How to apply to Trusts and Foundations: A Beginners Guide with free resource template.

Dip your toe into trust applications

Last year independent trusts gave away £6.5bn to the voluntary sector – that’s more than the government. Their influence and capacity is sizable, yet charities find their services ever more stretched, with less to go round. If you are working as a fundraising volunteer for a small to medium charity and you’re thinking about applying to a trust or foundation, this article is for you.

It could be that you’ve never applied to a trust because you don’t think they’d be interested in what you are doing. Or maybe you’re delaying because the process seems so overwhelming! It is a task that takes some effort, but it’s well worth it, and you’ll reap the rewards in more ways than one.

Don’t be put off. First, read through the information below; then download our free application template to start collecting the information you need. Once you have this you can start to tailor it for each funder you contact.

Here's your free Trust Application Template!

What you need to know about Trusts and Foundations:

All Trusts and Foundations are overseen in the UK by one of the following: the Charity Commission; the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator; and the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland.

The Association of Charitable Organisations also publishes an annual summary of how much money is given away, who gives it, and who the beneficiaries are. For example in 2017 Comic Relief and BBC Children in Need gave significantly more than other grant giving institutions.

What to do if you don’t know where to start: we understand that it can feel daunting. Fortunately there are lots of really helpful resources in the form of searchable lists of Trusts. This should make it easier for you to sift through what’s available, to find what’s right for you. Some of these lists have to be paid for, whilst others are free of charge. For example:

  • will send you a weekly update for a subscription fee of £99 plus VAT.
  • lists only funding for voluntary and community organisations, and has the following options:
    • Free access – organisations with an annual income below £100,000
    • £100 plus VAT – organisations with an annual income over £100,000
    • £50 plus VAT – for individual users not connected with an organisation - such as a consultant.
  • Alternatively, try a Google search, eg. a search for North West Trusts and Foundation grants returns full lists from GEM, North Bank Forum, Community Foundation Merseyside, Garfield Weston Foundation and so on.
  • Another tip is to look at who has funded your competitors and use this list as inspiration. Many charities publish their supporters and grant givers in their annual accounts - which you can find using the Charity Commission Charity search.

Next steps – preparing your application

      1. Research the trust

Research the trust or foundation to make sure they fund what you do. Find out as much as you can about them - why were they set up, what do they really like to fund, which stories do they feature on their website? Your application should reflect that information. If the funder’s website talks a lot about improving the lives of lonely people, and that’s something that you do, make it easy for them to see that connection. The more you know the better application you can write.

       2. Gather your own information

The process of finding out information can be one of the most arduous tasks in all of this, especially if you are a volunteer fundraiser who doesn’t come into contact with the project manager or the accountant everyday. It’s totally normal that you won’t know the answer to all the questions that you might be asked - but someone in your organisation will know. Remember that it might take them some time and effort to put together the information you need. Try to explain the benefit of you them pulling all the strands together for you. Securing more income is a big incentive for them to help you!

      3. How to describe your aims and outcomes

Making sure you convey your goals well is crucial – start by asking yourself the following questions*:

  • Does your aim sum up the purpose of your project in one sentence?
  • Does your aim reflect the need you have identified?
  • Have you used words of change (for example: 'more', 'better', 'less', 'improved') to describe your outcomes, and to say what will be different by the end of the project?
  • Do your outcomes link to the need you have identified?
  • Do your outcomes describe clear, specific and realistic changes?
  • Have you limited your outcomes to a manageable number (up to four is usually a good guideline)?

*Taken from the Big Lottery Fund.

It’s important to include hard facts and figures. New research suggests that whilst impact data doesn’t really affect the donor on the street, Trusts and Foundations really want to see it. They may have never met you so they need to be able to see in hard data what it is you achieve.

       4. Include the human story

Describing what you do in facts and figures is important, but it’s also crucial to make room for the human (or animal) story. Make a video, or ask someone to write down the story of their journey from problem to solution via your organisation. The words of those you’ve helped can be extremely powerful - ask them to try and focus on the change your organisation has made to them.

       5. If possible, seek out a relationship with a grant giver

It is possible to have a strong relationship with a trust, particularly if your cause resonates with them. Invite them to visit your project, or sign up to regular communications. They may say no, but some trusts will be keen to know more. Having an ongoing, meaningful communication with them could mean long term funding or collaboration on campaigning for local issues.

      7. Work with a failure/success rate in mind

Remember there is a failure rate involved in applying to trusts - only one in six will be successful. After you’ve done a few applications and monitored the outcome, it’s worth analysing your strike rate; it may be that your success rate with local trusts is much higher than with bigger, national trusts. This may well give you a hint about where to increase your efforts!

      8. How to write

It pays to assume that the funder knows nothing about you, so never write in jargon. It may be tempting to show off your technical knowledge about homelessness, or climate change, but the reader of the application doesn’t want to be on the back foot, so write in a matter of fact, informative way. If you have to use acronyms keep them to the absolute minimum and always explain them in full.

     9. Partnerships

Consider a partnership that might strengthen your application. Funders are increasingly attracted to programmes that work with others - perhaps drawing in a specific expertise. or making sure there is a joined up approach to a regional or local area.

    10. Writing a budget

How much should you apply for? Check what the trusts say about this - each one will have different guidelines per amount of money. Be clear about what you are asking for. This means you need to be able to describe what you do in terms of the activities you carry out and the financial resource it takes to do that, eg. salaries, equipment, etc.  

Note: Full Cost Recovery (FCR) means that you should apply for all of the costs of running a project, and for a proportionate share of your organisation’s overheads.

     11. What if the information I submitted then changes?

What if your information changes? Even if it seems like a hassle, or like it might jeopardize funds you have already received, you must make sure you tell a grant giver if any information or your situation as a charity has changed.

Information Checks - a trust will definitely check out the information you give them. They might check your charity number, and they might also undertake checks that relate to your financial position and fraud.

     12. What would the grant requirements be if your application is successful, and would you be able to meet them?

Consider the commitment you will have to make if you do take a grant. Will you have to submit specific reports? Will you need to prove certain outcomes?

     13. How will you make sure development is sustainable?

When you’re successful in gaining funding, it’s easy to fall into the trap of running at full pelt because things are fully funded by the trust money. You should think about what funding will be available after the trust funding runs out. Consider this eventuality carefully because the people/animals/etc. who rely on your support may have nowhere else to turn if the service ends.

     14. How will you make sure that you learn from the project?

Once the project has ended, there will inevitably be parts of it that didn’t work as well as others. Grant makers are well aware that it’s not easy trying to change the world one step at a time! Also, charities often work with very vulnerable groups and things don’t always go to plan. Have a review procedure that pinpoints what needs to be changed for next time, and make sure it’s clear in your goals going forward.

     15. How to deal with rejection.

Whatever the response - even if it’s a no – be gracious. Don’t take rejections personally - every trust receives many more applications than they could ever fund.

All of this information can sound very daunting, but once you’ve written a few applications it will get easier. Furthermore, a successful trust application could make such a big difference, so have a go – you’ve nothing to lose!

Here are some well-known trusts to get you started:

The skills you can gain and where else you can use them:

The disciplines and attitudes that one develops from applying to trusts and foundations will benefit you beyond a successful application. These are some of the things you’ll be able to take beyond the pages you are writing:

  • The ability to describe your activities both quantitatively and qualitatively. The financial descriptions will be a great help - knowing exactly how much things cost, and the impact they have. But also knowing what your full cost recovery might look like would be really helpful.  
  • You’ll be well organised, used to researching and making the right pitch to the right person. This can then translate to: approaching other people in the community, researching them, knowing the most useful approaches to make, etc.

What next?

  • You’re ready! Do some trust applications, and tell us how it goes on Facebook or Twitter. We’re always happy to have feedback to share and to provide further input.
  • Need another resource? Tell us on facebook or twitter what you need and we will write it!

You may also enjoy reading: 

All you need to know about Gift Aid.

Ultimate 27 Fundraising Ideas for your charity. 

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