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How to build strong relationships with grant-making trusts

Youíve wasted their time, not told them the whole truth, ignored their requests and failed to treat them like you care Ė so they dump you. Why are you surprised? 

This isnít a cautionary tale for careless daters but rather a gentle warning about the common mistakes fundraisers make when raising money from grant-making trusts. Trusts want to give away their money, after all it is why they exist, but mistake number one is to take that for granted. Like most donors, the majority of trusts want to have a relationship with you which they can feel good about. They want to be able to trust (see, the clue really is in the name) you to spend their money wisely. So how do you win that trust? 

1. Donít waste their time

Firstly, donít waste their time. Most trusts run on a shoestring or the goodwill of trustees and volunteers. Even major trusts with administrative teams struggle to process the huge volumes of applications they receive. Demand for funding far outstrips the budgets of trusts and each request they receive must be logged, read and decided upon. 

To start off on the right foot, do your research and make sure that you are asking the right trust: Do they fund in your area? Are they welcoming solicitations? Do they fund at the level you need? Do you meet their criteria? Some basic research will help you to narrow down your list of target trusts. This will save you the time and resources required to write applications destined to fail and trusts the time it takes to read, process and reject applications they canít fund. 

2. Good communication 

Good communication is the foundation of most strong relationships, so when you find a trust you want to ask for money, work hard at the communication. Where you can, talk directly to the trust to understand what they are looking for and how best to present your case. Some trusts donít want to talk to you. Increasingly they prefer you to use their online systems to apply. Just because they donít want to talk doesnít mean they arenít listening. In fact, they are directing you to the perfect platform from which you can make your case. 

Crafting a compelling submission takes time and emotional energy (just like writing a dating profile). Be honest, authentic and clear. Donít overdress your submission with flowery words and clichés (the submission equivalent of too much make-up and a soft-focus photo). Donít misrepresent your data or leave out important information (are you really six-foot tall with a full head of hair?). Above all, make sure you answer the questions the trust is asking, however difficult they may be. It is the only way they can get to know and trust you. 

3. Understand your organisation or project

Answering difficult questions is so much easier if you have a good understanding of your organisation and the project you want to fund. Before you even embark on a quest for the perfect trust relationship take a moment to reflect on who you are, what you want and why. Most trusts will want to understand where their money is going to, how it will be look after and used and who will benefit. 

Are you able to answer these questions and provide the trust with the reassurances they need? Take a step back and have a look at your organisation from an external perspective. Do you look well organised? Are your governance structures clear and accountable? Are your finances in order and up to date? Are you using the funds raised wisely and are you able to prove that you are achieving your charitable objectives? In essence, are you in the right place to start a new relationship?

4. Make some ground rules

Building long-term relationships leads to regular and higher value gifts Ė but this takes work. Just because a trust has funded you once doesnít mean that they will again without some care, attention and a little encouragement. Some trusts will have strict reporting requirements which a charity should never ignore. Others are more relaxed but might welcome regular updates about the good things happening with their money. 

At the start of any new relationship it is useful to establish the ground rules¬ Ė simply ask a trust how they would like to be treated. There is little point in spending money on glossy brochures if a trust doesnít want them. Often regular, short email updates or friendly phone calls will do. What really matters is that you show you care through communication which is bespoke to that particular trust, relevant, timely and honest. 

Face to face meetings are a brilliant way to Ďshow not tellí a trust about your wonderful work but donít be disappointed if these are rare as trusts are run by busy people. When they do happen, make them special, do your preparation, anticipate their questions, relax and be friendly. I often speak to fundraisers whose anxiety levels sky rocket at the thought of a visit by a trust. Trusts are not looking to trip you up or catch you out. They too are looking for a good relationship where everyone is happy and everyoneís needs are met.

5. Establish multiple contacts

Every relationship has its ups and downs and an organisationís relationship with a trust will be no different. Staff or trustee changes can be problematic if the relationship between the two organisations is based around particular individuals. To guard against this, it is wise for a charity to establish multiple contacts with a trust (especially those who are major donors) and to broaden the relationship so that the bond between the two institutions is as strong as the bond between individual trustees and fundraisers. 

Working together, charities and trusts can achieve amazing things. Increasingly, trust fundraising is moving away from transactional fundraising and forming sustainable partnerships, where trusts and charities work together and share expertise (alongside funding) to achieve shared objectives and goals. Just like two people living happily after everÖ

Kate Clift, Research Development Manager, Loughborough University @six_sisters

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