We speak to charities every day about fundraising from trusts & foundations. There are some key themes that emerge time and again – misunderstandings about grant-makers, their purpose, their requirements – and we want to set the record straight by airing these trust fundraising myths and explaining the truth instead.

Grants will cover core costs

Usually a grant maker will want a report on the difference their grant made. This will be expected to be added value rather than perpetuating the status quo.

A grant-maker may contribute towards the central running costs of your organisation when funding a project, however, so including a fair percent towards those “core costs” is sensible.

All grant makers will fund us

No! A trust is a charity set up with its own clear aims and ambitions, registered with the Charity Commission with the same scrutiny as your organisation. The difference is that rather than deliver services directly, a grant-making charity delivers its own aims through other charities by the giving them grants.

It is cost effective to blanket mail a long list of trusts

The immediate cost savings of this approach are obvious: time saved on research developing proposals, careful writing both to match criteria and application preference plus no need to subscribe to research tools. And no need to pay an experienced professional if all you’re doing is mail merging, right?

It is the opportunity cost that must be weighed against these short-term cost savings. Consider:

  • you can usually only apply a maximum of once every 12 months, longer for some trusts;
  • there is a finite pool to approach;
  • grant makers do talk between themselves and certain orgs do gain a reputation.

At best this approach will net you a few four-figure grants if your letter is great and you happen to hit the right note for the audience. But your success rate will be low overall, you will burn bridges that might have led to larger (more useful) grants – temporarily or permanently – and you have possibly gained an unhelpful reputation.

I need unrestricted income and would like help to identify which grant makers to which to apply

There are grant makers who will fund unrestricted grants but these are the exception not the rule.

What is normal is that grant income is almost never unrestricted and on the rare occasions that it is, it is given unrestricted as part of a long term, trusting relationship, developed over years and is a modest sum as part of the overall organisational income. What we recommend is that all projects are costed to include a percentage of central costs, so that you are covering these essential costs alongside funding your projects. This will free up the unrestricted income you currently use to cover these costs to use as you see fit.

We’re running out of money/have not hit income targets for the year/I’m looking to grants to fill a gap quickly

Grant makers want to support well-run, viable organisations. It is their duty to steward their money well. Further, it is normal to expect to wait 6 – 12 months for a decision on funding – and most grant makers will expect that you do not start your proposed activity until they have made their award.

Therefore this is not a good audience to look to for helping you out of a fix.

I have a project I will run next year regardless of grant funding decisions, but it would ease my organisation’s financial situation if we could get grant funding towards the project’s costs.

One of the core elements of any application is a demonstration of urgency. If you are going to deliver the work regardless of what the grant maker says, then your urgency has dissolved and the grant maker will direct their limited resources where they are more urgently needed.

We have invested in trust fundraising for the first time. Applications started to go out about three months ago and we are yet to hear anything. Was this a waste of money?

No! It can take 12 months to receive results, plus a trust fundraising programme develops over time as funders get to know you and you them. To thrive it is all about relationships and those take time and effort to build and nurture.

I have been doing this work for years, I know it works. Engaging beneficiaries in our work isn’t how we operate, so we want to ignore requests by grant makers for evidence of this.

If a grant maker requires something, then they require it. To miss out a key piece of information is to make their job really easy in shortlisting applicants and you will not make the short list. In fact you may as well save your time and money and not write the rest of the application if you are going to miss part of the information out.

Of course, there is a difference between information you’re not accustomed to obtaining and information you’re unable obtain. If it is the latter, then speak to the funder prior to your application and discuss your circumstances.

I’ve set up a CiC and now I’d like to apply for grant funding.

There are limited funders who will consider applications from bodies other than registered charities or CIO’s. The criteria for funding is also limited. The Community Interest Company model was created as a for-good enterprise model where income was earned not donated. If you are sure you need to rely on grants and other donations to deliver your ambitions, then you ought to get advice as to whether a CiC is the right structure for you.

I do not have any time for fundraising so I will hire a trust fundraiser and leave them to it.

No fundraiser is an island to adapt from John Donne’s 17th century phrase.

Fundraisers of any discipline requires to be plugged into an organisation. To build compelling proposals your trust fundraiser needs to be part of early stage planning about programmes, to hear success stories, to understand the organisation’s developing needs. A trust may want to speak with any senior member of the charity’s staff to hear more about a project (rather than hear via a fundraiser) and often it is often a senior member of staff in whose name applications are sent.

My charity is new with no track record. I need grants to get my first projects off the ground.

You know your project is needed. You know you’re the right person to deliver it. You just need the money to get started.

Look at the same situation from a grant funders view:

  • You’re not unique in what you do
  • You’ve never done it before
  • You’ve never stewarded someone else’s funds successfully

Their duty as a registered charity is to carefully steward their money to maximise impact. That is usually safer with an organisation who can demonstrate a track record. After all, start-ups have start-up costs, ideas fail etc.

It isn’t a no, but you will have to work harder to prove your credentials.

I’m not really a “people” person – I’m an introvert. Trust fundraising will be perfect for me, as it’s just writing.

Being a great writer is vital to trust fundraising, but so are relationships. You should be calling every single trust to whom you will apply IF you can find their number. You should be encouraging onsite visits, face to face meetings with trustees of the trust and the senior staff. You should be there, building those relationships.

I run a charity in [insert country] and want to apply directly to UK foundations for grants.

Most UK registered trusts and foundations will only support organisations registered in the UK. It can seem frustrating that a trust is funding your work through a third party, or similar work elsewhere in your country.

Check your readiness to kick start your trust fundraising programme now