Covid-19 and trust fundraising

Despite the world having gone to hell in a hand cart, trust fundraisers are still able to continue their work in a way which vaguely resembles ‘business as usual’.

The arrival of Covid-19 has brought several of our fundraising colleagues to a standstill.

It is therefore our job as trust fundraisers to continue our work to as high a standard as possible (difficult I know, focus and concentration is certainly not something I’m personally nailing at the moment).

Here are five things to consider in relation to Covid-19 and trust fundraising:


  1. Definitely mention it


Our first Facebook live last week was SO much fun!  We had a ball and it was lovely randomly chatting at those of you who joined us (as well as interviewing each other which was also a giggle).

Karen asked a great question which I wanted to elaborate upon here as I think it might be helpful right now.


“How should I talk about the impact of Covid-19 within my applications to trusts and foundations?”


My advice is definitely to mention it.

It would be weird not to right?

This is the biggest thing which (globally and collectively at least) has happened in most of our lifetimes.  Not since WWII have so many people had their day to day lives so fundamentally changed.

In your cover letter, include a couple of stories which demonstrate the impact of this situation on your ability to operate, e.g.

  • Have you moved some of your services online?
  • Have you seen an increase in demand?
  • Have you had to close and are you worried about what will happen to the people who use your services?

In addition, don’t be afraid also to add a sentence about how this is affecting you personally.  Empathise with the person to whom you’re writing (especially if they’re a warm contact) e.g.

  • “I’m writing this from home whilst my baby son naps. I hope that you are managing to stay healthy and well and that the trust is operating with a degree of normalcy during this very unsettling time.”
  • “Our fundraising team is now working remotely. I’m enjoying the lack of commute but am missing their company.  I’m sure that you and your colleagues are also hugely affected and hope that you personally can find some positives in what often feels difficult at the moment.”

Be honest, real and timely.


  1. Avoid making random predictions or catastrophising


The last couple of weeks have felt like years (especially for those of you managing toddlers I’m guessing?).

Everything seems to change on a daily basis.

I go from bingeing on news reports and manically scrolling through Twitter like I’m in some kind of trance to enjoying naps (by naps, I mean ‘a nap’), epic batch cooking sessions and the odd PE with Joe session (which is keeping my spirits up).

Whilst you can talk about what is happening right now, the truth is, you don’t know what the situation will be next week, let alone next month (which is when the trust to whom you’re writing is likely to be reading your proposal).

It would therefore be wise not to make predictions about how your charity is going to be impacted in the medium – long term.

Some exceptions include:

  • charities reliant on visitor business (heritage attractions, zoos, theatres etc)
  • hospital charities and hospices
  • those reliant on mass participation events.

Charities in this category will be more likely able to articulate the impact of a long-term public isolation period or an increase in sick people on their ability to serve everyone / survive long term. But even these organisations can’t know for sure where we’re going to be a few months down the line.

Talk about what it feels like right now, but avoid gazing into your crystal ball and DEFINITELY avoid doing this in the context of guilt tripping a charitable trust into funding you:

“With a gift from X, we are likely to fold within the year.”

Not cool.


  1. Be patient


Be conscious that you are likely to have to wait longer for a response.  This is because, like you, the people managing trusts and foundations are:

  • not in the office
  • not necessarily set up yet for home working
  • off sick

Some trusts and foundations have restructured their grant giving or have put a momentary pause on proceedings.  This might work in your favour so keep an eye out for opportunities, but more than likely, you’ll have fewer avenues for support than you did before.

Check their website and give them a call to see what (if anything) changed at all (and bear in mind that you might not necessarily get through if they haven’t redirected calls yet).  For example, can you now submit an application by email?

Many trusts and foundations are (like service delivery charities) run on a shoestring and by volunteers so please bear in mind that for trusts and foundations who fall into this category, an already large administrative load just got larger.  Don’t add to the burden.


  1. Shout about your reserves


If you:

  1. have decent reserves and / or
  2. have managed to make use of some of the government support available and
  3. have articulated this in a statement (which sets out differing scenarios and their impact on your ability to deliver) then…

share these facts in your trust applications.

Mapping the scenarios, demonstrating that you’re on top of your figures and predicting best and worst-case scenarios using facts and evidence, will help a trust or foundation to decide on your ability to weather this storm.

It will show them that you’ve snapped into action and that you’re thinking ahead and planning appropriately.


In my recent experience, especially with capital appeals, significant reserves have not been a barrier for most trusts and foundations in deciding to make a gift. 


I think for the majority (and of course there are some exceptions), they feel reassured by charities who have planned well and who have ample cash in the bank.

If your reserves are very limited and you’re in trouble, then unless you have some very strong relationships, I don’t think that trusts and foundations are going to be your golden ticket out of this disease.  I’m sorry if this is you.  Its total crap isn’t it?

It will be interesting to see how attitudes to charities and reserves change in the light of this crisis…


  1. Don’t chuck all of your eggs in one basket


I don’t think I need to say this but just in case (and super loud for the cheap seats at the back…):


Income from trusts and foundations is not going to fill the hole left from your cancelled events (or any other sudden decrease in income).




Now is not the time to spray and pray.

The opposite.

Now more than ever, your trust fundraising needs to be:

  • well thought out
  • carefully considered
  • deeply researched
  • with applications of only the highest quality sent to prospects.


For those of you with more time on your hands, this could be the perfect time to dedicate some time to trust fundraising (imagine!  Ever felt like this?)


Less scrupulous fundraisers may be using this time to whack out applications to all and sundry.  Fair play if you’ve panicked (like me last week when I nearly bought a selection of tropical fruits, three vegetable ‘stew packs’ and an industrial sized bag of basmati rice during an anxiety induced supermarket dash last week).

Here are some useful responses to colleagues who might ask you whether or not there is potential to make up the balance through trust fundraising:

  • “Whilst trusts will not have seen an immediate fall in income, they won’t have had an increase either.”
  • “This area of fundraising is likely to be more competitive than usual.
  • “Our trust fundraising activity still needs to be well researched and we must only apply to those whose priorities match our charitable activities. Quality still applies.”
  • “Many funders are restructuring their giving or pressing pause on their proceedings completely.”
  • “There is still a 6 – 9 month lead in time with trust fundraising and its likely to be longer at present.”

In summary, this is a truly grim time.  Fundraising was hard anyway and it’s just got harder (or impossible in some cases).

You all have my love, sympathy and support as we move through these extraordinarily difficult times.

Thanks for reading,


Posted in Trust fundraising.