Frequently asked questions and answers about the Foundation.

About the 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 do this by funding the charitable work of organisations who are building a cohesive, sustainable, creative and stable society.

A: Our funds are generated by our investment portfolio, from which we aim to achieve a total return of RPI +4% on a rolling five-year average. At the end of 2018 our portfolio was worth £1.04bn.  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.

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, food and social change.
You can find details of our aims - part of our funding strategy - here.

Q: What arethe Foundation’s aims?

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.

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, food 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 all our grants and social investment data on GrantNav to understand the type of work we support.

A: The Foundation's board of trustees approves a budget for the Foundation each year. Currently the Foundation's spend budget is approximately £40.5million. This budget is linked to the long-term performance of our investments.

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.

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.

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

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.
If you don’t receive the password reset email, please check your Junk inbox folder.

A: Towards the end of the online application process you will be asked to attach the following:

  • Your funding proposal (on no more than two sides of A4, font size 12).
  • Your organisation's most recent accounts (or a budget for the current year if your organisation is new).
  • Your constitution or another governing document but only if you are not a registered charity.

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

  • Either the file is too large (no larger than 5Mb)
  • 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).

A: Once an account has been created you will not be able to login using the 'Apply online' link on our website.
Instead use the link in the email sent to you once your login credentials have been entered and saved. The links can also be found below.

Please note: Once an application has been submitted you will no longer be able to access your account.

A: This happens when text is copied and pasted with formatting into a box. The formatting code then adds to the data value and quickly exceeds limitations.
To solve this, completely clear the box and type the information directly into the field.


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 of 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).

A: The Charities Act 2006 defines a charitable purpose, explicitly, as one that falls within one of 15 descriptions of purposes and is for the public benefit.  The 15 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.

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 grant 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.

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

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.

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.

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 2018, 65% of our active grants were for unrestricted or core costs. We also offer social investments. You should apply for the type of funding which best suits your needs.

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.

Q: Do you fund start-ups (organisations that are less than two years old)?

A:  We make very few grants to start-ups. We will only consider giving a grant to a start-up when the organisation can demonstrate significant track record in work which is similar or which has a direct applicability to the applicant’s work. This could be through the founder’s or director’s own experience (at least three years’ experience), and/or similar work carried out by employees before the organisation was created (for example when an established organisation merges with a new one and a new vehicle is created).

In a 14-month period, out of 339 grant applications made by start-ups, we declined 326 and funded 13. Our decisions to fund were entirely based on track record.
We do make social investments in start-up projects or enterprises which are looking to achieve social or environmental impact as well as a financial return but we will also take into account the applicant’s track record.

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

One organisation will need to apply as the 'lead' - they will be treated as the grantee in our system and hold responsibility for the progress of the work. The 'lead' can be a new or existing grantee at Esmée, and will undertake the full application process including sending governance and financial information.

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.

Finally we're open to applications for core funding to cover the salary of a Network Coordinator.

Making an application

A: Please bear in mind the following tips when preparing your application:

  • Please write in clear simple English - avoid jargon.
  • Make sure the application is fact based - overblown claims mean nothing without substantiated figures to support them (i.e. rather than  'many people will benefit' say that '30 children between 8 and 10 years of age will learn an instrument over 6 weeks').
  • Ensure that your figures add up - check and triple check.
  • Ensure that you've explained the who (you are seeking to assist), what (specifically you are proposing to do), why (you think it will work), when and where - keep it simple and keep it factual and back everything up with figures and names.  Write in specific terms rather than generalities - especially regarding track record and outcomes.
  • Ask someone who doesn't know the project or your organisation to read the application before you submit it - if they can understand what you are proposing, it should be easy for the grant assessor to understand the proposal.
  • Always tell us about partnerships - we are interested!
  • Acronyms – don’t assume we know what they mean.
  • Don't spend ages telling us how this work meets government targets and standards.
  • Take a look at the grants we have made previously.
  • Don't take up lots of space explaining the general issues that lie behind your work - assume we have a basic understanding of the context in which you operate and the generic needs of your beneficiaries e.g. migrant organisations do not need to tell us much about the problems that asylum seekers commonly face. We are more interested in what the organisation is going to do and what qualifies it to do so.
  • Tell us why you are unique and remember if the services are commonplace throughout the country you will need to show how what you do is distinctive.
  • Track record is fundamentally important, so do tell us about yours.

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.
In 2018 we received over 1,300 applications and only one in five were 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:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Poorly written 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. Look at our tips on how to put together an application before you start.

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).
Please don't ask for a grant that is disproportionate in the context of your overall funding.  It makes sense in the long term to build relationships with a number of funding streams (trusts and foundations, business sponsors, Local Authorities etc) to ensure long term stability and this makes your application more attractive.  You will probably not get, for example, £300,000 over 24 months if you are a start up with no track record or you have no other funders.
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 £20,000. 
We make small grants (£60,000 or less) for one-off projects, or for testing out new ideas and collaborations. We do not support general running costs at this scale.
Details of other funders with small grants programmes can be found here
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.
Please note that the Foundation does not fund organisations with a regular annual turnover of less than £50,000.

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.

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 two to four months of receiving your second stage application. 

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.
  • Your safeguarding policy.
  • 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 for:
  • 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.

Media enquiries

Social investment

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 the Good Finance website.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

A: Our minimum investment size is £60,000. We do not have a maximum, our average investment size is around £350,000

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.

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.

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.