Listening for change

Listening for Change is a report commissioned by Esmée and the Blagrave Trust based on an anonymous survey of organisations towards the end of 2016 to shed light on their experiences of working with Trusts and Foundations.


Charitable foundations play a key role in supporting social purpose organisations to create a better and more inclusive society. Yet, there is a strong sense from many working with and within the Trust and Foundation world that there is a need to evolve our approaches and models of working in order to achieve greater impact and to better support the sector as it navigates through increasingly uncertain times.

So when I sit down to another (grant) application, making sure we fit all the guidelines, I can’t help thinking of that Einstein quote that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.


The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and the Blagrave Trust commissioned an anonymous survey of social purpose organisations towards the end of 2016 to shed light on their experiences of working with Trusts and Foundations. 

Listening for Change gives unmediated voice to individuals working in social purpose organisations as part of a broader recognition of the importance of funders listening to and learning from those they work with and support.

Findings demonstrate a strong desire from charities to be part of an open conversation with funders as partners with shared social goals.  The 600+ respondents said that grant making practice by Trusts and Foundations needs to strengthen charities’ core work rather than detract from it; do more to open up communication; improve accountability to beneficiaries; and base relationships on trust.

Feedback includes:
  • Foundations are seen as accountable to their Trustees to a much larger degree than the people they seek to help. A significant minority point out that Foundations never visit their work or meet beneficiaries and this needs to change;
  • Foundations’ communication with charities needs to improve so that charities can learn from feedback and relationships can be stronger;
  • Foundations should acknowledge that failure is part of social change work and play a greater role championing the sector during turbulent times.
  • Foundations should seek to collaborate with each other around shared priorities as well as process, in order to minimize the bureaucratic burden on charities.

We request honest feedback from applicants and grantees throughout our grant-making process. We will use this to change and improve the way we work and the support we provide. You can find more of our learning from our funding in Insights and learning.

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