What do people really think about Esmée Fairbairn Foundation?

We commissioned nfpResearch to find out what people really think about working with us, how that compares with other funders, and what we might need to change. Read their report with key findings and recommendations. We think their recommendations could be useful to other grant-givers, too.


Gina Crane, our Director of Communications and Learning, shares her reflections on the research findings, alongside what's next for Esmée.

Feedback does matter, very much

For Esmée, receiving useful feedback is a privilege, and acting on it is a requirement. As a funder that supports a few hundred organisations to do innovative, nationally important work, over the long term, does it matter what the thousands of people we are not funding think about us? “It does matter, very much”, one of our Trustees said when we presented the findings of this applicant perception research carried out by nfpResearch in autumn 2021 and spring 2022.

When thinking about the impact we have as a foundation, we need to include the time and effort taken by organisations in applying for our funding even if – especially if – we don’t give them money. Through this research, we learned that our intentionally “light touch” approach is not mutually light touch. Applicants may still spend a number of weeks working on their short Expressions of Interest, so it’s important that we pay attention to what they have to say.

Feedback does not come for free

We are grateful to the 209 people we fund, and 349 people we turned down for funding, who responded to the survey. We know that this took time and effort. By working with nfpResearch on the survey, we were able to compare our performance with a benchmark of 9 other funders and to contribute our data towards future research.

We commit to taking action in response to the survey findings, but we know we can’t give each of those respondents what they really need most of all: “more money”. Some of the things we can do are: be more honest about whether we will fund organisations; be clearer about how we make decisions; and challenge our bias towards our existing funding networks.

No systemic change without a better funding system

It’s tempting, as a funder, to focus on achieving “systemic change” for the environment or social justice, without examining the system we’ve created – the funding system – and who it’s really working for. What are the costs and benefits, and who is paying for them?

The recommendations of this research are tailored for Esmée’s process but they could have been written for a number of our peers. We encourage all funders to read and consider them alongside the other work on funding practice that has been challenging us all lately: fix the form; the Foundation Practice Rating; and Open and Trusting Grant-making.

What next?

We had some heartening positive feedback on the way we work and support organisations, and live our values, but we have areas for improvement too. The detailed suggestions made by respondents have given us some helpful ideas and we will be using them as a customer service “evidence bank” for improvements over the next few months.

We will share more on the changes we’ve made later in the year, and will repeat the survey in 2023/4.

We are always open to feedback, or questions from funders about the research process – you can email us on communications@esmeefairbairn.org.uk.

Finally, we want to say a big thank you again to everyone who took the time to feed in to the research and for sharing their experience, as well as their thoughts. We're also really grateful to nfpResearch for their support on this work.

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