Chief Executive's Report

Esmée Fairbairn is here for the long term. In 2017 we provided £44.6m in funding to exceptional organisations who are making the UK a more inclusive, creative and sustainable society. In these times of political uncertainty, the flexibility, continuity and long-term aims of independent funders is even more needed.

We have tried in 2017 to respond to this challenge. We have continued to spend well (£40.5m in grants and £4.1m in social investments) and we hope wisely. The work that we have been privileged to support has encompassed organisations such as the participatory arts organisation Heart n Soul and the environmental campaigning law firm, Client Earth. Our endowment has benefitted from strong public equity markets and from our decision in recent years to carefully increase our allocation to early stage and growth private venture funds (up from 17% of the portfolio in 2014 to 26% today). And over and above our usual business, we have spent our time in 2017 looking for new ways to be the best foundation we can be.

We have concentrated very hard on preventing applicants from wasting their precious time in applying to us when we are unlikely to fund them. Our website has been upgraded, our process now includes an eligibility quiz co-designed with applicants and tighter guidelines and explanations of what we fund and don’t fund. This has resulted in a drop of 27% of applications from 2,755 in 2016 to 2,023 in 2017. Our response time for 1st stage applications is now 10 days and we have started to provide some feedback. There is still more to do but we believe that this is good progress.

360Giving logo
360Giving logo


360Giving aims to make grant-making more effective, strategic and transparent. It plans to get UK charitable grant-makers,  government departments and local authorities, to publish their grants as data online in a standard, simple format that all can find and use for free.

We previously supported the development of 360Giving's GrantNav tool, and in 2017 gave them a core cost grant to encourage more funders and grant seekers to use 360 data to drive their decisions. 

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We have invested a great deal over the last two years in listening and learning from those we fund as well as building a framework for collecting and disseminating what we find. This resulted in the first two of our Insight Reports (on funder practice and the state of the environment sector) and a teaching case study of our evaluation and learning model was presented at this year’s UK Evaluation Roundtable (convened by the Institute for Voluntary Action Research). It was a record year for our Grants Plus offering; some £450,000 was awarded to over 150 organisations in 2017.

We launched pilots in two areas (Children Leaving Care and Place) to test what other non-financial resources we can bring to bear, working as brokers and facilitators to encourage convening and the building of unusual alliances between the state, the not for profit and the private sectors. Our grant to Social Finance’s Impact Incubator is an example of this kind of work to improving outcomes for care leavers.

We have invested a great deal over the last two years in listening and learning from those we fund as well as building a framework for collecting and disseminating what we find.

Our backing of the Commission on the Future of Food, Farming and the Countryside and our funding for Carbon Disclosure and the Green Alliance provides the environmental sector sorely needed support to collaborate and drive radical approaches to tackling the defining issue of our times.

The role of investment in being a driver for social and environmental outcomes is becoming an exciting addition to our armoury. We have developed our ESG strategy further in 2017 and have included a £25m allocation to test these new investment themes. This sits alongside our £45m allocation to social investment; our fund is 10 years old in 2018. We look forward to celebrating all that it has achieved and also to using it well in the coming year.

We firmly believe that 2018 will be another year where we will need to challenge ourselves and work at pace to support the many organisations we stand side by side with to make a difference.

Caroline Mason
Chief Executive

May 2017