The courage to call ahead – how to make connections with trusts and foundations

How to make connections with Trusts and Foundations through phone calls

This is a re-hash of a previous blog, with some bonus controversial classic Caroline style opinions thrown in (enjoy!).

Calling trusts in advance of making an application is a topic I’ve seen popping up more on fundraising forums and one I’m keen to highlight, because in my experience, it’s really important and is a great way to make connections with trusts and foundations.

Over 15 years as a trust fundraiser, there’s one tactic which increases my chance of success more than any other and that’s picking up the phone and making contact before writing.

As a post-redundancy David Brent is chastised for ‘not calling ahead’ before popping into the office for a catch up with his business besties, we trust fundraisers should ALWAYS be looking for an excuse to make connections with trusts and foundations before writing.

There are occasions when it’s not appropriate to call ahead.  You can find these in this article.

I would advise approaching every new potential trust funder with the mindset that you will be making contact if possible.

Making these exploratory calls is often really hard.  We trust fundraisers are often a quiet and introspective breed, our days filled with peaceful hours carefully crafting beautifully written bids which express succinctly yet passionately the virtues of the wonderful causes which we’re championing.

In the very early days of my career, I made a call to a charitable trust to enquire about making an application, only to be bombarded, Spanish Inquisition style with questions about our annual accounts.

As I stumbled through my answers, the man on the end of the phone accused me of being ill informed and announced that his charity would never fund mine as a result of my lack of ability to respond to his questions.

I can’t quite remember, but there’s every chance I cried on putting the receiver down.

Cold calling feels at best unnatural and at worst cringeworthy.  And yet charitable trusts exist to give money away to charities.  They literally NEED us in order to fulfil their purpose.  In the (somewhat paraphrased – for this I apologise) words of the wonderful Deborah Allcock-Tyler

‘We should not be ashamed to give funders the opportunity to engage in the life changing work which only we are doing.”

Questions I regularly ask when I call ahead to make connections with trusts and foundations:

  1. Could I speak to someone about the XYZ Charitable Trust please (Don’t always assume that the person listed as contact is the contact, they might not be, it sometimes takes a while for details to be updated on the Charity Commission website)
  2. Do you accept unsolicited applications (for many years I assumed they did and went straight on in with my pitch, however I think this question is a good way to establish from the off whether or not the door is open or closed)?
  3. Could you tell me a bit about the application process please?
  4. When are the trustees next meeting?
  5. Something specific relating directly to their criteria / your charity to demonstrate that you’ve done your research (e.g. I notice that you fund lots of projects which support children who have mental ill health. Our charity does this, however we’re based in Cornwall which is a long way from you – does that matter?)

Some tips for garnering confidence in preparing to call ahead:

  1. Do a bit of planning, research the charity, check you fit the criteria, make sure you’re asking a question which isn’t already answered online
  2. Write yourself a little script with space for the answers
  3. Find a quiet space
  4. STAND in your power, yep. Stand up.  You’ve got this.
  5. Speak slowly, listen and remember what they’ve told you (write it down as soon as you’re off the call)
  6. Refer to your conversation in your cover letter and thank the person who spoke to you (so remember to get their name!)

There is a divide between the people who do trust fundraising well and those who don’t.  

The contact made before the letter gets sent is a huge part of this division.

In a world where 1 in 10 cold approaches to charitable trusts are now successful, emails won’t cut it anymore (you’ll likely get an auto response or none at all).  Trust fundraisers can no longer hide behind our wordsmithery, using the excuse of shyness as a reason not to get in touch with someone who likely receives more funding applications each day than the Queen receives cards on her birthday.

The personality you’re able to offer through a brief phone call will make you stand out over and above the competition.  And boy is this a competitive world where more people than ever are seeking funding for good causes.

So gather your courage, pick up your phone, stand in your power.  You’ve got this.

Thanks for reading and happy fundraising,


p.s. Trust the Process is our online training course.  It contains everything you need to know about how to do trust fundraising really well (plus several effective little tips and tricks I’ve picked up over the years).

You can read more and sign up to be the first to hear about the launch here.

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