Trust fundraising: get prepared for success

Trust fundraising: get prepared for success

Trust fundraising: get prepared for success

With trust fundraising delivering almost £10 for every £1 invested, it’s a no-brainer. But where to start with it? Follow these 6 key steps from Kate Clift


Trusts exist to give away money (8,800 trusts and foundations in the UK, giving around £2.7bn each year according to the Association of Charitable Foundations), but they won’t give if you never ask. Many charities find themselves dabbling with the odd application here and there, yet trust fundraising delivers one of the highest returns on investment in fundraising; £9.56 for every £1 invested according to an Institute of Fundraising Report (2013). But how do you get organised, join the dots and pull together an effective trusts and foundations programme?


Step 1: Look backwards before looking forwards


Delve back into history and discover what haphazard trust-related activity your charity may have undertaken previously. Rummage through dusty archives, old filing cabinets and the memories of long-standing employees. By rattling around your CRM system you may uncover long neglected records of trusts. Look for:

  • trust name
  • contact details (however old)
  • date(s) of contact
  • the nature of the contact
  • any history of giving
  • a reason why the relationship has faltered.


Dump all the information into a spreadsheet, MS Word table or other familiar system and you will have arrived at the first milestone – your starting point.


Tip: An old fashioned paper-based system where each trust has a file helps to organise historic correspondence in date order for easy reference.


Step 2: Find your focus


What do you want to raise money for? Trusts love a well-defined project where the difference their money will make is clear. This step is about looking inwards at your charity, its activities and ambitions through the eyes of a trust. A good trust project is achievable, clearly articulated, has clear outcomes and can be scaled to meet the funding levels of individual trusts. Can your overall goal be split into trust-sized mini-projects that retain their trust-appeal?


Tip: If you have any current friendly and supportive relationships with trusts, they might be prepared to contribute to this process and offer advice.


Step 3: Think about your systems


This is really something to think about from day one and constantly refine as your trust programme matures. By systems I mean the back office processes which will make your life easier in the long run. How will you record your activity? How will you receive, acknowledge and spend a gift? Take a step back to basics and consider what systems and processes you need to support trust fundraising.Even at this early stage think about how you will monitor and report on your trust fundraising as this informs what information you record and how you record it. Tweaking existing systems may be sufficient but having no system at all will undermine what you are trying to achieve.


Tip: Don’t neglect activities like due diligence which are just as important for trusts as individuals.


Step 4: Research, de-clutter and prioritise


Following your audit of previous activity, you should have the start of a prospect pool. Research will help to build this up and to identify your best prospects. As research is an ongoing activity there is a risk of getting stuck at this stage and never moving on to cultivation and asking. Think about the fundraisers you have available to cultivate and solicit trusts. Realistically, how many trusts do they need in their prospect pool to get started? Your first goal should be to identify enough trusts to get some activity off the ground while you continue to build a prospect pool. You can find out about trusts in many ways:

  • Charity Commission advanced search function
  • online and paper-based directories
  • social media
  • looking at who is supporting similar charities already
  • diligent key word searching on Google
  • looking for trustees on LinkedIn []
  • looking at your individual donors to see if any are trustees
  • looking at the charitable giving of big companies (as it is often via a trust).


Tip: every time you walk into a space funded by benefactors, take a photo of the benefactors’ board with your mobile phone for later reference.


Now you have a decent prospect pool, be ruthless and put to one side any which have given a ‘hard no’ in the past, and any whose funding criteria you don’t meet. These are not your priority (though you can review them annually to see if they have changed their focus). Next, sort your remaining trust prospects into a logical sequence. What is ‘logical’ can vary between organisations. Some prioritise by the warmth of the relationship, some by the strength of the match between the donor and the cause, others by the size of potential gift and some charities look at a combination of factors to arrive at an overall assessment.


Tip: Whatever system of prioritising trusts you develop, be consistent and ensure that everyone is using the same system.


Step 5: Put together a plan


Trust programme planning brings together multiple timelines. Project your own charity’s timeline relating to what needs funding and when as far forward as you can to know what funding requirements are over the horizon, and plan ahead. Most trusts will have their own timelines with specific dates for submissions, and cycles of calls for proposals. Get an overview of key dates and pinpoint when submissions need to be made and when trustees’ meetings are held. These are the hard deadlines you can work towards. Most trusts have long grant cycles and it can take time to get a decision on your application. It helps to make the majority of your asks in the first half of your fundraising year if you want the gifts to be counted in that year.


Tip: Develop an asking diary. Some trusts will give to you annually on receipt of an application. If you can establish an annual gift with a trust it will help you to predict your trust income.


In my experience, trusts largely fall into two camps. The resolutely enigmatic and remote who only accept applications through a rigid process and prefer not to talk to applicants, and the more open trusts who will happily offer advice on applications. In both cases a trust will normally issue detailed guidance. Read this guidance thoroughly to avoid alienating trusts by asking questions which the guidance already answers. It is important to tailor your approach to each appropriately. The classic fundraising cycle is as appropriate to trusts as it is to individuals and a useful tool for planning your approaches:


  • identification and research – read and interpret the guidance
  • cultivation – talk to the trustees/administrator (if you can) and build a rapport
  • solicitation – write a compelling application
  • stewardship – say thank you/seek feedback, keep in touch and build relationships.


Tip: Look for overlaps between your trust programme and your individual giving/major gifts programmes. You may find trustees among your individual donors.


Step 6: Write your application


The most important thing is to understand what a trust is looking for and to present your project accordingly. Trusts deal with hundreds of applications each year, often with very little administrative support. Make their lives easier by following the guidelines, writing in clear and concise language and presenting a compelling case for support backed with a convincing financial argument. You will find numerous resources online with advice on writing successful trust applications and several training courses are available. For me the magic ingredient is authenticity, and finding the words that really convey the ethos and passion of your cause, without descending into flowery words and resorting to clichés.


Tip: Find yourself a critical friend to review draft applications.   


If you are a smaller charity or a sole fundraiser, starting out in trust fundraising can be daunting. Make the best use of your time by being realistic and focusing your energies on your best prospects. Set goals that are S.M.A.R.T., and take a long-term view. It is better to submit fewer better trust proposals than to rattle off lots of proposals with little chance of success.


This is a very competitive market, and the successful trust fundraiser needs to be resilient and see every rejection as a learning experience. Diligent planning can increase your chances of success, and help your charity to focus limited resources to best effect.


Kate Clift is research challenge development manager at Loughborough University 


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