefairbairn.org.uk.

4. 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.

5. 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.