What we do

What we do


Over £900 million (£1.9 billion in real terms) has been awarded in grants to more than 11,000 projects. More on the Foundation's history is here.

The common theme running through each of our funding programmes is an emphasis on supporting and promoting excellence. We define 'excellence' according to the relevant subject area (and more on this is provided under each programme area heading in the Funding section). It is our aim that funding from the Wolfson Foundation should be seen as a badge of excellence as well as a grant. It is therefore important that our decision-making is careful and rigorous, and all funding is based on expert peer review. Grants are often made to act as a catalyst - so that the Foundation's funds can lever additional support and help to attract funding to areas that may otherwise be under-resourced.

The Board of Trustees is advised by a number of specialist, expert panels making recommendations on both policy and individual grant proposals. The expert panels continually review our strategy and policy for each of our grant programmes.

The large majority of our funding is allocated for capital infrastructure, which we define as new build, refurbishment or equipment. Almost all of our open programmes are solely for capital projects. We do, however, also have a number of carefully targeted programmes funding individuals through academic awards (such as Wolfson Research Professorships and Wolfson Merit Awards (now the Wolfson Fellowships) as well as scholarship or bursary programmes. An important exceptional programme within this context is the Wolfson History Prize, which celebrates outstanding works of history accessible to a general audience. It has been awarded annually since 1972.

Our grant-making is based around four inter-related themes: science & medicine, health & disability, art & humanities and education. As far as is possible we attempt to relate these themes to each other. Almost all of our funding (some 95%) is allocated to the UK. The Foundation's international funding is proactive, and we do not invite speculative applications from outside of the UK.

We are keen to encourage applications from all parts of the UK (including areas from which we traditionally have received fewer applications or where few other sources are available).

We pride ourselves on employing staff who are friendly and helpful to our applicants and recipients. All applications (including unsuccessful ones) receive a formal response. The experience of our applicants is important to us, and we have recently commissioned an independent consultant to undertake a survey on this subject.

Grants-plus, partnerships and professional engagement

Many funders now take part in activities beyond their traditional, core business - including policy and research work, lobbying of government, partnership building and direct engagement with recipients. The Wolfson Foundation is no exception but high quality grant-making remains central to all that we do. This is, not least, because our authority to work on some of these wider activities is based on rigorous decision-making and high quality relationships with our recipients.

Partnerships lie at the heart of our grant-making. Where possible we attempt to collaborate with other funders or expert bodies. Recent collaborations include joint funding programmes with the Royal Society, the Wellcome Trust, the British Academy, English Heritage, DCMS and Help the Hospices.

We are happy to share experiences with others as part of a wider philanthropic community and the Wolfson Foundation is a member of a number of forums, notably the Association of Charitable Foundations (ACF) and the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC).


The Wolfson Foundation's investments are managed on the basis of existing in perpetuity and hence we have the objective of maintaining the portfolio's real purchasing power after inflation over time. We allocate funding on a total return (rather than income) basis. The long-term investment objective is an average annual total return of UK RPI + 4%. The current portfolio value is £800 million for the Wolfson Foundation and £36 million for the Wolfson Family Charitable Trust (a sister trust of the Foundation).

The Trustees aim to distribute at least 4% of the fund on an annual basis, which has broadly equated to £30 million over recent years.

Responsible investment underpins our investment strategy. We work with our fund managers to take into consideration environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, and consider that our charitable objectives apply to our investment as well as our grant-making.