Five common trust fundraising fails (and how to avoid them)

Here are five common trust fundraising fails I recommend you DON’T incorporate into your trust fundraising practice.  Ever!


  1. Spraying and praying


Spraying and praying is the practice of sending out a huge volume of applications to all and sundry.

Those who do it (I guess) believe that it is cost effective in the same way that a friend of mine used to play the lottery.  He bought twelve tickets a week, believing that purchasing such a high volume would mean that sooner or later, he would likely hit the jackpot.  To my knowledge, he’s still working as a barista in Cornwall somewhere…

Please don’t do this.  We owe it:


  • as courtesy to those whom we ask to have done our research beforehand.


  • to the charities for whom we work not to waste money on paper and stamps


  • to our fellow professionals to demonstrate our integrity in an effort to raise standards across the fundraising sector


  1. Expecting a return in the short term


You won’t get one.  There are no quick wins.

Having said that, if it’s right for your charity, then trust fundraising is likely to generate quicker returns than other sources of income.

As a general guide, expect nothing for six months.

I worked on a project in 2018 where we sent around 50 applications between September and February (we’d been researching trust and qualifying prospects from May 2018).  By May 2019 we’d heard back from most, though there were still plenty outstanding.

Some trusts meet only once a year, so a 12-month wait is not unusual.

Planning your lead in times carefully is especially important if you’re fundraising for a capital appeal.


  1. Expecting a return at all


You might not get a return.  You might not even get a response.

I had a client once who really struggled with this concept.  In her professional life (she was not a fundraiser), people responded to her when she wrote.


  • I could feel her frustration when, after a week of waiting for a charitable trust to respond to the letter she’d sent only a week earlier, nothing arrived.


  • I used to cringe when she’d follow up on further information sent via email after only a couple of days.


  • I found it hard to manage her expectations when she was left waiting for a response 3 – 4 months after submitting an application and could feel her mood darkening on being told that receiving feedback for an unsuccessful application would be unlikely.


The simple truth is that trusts are often staffed on a shoestring, very often by volunteers or family members.  Understandably, they want to give as much money as they can to good causes, not to administration.

Make contact where appropriate, but don’t pester people.  Accept that the rules of engagement don’t apply in the same way they might do in other professional environments.


  1. Cherry picking from guidelines and exclusions


This is such a classic trust fundraising fail.

Don’t think that because you hit one criterion that you can ignore the exclusions which make your charity ineligible.  Especially where guidelines and exclusions are clearly set out on a trust’s website or in their annual accounts.

I won’t elaborate here because it’s obvious, but it must be incredibly annoying for trusts and foundations on the receiving end.

For charities looking to establish long term relationships with funders, I highly recommend sticking to their rules.  Being blacklisted is not a good income generation strategy.


  1. Not reporting back


If you’ve taken on board everything above and are demonstrating some great trust fundraising practice, then congratulations!  Chances are, you’ll have raised some money.

This is where the real work starts.  There are all sorts of imaginative things you can do to look after your donors but if you do only one thing, then send them a report to tell them how you’ve spent their money.


At the very least, you should send a written report within 12 months of receiving the grant.


Many trusts will stipulate a written report as a part of their grant agreement.

Speak to them (or read their website) to see if they have any special requests about how to report back to them.  They might prefer you to email a report, rather than posting it.  They might have a form they ask you to fill in.  If you receive a grant agreement, then read it carefully and put deadlines in your diary well in advance so you can plan other work around them.

Not reporting back is apparently quite common.  It is a surefire way to damage your reputation with that particular trust and a good way to ensure you’ll never receive funding from them again.


Need more support on how to do trust fundraising REALLY well? 

Trust the Process, our online trust fundraising training will be available later this year.  You can find out more here.


Posted in Fundraising, Trust fundraising.