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Stewardship checklist for trusts and foundations

At the time of writing (January 2021), so much of our daily lives feel like an uphill struggle.  It’s really hard to feel good and to find the motivation to do the basics, including the stewardship for trusts and foundations which we know to be so vital in this climate.

Many of our fundraising activities have changed.  If they haven’t changed, then our expectation of the outcomes have.

We can send out the same number of trust applications.  But unless we’re working on the frontline to relieve the direct impact of the global coronavirus pandemic, then we can’t expect a positive response from as many as we might have pre-2020.


There will likely be two types of trust fundraiser in 2021, those who calmly prioritise stewardship and retention as their no.1 objective and those who panic and opt for the spray and pray approach.


Right now, I am determined to provide helpful and positive suggestions and believe (despite my natural tendency towards pragmatism) that there are ALWAYS things which lie within our control.

In the spirit of positivity, here is a simple checklist you can use to ensure you’re ticking ALL the stewardship boxes for your charitable trust donors.  Hopefully it will be useful for your major donors and (possibly) corporates too.

This checklist is especially helpful for trusts for whom there is no formal expectation and where you’re expected to set the parameters for exceptional stewardship.


Stewardship is EVERYTHING right now because new business is incredibly hard.  Competition is fierce, and even before the pandemic everyone knew that it takes so much more effort to recruit a new donor than it does to retain an existing one.


  1. The bare minimum


As soon as you receive a gift from a trust or foundation, plan out your reporting schedule in advance. As a bare minimum, you should aim to send a written report of how you’ve spent their money and how’s it’s made a difference, within 12 months*.

Some trusts will have a specific form they’d like you to fill in, or questions they’d like answered within a report.  Some will require reporting before the 12 months is up, others will require multiple reports in that period.


*Does it sound like I’m teaching Granny to suck eggs?  To many of you it might but trusts repeatedly complain (and rightly so) that a huge number of charities fail to meet even the most basic of reporting requirements, which is why I’m spelling it out.


Task: Know what your trust donor wants as soon as a gift is made and plan ample time into your annual calendar to deliver this


  1. Overdeliver


You’ve received the gift and have set up a reminder in 9 months’ time to start working on the report.



Now think about one small way you can overdeliver on your promise for each trust.


With a full daily to do list of application writing, stewardship can sometimes feel like a ‘necessary evil’ or ‘the thing which gets in the way of you securing more gifts’.


There’s a real danger in thinking like this and yet when we look at the effort charities place on recruitment over retention, it reflects an unhealthy cultural reality that many of us are stuck in, despite knowing that its wrong.


Small acts of stewardship, alongside the official reporting process will probably lead to more and bigger donations in the future than prioritising an application to a new trust.  These small acts could include:


  • A short, informal progress report (just a couple of paragraphs via email or relayed over the phone) three months into the project, with a renewed thank you
  • A phone call from a member of delivery staff to the funder to give a specific case study of how the money has already made a difference, again between 3 – 6 months into the funding period
  • An article or piece of content on your website about the project that the funder has supported. You can thank you funder in the article (if you know they’d appreciate it), then email them the link.
  • A phone call to let them know that someone else has made a gift to the same project and because of this, you’ll now be able to achieve so much more.


This needn’t take up additional time.  Think of it as ‘getting ahead’ or making a head start on your end of year report.


Task: how can you layer one additional act of stewardship onto your bare minimum reporting schedule for each trust


  1. The thank you call


Few people do this and yet (in my experience anyway) it is SO appreciated by donors.  Especially, those who have made relatively small donations and especially where the recipient is a large charity.

As soon as you receive a gift from a charitable trust, pick up the phone immediately and say something along the following lines:


“We received your gift today, of course I’ll pop a thank you letter in the post but I wanted to let you know straight away of its safe arrival.

Thank you so much, it really will make a difference to X.

I’ve told the team and they’re thrilled, you’ve really made their day.

I look forward to sending a report to let you know how we’ve spent your money.”


I did this a lot when I worked at the National Trust.  Despite being a large national charity, there were teams within the organisation, usually based in small, rural locations with limited opportunities for commercial income or membership sales.

For these teams working in these places, small gifts of three or four figures were often the difference between a project happening and not happening.

During these thank you calls, funders would sound routinely surprised and gratified to know that their gift really was going to make a difference.  They didn’t expect to hear from me and definitely had pre-conceived notions of how much a charity like the National Trust would appreciate a gift of c. £500.


Task: Before you do anything, phone every single trust on receiving their gift to say thank you


  1. Get personal


Most trusts are not large corporations with large staff teams where funding decisions are made mathematically based upon some historically set criteria.

They are vehicle for philanthropy, run by individuals, making emotion and values led decisions.  Your job is to support their philanthropic ambitions, not to tick boxes.

Working within this mindset, you’ll likely have spent some time talking to the people behind each trust and understanding the motivation of the settlor and how they (or their chosen successors) are working to make positive changes in their areas of interest.

Keep your eyes and ears to the ground therefore for articles, podcasts and research which you know might be of interest to them, especially if they’re not directly related to the grant they’ve made.


Interest in peripheral conversation and random tangents your discussions have taken shows that you care about them as a whole person, not just as someone who gives you money. 

Think they’ve never heard the term ‘cash cow’?  Think again…


Examples include:


  • A link to some new research on miscarriage for a donor supporting counselling services for couples who have experienced stillbirth
  • A second hand copy of a book you loved about re-wilding for a donor sceptical (but interested) in the re-introduction of wolves and beavers into the UK countryside
  • Podcast interviews with people you know they admire or with individuals discussing a topic you know to be of interest
  • Concert dates for a rare Handel opera for a donor who you know loves early English Chamber music


Remember that for most philanthropists, the act of giving is a joy, it is something which happens outside of the workspace and is supposed to be fun!


Don’t be afraid to bring a bit of personality into your stewardship in order to enhance the donor’s experience and make you memorable.


Task: make a list of the personal things you’ve gleaned about the individuals who sit behind each of the trusts who support you.  Think about any interesting content you could share on these topics right now. 


  1. Above and beyond


Once you’ve sent your final monitoring report, don’t just assume that your job is done and that you’re now free to apply again.

Before you bowl on in with another ask, follow it up properly with one additional, unexpected action.  At the very least, you could call and check the report has been received and reiterate your gratitude for the part they’ve played in enabling positive change over the past 12 months.

Try also one of the following:


  • Invite the donor to a Q&A Zoom call with one of the operational team responsible for delivering the project.
  • Ask your CEO or a trustee to send a handwritten card, thanking the trust for their support during the past year and emphasising the difference that their gift has made
  • Send a video thank you from some of the delivery team and / or those whom the gift has directly benefitted


You could also send update reports to donors 12 – 24 months (or even longer) after the end of their funding period to let them know the longer-term impact of their gifts.



  • Commit to following up ALL of your end of grant reports with a phone call.
  • Select your top three / five / ten donors and decide on one extra follow up action to happen after your final report.
  • Select one or two previous donors and send a long-term impact report to thank them for a historical gift.


Feel free to download my stewardship checklist / template to help with your planning.  Created with love from me to you!

Make notes in each section as to what is required, what you’d like to do and when you’re going to do it.

You won’t be able to do all of the steps for every single one of your funders so be intentional about what you will do for each funder and why.

Shade the boxes in a different colour when the tasks are complete.

Exceptional stewardship is not optional in 2021.

Give this checklist a try and let me know how you get on.  I’d love to hear how it goes for you.

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Posted in Trust fundraising.