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Trust Fundraising in 2021, your questions answered  

We’ve been reflecting on our May workshop, ‘Trust Fundraising in 2021, What You Need to Know’.

Those of you who made it to the live session were so brilliantly active in the chat.  We loved how engaged you all were throughout the session – thank you for your company and your commitment!

Below are your questions from Trust Fundraising in 2021.  I’ve done my best to give brief answers to them all, and I reckon some of them will make excellent longer form articles in the future.

I really hope they’re helpful!


  1. Many of our prospects look like a great match but don’t want to be contacted. How do you navigate that?


I’d argue that if someone says they don’t want to be contacted then its unlikely they’re a great prospect for your charity.

I’d also challenge the assumption that they don’t want to be contacted – are trusts and foundations explicitly saying this or have they just not published a phone number?  Maybe you’re struggling to get through to them?

It might be that they’re overwhelmed by the volume of phone calls / emails and / or are run by volunteers who are managing multiple responsibilities.  This is very different to ‘not wanting to be contacted’ by charities who can help them to achieve their purpose and their mission.

If you’re making that first contact with a cold prospect, my tips are:


  1. Be respectful of someone’s time. After introducing yourself on a phone call, ask if they have 5 minutes to answer a very quick question.  Don’t assume they have all day to chat and don’t launch into your monologue until ou’re clear that they’re able to make time for you.
  2. My first question to a cold prospect is always ‘Are you accepting applications at the moment?’  If yes, then ask about the format of the application and any timescales you need to be aware of. Again, don’t assume you can just stick and application in the post without checking first.
  3. Show empathy, say something like ‘You must be so busy at the moment?’ or ‘You must be inundated with requests for support right now?’ Make it a two-way conversation.


Keep trying and if their phone number doesn’t work, drop them an email.  If their registered address is with a solicitor or accountant, give them a call.



We cover this topic in more detail in our online training course for trust fundraisers Trust the Process where there’s an entire lesson on making connections with trusts. 



  1. How do you deal with a trust where you applied in one financial year but received the money the following financial year? Would you count it towards the current or the previous year’s target?


My first tip is not to get too hung up on this – your job is to bring money in.

Unless you’re a trustee, the CEO and / or in charge of finance and operational delivery, then allocating income is not your job.  Don’t spend too much time fretting over it – crack on with your next application!

It helps if you can prepare your colleagues for when money might arrive.  I’ve known charitable trusts to take up to a year to make a decision on a gift.  The lead in time is 6 months on average.  If you know when a trust is meeting, then share this information with your colleagues so they can allocate money appropriately.

If you’re a manager, then don’t hold your staff over a barrel on 12-month targets.

An average target or target range over 3-5 years is much more consistent with the realities of trust fundraising.  If I had a choice between raising £50k in one year and £50k in the next or £20k in one year and £200k in the next, I know which I’d pick (though I’m not blind to the nuances of this statement – assume I’m referring to core funding for the sake of argument!).

Play the long game and choose your opportunities wisely (where possible).

Beware of accounting for a pledge before you’ve received it.  Nothing is guaranteed until the money’s in the bank!


  1. What’s the difference between a trust and a grant?


In short, a trust is a grant giving organisation and a grant is an amount of money gifted to a charity by a trust.

In the context of sources of funding, a trust is a private institution whose objectives are decided by the founder and whose ongoing decisions about gifts are decided by trustees (who are bound to operate in accordance with the objectives set out in the trust’s founding document).

Some charitable trusts have very broad objectives and are very free in their decision making about which charities they support.  They are more open to influence / personal preferences in relation to the grants they give.

Grants or grant fundraising is the securing of funding from a public institution such as central or local government or lottery funds.  Grants are awarded to organisations who fulfil strict criteria, enabling the host organisation to achieve certain targets / outputs.   It is also known as statutory fundraising.

Opportunities for grant funding tend to be more short term / one off than those offered by trusts, though of course there are exceptions.

The process for application is often very similar for both.  Grant funding applications tend to require a lot of data.  Usually there will be a form to fill out with very specific questions.  Trusts are often more free / flexible in their application processes.  Grant agreements tend to be less complex for trusts.


  1. Where the gift range of a trust or foundation is obvious, should I apply for the top amount or would my likelihood of success be higher if I asked for a smaller amount?


First time around, I’d always go for a smaller amount.  Competition is high at the moment.  Demand is off the scale.

Feel free to present your overall budget and explain how you’ll be raising the rest of the money, name other trusts and foundations to whom you’re applying and describe any match funding you’ve received.  Most trusts want to feel confident that they’re supporting something which is actually going to happen.

This is especially important for large charities where some people might make assumptions about the difference a ‘small’ gift can make.  For example, when I worked at the National Trust, I used to apply to small, local trusts for projects based in their area, asking intentially for ‘small’ amounts (in truth, these gifts meant a great deal to the charity and were of immeasurable value) e.g.:


“A gift of £500 will enable us to replace some storm damaged fencing along the coastpath in Sidmouth.”


Feel free to not specify a gift amount and leave it open to their trustees, especially for a first ask, e.g.


“A gift of any size will help us to provide complementary therapies to Breast Cancer patients in Cornwall.”


  1. Can you say something about what good reporting looks like?


Yes!  Read this, it will help (there’s also a free tool you can download to make life easier…)


  1. How do I build an application without restricting it to a project?


The easiest answer is to ask only for things which your organisation has to pay for on an ongoing basis.  Don’t assume that these items are ‘boring’, ‘unsexy’ or ‘undeserving’.  It’s not for you to decide this.

Look at the ultimate outcome relating to that area of expenditure (the ‘what’ rather than the ‘how’).

For example, the ‘what’:


Last year we enabled 400 disabled children to attend a specially designed playgroup which has fabulous equipment (which they can use with ease) and specially trained staff who are experienced in working with children who have multiple disabilities.


400 children made progress physically and emotionally. 


Their parents reported increased confidence in supporting their children at home.


The ‘how’ is by paying a playgroup manager (not as sexy as the ‘what’ but completely neccessary in order to acheive those awesome outcomes).

Focus on the ‘what’ in your application.

Seek also to apply to trusts who will fund your day to day activities.

Where being successful with an application is dependent on a new activity / project or service, ensure that your organisation has the capacity to take this on (preferably before you apply).

Creating additional work can be a false economy, where you end up using your existing resources on something which isn’t part of your core service, overworking staff, under-serving your existing clientele and bloating your budget for future years.

Small and focused is better than large, unstrategic and unfundable.


  1. What do you do if you are starting a new capital campaign from scratch and you have no donor base?


Firstly, don’t do any fundraising until you’re confident the project is feasible.   You should only go public with your plans once you have the bulk of the money in place, a clear plan for raising the remainder, building permissions secured and an accurate estimation of costs.

Going public too early means that your audiences will get bored quickly and you’ll have to work very hard to maintain momentum and interest.

A quick capital appeal feasibility checklist:


  • What is our target and where is this money going to come from?
  • How confident are we in each source of funding? Do we have the evidence which backs up our confidence?
  • What are the timescales for raising the money and are they realistic?
  • Have we allocated 10% of the total target towards fundraising costs (e.g. to raise £1m, it likely that you’ll need to spend c. £100,000)? If not, do we have alternative resources to ensure we can meet the target in the timescale?


Don’t proceed until you can confidently answer these questions.

Once you believe that the project is feasible, early tasks are likely to include:


  • Creating a plan for how you’re going to raise the money (including a breakdown of tasks for each area and timescales for each)
  • Research to create a prioritised pipeline of prospective funders
  • Recruiting specialist staff to do the work / ensuring you have sufficient resources


After this, you’ll want to create a suite of materials including:


  • a case for support / template trust application,
  • a marketing / content plan with a hierarchy of messages for different audiences and channels,
  • corporate sponsorship packages and a fundraising pack.


For charities looking to do a capital appeal where there is no currently fundraising activity / warm donor base, I’d advise you to manage your expectations around how long it might take to raise the money you need and to be realistic about what you can achieve with the resources you have available.  Seek professional advice where possible or speak to other charities who have successfully completed a large capital appeal.


  1. Do you have any fundraising advice for a charity that isn’t frontline delivery i.e. a membership or training organisation that supports other charities and trustees?


Same as question 6.  Focus on that ‘what’ rather than the ‘how’.

Seek outcomes from the charities you’re supporting and report these in your funding bids.  For example, I once worked with an organisation who hosted office space for local charities.   When I first started with them, their case for support was as follows:


“We will restore our heritage building to create 6 new offices for local charities.”


I changed it to:


“Through providing accessible, welcoming spaces for local charities, we will support:


  • 40 refugees to access language support, enabling them to apply for work / benefits and volunteering opportunities
  • 12 disabled people to attend a weekly art class, giving them skills, confidence and a chance to socialise
  • 6 young people who are not in education or employment the opportunity to gain skills and confidence through our volunteering placements


Remember who ultimately benefits from your work and make this the focus of your ask.


  1. We’ve noticed that middle income charities like ours are less eligible for funding than we used to be. Trusts seem to be focusing their efforts on charities with an income of £1m or less and we’re now locked out of funding that we used to be able to access.  We turnover £5m a year and have very few reserves.  What can we do?


This is hard.  What a tough situation.  Depending on your role, there are things you can do.


What’s most important is to recognise where your personal responsibility begins and ends.


If you are the trust fundraiser, you are responsible for the following:


  • Stewarding existing donors, thanking them and looking after them
  • Keeping up to date with changing priorities of funders (though regular research)
  • Making high quality applications
  • Keeping accurate records of the opportunities which do (and do not) lie ahead
  • Reporting regularly and accurately to those responsible for decision making


The final point is really important.


  • You cannot change the decisions that trusts and foundations make about who they do or don’t want to fund
  • You cannot be responsible for a fundraising target which is unachievable
  • You also cannot be held responsible for the overall success or failure of your organisation
  • But you must share the information you have and make recommendations about what you think is possible. If you know your target is unachievable, you have a responsibility to say so and without delay.


If you’re in charge of making bigger picture decisions about services and operations, then be sure to act as you become aware that trusts and foundations might not present the opportunity it once did.

Be conservative as you consider:


  • Where else your charity might secure income from
  • Whether or not you have the expertise / resources to deliver on new streams of income
  • How the shortfall might impact services and the steps you can take to limit the detrimental effect on those your charity serves
  • Longer term plans, including how to build up reserves


This article elaborates on the topic and might provide useful further reading for those struggling to balance the books.


  1. I understand the need for a full-time fundraiser to aim for an allocation of 50 trusts and foundations with a mix of hot / warm and cold prospects. How do you include cold prospects in this?  Is it those you’ve applied to / have decided to apply to?  Or all those you’re researching (which would make my allocation much higher than 50).


Your allocation shouldn’t include those you are researching.  It should contain only qualified prospects, i.e. those whom you’ve decided are worth an application because you can identify more than one reason as to why that particular trust would want to fund you.

Unqualified prospects sit outside of your allocation.  Don’t add trusts into your allocation until you have evidence to suggest that they could be a good prospect for your charity.

It is good practice for all trust fundraisers to undertake regular research into new prospects, as you will always have a degree of ‘churn’ affecting your allocation.

The amount of research you need to do will depend mostly upon the number of current donor relationships you’re managing and the level of stewardship / management these relationships require (generally speaking, these are your priority and you should never choose cold prospect research over stewardship of existing supporters).

If you have a lot of donors and are reaching your fundraising target easily each year, then you won’t need to spend as much time on researching new prospects.

For charities brand new to trust fundraising, you’ll likely have a long list of prospects and a very small allocation / portfolio of trusts.  As you work through your research and start to make applications, your allocation will slowly build.

If you have a new project or service to fundraise for which is sufficiently different to the work your charity has previously done, you might find that you’re eligible to apply for funds which weren’t previously an option for you.  If this is the case, ensure you increase your resources so that you’re not putting core income / existing donor relationships at risk.

Whatever your situation, make sure you keep your allocation to a manageable size so that you’re able to do your job effectively and to a high standard.


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Trust the Process is our self-led online training course which contains lessons on all of the topics discussed above, covered in much greater depth.

To find out more click here, or to buy now, click here.

Posted in Fundraising, Trust fundraising.