Early on in my career, I had the most incredible boss and mentor. Amongst her many positive qualities, she was a stickler for jargon. Being quite new into our charity. she noticed that we were guilty of more than our fair share of unnecessary ‘management speak’ and made it her mission to improve our writing for charitable trusts.
As well as sending the fundraising team on a Plain English Campaign training course (BEST training I’ve ever done as a fundraiser and would hands down recommend), she would pick apart my proposals until there was not much left.
I once cried in the loo after one especially brutal feedback session (these were mostly delivered in a supportive fashion, but my 23-year-old ego wasn’t especially resilient at the time).
Jane recognised the need for our applications to stand out above others. A master at securing government grants, she knew that above all else, the needs / desires / requirements of each funder were paramount and that it was our job to and express in words exactly how we could meet those needs.
I’d like to think that her rigorous standards have rubbed off on me a bit and I am confident that her brilliant (if brutal!) coaching has played a part in my own success since.
Here are some things for you to try if you’d like to improve your writing for charitable trusts.
- Keep it snappy
We know that the poor people working at trusts and foundations have way too much to read. Make their lives easier and keep your words to a minimum. Doing this will make it easier for your appeal to be understood and for the reader to empathise with what you’re trying to achieve.
Bullet points work brilliantly wherever possible. They highlight important facts and break up blocks of text. For example:
Our new hospice will make a difference in the following ways:
- fewer people receiving palliative care will be admitted to hospital in an emergency
- fewer people will die in hospital
- more people will feel empowered to make decisions about their care, earlier on
Our new arts centre will comprise of:
- a cinema and theatre
- a café, bar and restaurant
- a gallery and artists’ studios
Some trusts and foundations insist on a word count within their forms. Though these can feel frustrating and often make the process more time consuming, they tend to yield much more succinct, well thought out answers because you’re conscious that every word matters.
Give it a try: Take a draft application you’re working on and impose a word count on yourself as an exercise in honing your work and eliminating unnecessary fluff.
Identify at least one place in the proposal where you can use bullet points instead of a sentence of prose.
- Avoid repetition
When writing for charitable trusts, it’s amazing how easy it can be to repeat oneself, especially when you feel you have something important to say.
Repetition is even more of a hazard when you’re cutting and pasting text from a template application into a form, especially a long and complex form with questions which feel like iterations of the same thing.
Careful proof reading is essential to avoid repetition. Take your time and don’t rush.
Getting a colleague or a fellow trust fundraiser from another charity to read over your applications is also an important step in the process of eliminating repetition and ensuring that you use only the minimum number of words necessary.
Give it a try: Can you meet up with a colleague from another organisation for a coffee on a regular basis to proof read and make suggestions on each others’ applications? Be bold as you seek to eliminate waffle and stick to the fewest words possible for the greatest impact.
- Answer the question
It sounds obvious that when writing for charitable trusts, this is the first rule of submitting a great application. However in my experience, far too many trust fundraisers are not direct enough in addressing exactly what it is that funders tell us they want to know.
Maybe we fill in so many application forms that we become complacent and tend to second guess what a funder is asking of us? Perhaps we’re bored or having an off day and need to inject a little creativity into our fundraising so as not to become stuck in a rut?
More likely, we are emboldened to tell a trust or foundation what it is we believe is important, rather than what it is they want to know. This comes from a place of passion and enthusiasm but can so easily translate into a mixture of fluff, waffle and very little substance.
To help you answer funders’ questions, be sure you have a basic understanding of what is meant by the following terms:
- qualitative / quantitative / anecdotal evidence
It can also be easy to mix up the following:
- your day to day work
- the project you’d like funding for (if different from your day to day work)
- the need for the project / or the problem you’re trying to solve
Be very clear on the definitions of terms and the different information you’re being asked for in each section.
Again, don’t rush it. Read each question slowly and think carefully about what it is they want to know.
Use their words directly in your answer. For example:
‘Tell us about how your project will work directly with families who are in need.’
‘Our project will work with families who are in need in the following ways:
- through a 10 week group coaching programme at Children’s Centres for parents
- by delivering arts and crafts activities for children
- via one on one coaching sessions for parents at the start and end of each group programme.
Referencing a trust or foundation’s language throughout your proposal is extremely powerful.
It demonstrates that you’ve read their criteria and that you are completely clear about how your project or service will help them to achieve their objectives.
Please share your tips and ideas for better writing for charitable trusts. I’d love to hear them!
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 next launch here.