Trust fundraising – Adapting tradition to a changing world

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Trust fundraising – Adapting tradition to a changing world

Trust fundraising – Adapting tradition to a changing world

Reflecting on my time working in the sector, fundraising has changed shape dramatically during the last 15 years, and that was before we factored in the effects of a global pandemic.  Digital fundraising was something we had not considered back then, hard copy applications were still the norm, and even research methods were basic in comparison to what we have available today.  Whilst we have seen a move to online forms, increased email communications and more sophisticated and strategic ways of working with funders, the core principles remain but competition is even more fierce than ever before. Once again we must ask ourselves, what can we do to stand out and what strategies will increase our chances of success? Three areas strike me as where we can improve:


At CRUK like many organisations, we have been forced to review our practises to ensure we are maximising our efficiency and effectiveness as a result of the last year. A focus of our strategy has been to maximise every available opportunity, pulling together as a team across the organisation to ensure that we raise as much funding as possible for vital research into ways of preventing, diagnosing and treating cancer.  As ‘One CRUK’ we have been ramping up our cross-organisational working, breaking down silos and collaborating across multiple disciplines.

For smaller charities and fundraising teams, collective thinking and joint project working is part of the day to day.  But for larger organisations this can be really difficult to achieve with separate targets, priorities and now a geographically dispersed workforce. 

Working with trusts and foundations however we are in a good position to drive collaborative opportunities and creative approaches.  Each foundation works so differently, so we as fundraisers need to adapt to each audience as well. The result is we learn a lot and have a lot to offer other teams around us within the organisation. Personally, a presentation to a board isn’t my strongest skill, but give me an application requiring a summary of a project in 150 words or less and I’m in my element.  For colleagues in our partnerships team, and even some in our philanthropy team, the opposite is the case.  This year, we have been working collaboratively more than ever, catching up regularly, co-canvassing opportunities, seeing where we have connections who could open doors and supporting each other to produce the highest quality outputs for our respective audiences.  We’ve recently started seeing the success of this new approach, including a £100k pledge from a corporate foundation in just the last few weeks.

Nurturing relationships on all levels

One thing I’m personally grateful to the global pandemic for, was that we each had something in common.  Fundraisers, funders, employees, secretaries, trustees – we were all thrown into a time of uncertainty and, if we’re honest, fear.  With that ‘common enemy’ we all had something we could relate to in each other.  Even the most professional and sophisticated of funders let us into their world as they worked from home with children and pets making unexpected entrances.  Over the years I’ve been to many a fundraising conference where the ‘us’ and ‘them’ of fundraiser/funder has been referred to and I think this last year has been the most impactful in breaking down that feeling.  This experience has really brought us back to the core of all high value fundraising specialisms – building and nurturing relationships.  Whilst this is undoubtedly always a part of what we do, it can slip during a busy workload but it’s a good time to revisit 1:1 comms approaches and think, can we be doing anything a little bit differently or more personally here to make this more meaningful?

Donor centric

Not a new concept by any means of course, but we must now apply it in a new context.  The last 18 months in particular, there’s been a huge drive to e-based marcomms and fundraising with access to printers and post facilities out of reach for months at a time.  Even receiving offline donations was a challenge with offices closed and charities in need of those vital cheques more than ever.  Whilst the world evolves around us, it’s tempting to think that our donors ways are changing as well, but it’s crucial for us as trust fundraisers to speak up and raise our leadership’s awareness of our fiercely loyal donor base who prefer more traditional ways of giving.  The lifetime value of that loyalty of just a fraction of this group will almost certainly outweigh the cost of printing resources we need to make sure we come to them with information as they prefer it to be presented.  New hybrid ways of working and flexible working patterns are a wonderful new benefit.  Now as our organisations look at resourcing ‘the new world’ we must plan strategically so that our office based time and resources are used in such a way that we can continue to meet the needs of our more paper-based donors.

It’s been said in many contexts, but the pandemic and national lockdowns have driven us to think differently, and the impact is likely to be practise changing far into the future.  But it’s important to remember that with change comes opportunity, and as we move to the second half of the 21/22 pandemic year this is a great time to start thinking about what areas we can develop on now so we are ready for what will hopefully be, a much more stable financial year ahead

Bonnie Richards,Trusts and Foundations Lead, Cancer Research UK


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