Chief Executive's Report

When we embarked on our five-year strategy in 2015 we knew the world was radically different, but at least felt we had a handle on what that ‘change’ might mean. The events of 2016 have changed that. 
What does this look like from a funder’s perspective? In 2016 we spent more money than we ever have done (£42.4m in grants and £6.7m in social investments). Our endowment has also performed extremely well (£907.6mm to £1.0b). But what else did we do in 2016 to make change happen?

The Brexit vote and all that it revealed about our nation has made us take stock and understand what we might do differently and better. We identified three key areas to focus on. 

The first is to improve our performance as a funder by listening, learning and being clearer and more purposeful about maximising the impact of those we fund. We now provide feedback on declined applications and have more open conversations with successful applicants to discuss the package of support they need. We have introduced a learning conversation with every organisation when our funding ends so that we understand together what works and what doesn’t. We are trying out new methods of giving small grants through crowdfunding platforms such as Spacehive. 80% of those who get through our first-stage application process are successful, but overall 90% of applicants are declined. We are working to reduce this number by being clearer about our funding priorities, and we hope to save organisations’ precious time and resources by reducing our reporting requirements to four sides of A4, and asking only for information that is already presented to boards or stakeholders.

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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Our second resolution is to expect as much from ourselves as we demand from those we fund. As a funder we ask for collaboration, and that grantees put people at the heart of what they do. Feedback from the sector consistently shows that funders are being asked to do the same.

We have funded organisations such as Sustainable Food Cities who work across sectors and use food to solve ill health, food poverty, waste, climate change and biodiversity loss; and Wevolution who build self-reliant communities founded on trust, self-governance and collective endeavour. We have collaborated with collective groups such as the Green Alliance and Social Enterprise UK, who are developing alternative inclusive, and progressive solutions for the environment, society and the economy. We want to make accessing funding easier, and so have supported 360Giving in their work with foundations to build a searchable online platform for all UK grants. We know that small and medium-sized charities face many difficulties, and have funded support organisations such as Small Charities CoalitionReach Volunteering, and Locality’s Lifeboat Fund for anchor organisations in financial trouble. Our new funding stream focused on care leavers is a collaborative effort, with care leavers themselves at its core as decision makers for the choices and services that affect their lives.

As a funder we ask for collaboration, and that grantees put people at the heart of what they do.

Our third objective is to align all our organisational resources so as to increase the impact of the work we support through our funding. This includes our office space, our role as a shareholder, how we leverage our name and networks, where we spend our budget and our willingness to accept trial and error. It means developing new skills, and being more pro-active and visible through our new Meet Esmée events around the country. Our Grants Plus spending has increased substantially from £197,933 in 2015 to £324,116 in 2016, including helping organisations to use film as a communication mechanism.

But we know that we will achieve much more by working with others to do so, and our focus for 2017 will be on building partnerships for driving change. We look forward to working alongside you on that journey.

Caroline Mason
Chief Executive

May 2017