When not to call ahead: your guide to not annoying trusts and foundations

I believe very strongly that we should be contacting potential trusts and foundations in advance of making a written application.  You can read my thoughts here.  This opinion has been recently decried in some online forum discussions with naysayers expressing scepticism at the need to start to build these early relationships.


Things I’ve heard:

“Funders don’t like it”

“I don’t want to annoy anyone”

“It’s all on their website anyway”

What I suspect these people are really saying:

“I’m too nervous to make the call, what if I fluff my words?”

“If I send enough letters, I’ll get the results”

“I feel uncomfortable asking for money”


A fellow trust fundraiser who I’m working with at the moment, relatively new to the profession will call anyone.  She has zero fear (far less than me) and would probably call Richard Branson’s direct line given the opportunity. I don’t think she’d mind me sharing that it is the quality of these interactions, her willingness to listen and tailor her applications accordingly that is going to ensure her success, rather than her written work.*

*Let me be clear, her written work is not bad at all, but the conversations she’s having with potential supporters outstrip her writing in terms of authenticity, quality and the volume of information shared between the two participants.

 Sometimes however, it’s not appropriate to call trusts and foundations ahead of making an application.  Here are some examples of when it may be better to keep quiet:

  1. When you haven’t done your research.

A funder I spoke to recently told me that more and more people seem to be picking up the phone in advance of submitting a written application.  He mentioned that these people had for the most part, really done their research.  He appreciates these phone calls because it gives him the chance to put a greater range of quality applications in front of the trustees.

Do you research first, then call (so you can keep up with the competition) 

Don’t call and ask questions which are already answered on their website

  1. When its highly unlikely you’re a prospect

If when researching a specific trust you’re coming up with very few matches between their areas of interest and your work, then it’s probably best to move on and try someone else, especially if your charity or project pops up in their list of exclusions.

I once knew of a charity representative who called a trust to enquire about making an application.  The trust stated very clearly that they do not support charities with a turnover of below £250,000, the charity in question had a turnover of £150,000.  Not cool.

This rule applies unless you’re geographically very close, or you have a close personal link to one of the trustees.  In this case, hedge your bets and go for it (but acknowledge that it’s probably a long shot during the conversation and show that you’ve done your research beforehand).

  1. When you’re applying to one of the big boys

Fellow fundraisers may disagree with me here and I’d accept that challenge but, in my opinion, it’s less important to call when a trust or foundation has:

  • an extremely comprehensive website
  • a very clear application procedure
  • explicit guidance about what they don’t support.

Organisations like these tend to have paid members of staff answering their phones so you’re less likely to get through to a decision maker.

Only call if there’s a quirk or peculiarity in your project which may need further clarification.

  1. When you’ve already phoned them several times

An administrator of a charitable trust gave me this gem.  Apparently, there are people who like to call on a regular basis to give a blow by blow account of the progress of the creation of their proposal.

For obvious reasons, try saving your questions up and asking them all in one go.

Disclaimer, this does not apply to Landfill Tax Credits.  These are extremely complicated, and you can bug them all you like (I think it took my three phone calls to poor Viridor before I fully understood the whole ‘third party contribution’ concept!  Thank you chaps at Viridor for your patience…)

Thanks for reading,


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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