What do people think about Esmée Fairbairn Foundation 2024

We commissioned nfpResearch to survey successful and unsuccessful applicants about their experience of Esmée. Read a report of their key findings. Gina Crane, Esmée's Director of Communications and Learning also shares her reflections on the findings.

Reflections on the results

As an open and trusting funder, we are committed to making life easier for those we fund, and to minimising effort for applicants. By sharing the results of our second applicant and fundee survey run by nfpResearch, we want to show positive progress made since the 2021 survey, but also to be open about the difficulties people still face in applying to us.

The Good

The changes we made to our applications process after the last survey are making a positive difference to applicants. There has been clear improvement in the “reasonableness of our process” when compared to 2021, likely driven by changes we made to our Expression of Interest form, which we expanded from 100 words to 300 words, and introduced a flexible word count over the two questions.

In our 2024 survey, we asked a new question about our approach to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Around two-thirds of the organisations we fund, and half of unsuccessful applicants are aware of what we’re doing, and the text responses were encouraging:

"Generally, applicants think you are showing great leadership in this important area; they want you to keep learning from underrepresented groups and continue sharing updates on the actions you are taking."

The Bad

There has been an increase in the percentage of applicants who feel they have encountered barriers to accessing our funding:

"Unsuccessful applicants cite a range of reasons, but mainly they feel that without an existing connection, the door to your network is shut."

We think this is due to some changes we made in response to the last survey. In 2023, we started running pre-application Q&A webinars to help organisations decide whether they should invest time in applying to us. You can find the latest one recorded here. In the webinars and on our website, we are being more open about chances of funding (success rates) at each stage of our process, and the difference between where we are being more proactive in inviting applications and those applying through our website.

In fact, we have increased the support we’re giving to organisations we haven’t funded before: 36% of grants made in 2023 (82 organisations) were given to organisations that were new to us (compared to 39 organisations in 2022). We also made more grants to organisations applying via the website, but the success rate remains low: 6.5% of applications that came in through the website in 2023 were funded, up from 3.1% in 2022.

The Ugly

The ugly truth of being an open funder in the UK in 2024 is that we still have to say no far more often than we can say yes. It is hard to read page 6 of this report, showing increased demand and greater financial instability for everyone in our sectors, and not want to fund everyone. As a funder we aren’t always able to change this, but we can be conscious of the consequences of our choices: of who we fund; of how much we spend on our own costs versus giving in grants; of how much time and effort we ask people to put into applying; and of how we give feedback.

What next?

We are incredibly grateful for the time taken by all respondents to this survey (and by email) and have read and shared all the feedback with our staff and Trustees. Over the next few months we will be looking in more detail at how to respond on:

  • Barriers: what can we do to be clearer about our proactive approach?
  • Feedback: what can we do to make our feedback more useful?
  • Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: continue to take action, listen, and to share what we’re doing.

As with the last survey, we will report back on actions we've taken in response to the findings. In the meantime, if you'd like to share your thoughts or have questions about the research, you can email us on communications@esmeefairbairn.org.uk. We also have a page with the various ways people can get in touch to give feedback on Esmée.

Thanks again to everyone who took the time to feed in to the research, and to nfpResearch for their work on this.

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