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Trusts and Foundations

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How to make an application for funding to charitable trusts and foundations.

by Margo Horsley and Karen Gilchrist — last modified Feb 01, 2013 04:29 PM

Facts about trusts and foundations - Did you know..?

The Association of Charitable Foundations suggest that there are some 10,000 charitable trusts and foundations in the UK distributing £2billion in grants annually. This equates to about 10% of all income into voluntary organisations annually.

Many charitable trusts and foundations derive their income from an endowment. However there are some exceptions to this:

  • BBC Children in Need Trust and Comic Relief who raise money from the public to distribute to good causes
  • Community Foundations that support local community needs. They bring together small sums of money from local donors and over time build an endowment fund which in the fuure will provide a sustainable local grants fund.Community Foundations also manage Government funds and money on behalf of other grantmakers.

Why apply to trusts and foundations

As a general rule grant-making trusts and foundations follow their own direction rather than being led by the Government of the day. They have a view on what they want to achieve and how that will benefit local communities. They don’t deliver work on the ground. Instead they give grants to community groups and charities who do, reaching the people they want to reach, achieving the outcomes they are looking for. Applying to trusts and foundations is largely about demonstrating how your particular project can help them achieve their purpose.

Trusts and foundations come in all shapes and sizes and give grants for a wide variety of causes.  Some are focused on particular geographical areas, others only give to certain types of organisation, some concentrate on a well-defined community, others are interested in funding for particular areas of work or general themes.

Different types of funding

Trusts provide a variety of different types of funding:

  • kickstarting funding - to get a project off the ground
  • revenue – to cover running costs, including salaries
  • capital – to pay for building costs or equipment
  • project funding – to pay for a mixture of items within a project budget, sometimes including a contribution towards overheads and management time
  • core/long-term funding – there are a few trusts who provide this kind of partnership funding over a number of years
  • small grants – trusts of all sizes often have a small grants programme which involves less paperwork and a faster response time. This is often a good way of getting to know a trust and establishing a working relationship with them.
  • new ways of doing things
  • targeting disadvantaged people
  • unpopular causes.

The importance of research

Research is vital. A small number of well-researched and tailor-made applications is far more likely to succeed than a wide-ranging “begging letter”.  Some trusts provide detailed guidelines on what they will and won’t fund. 

Trusts and foundations have websites giving examples of previously funded organisations and their criteria for funding.  A small number of trusts issue application forms, to ensure you provide precisely the information they are looking for. Some are happy to chat through your project idea on the phone – to see if it is worth your while applying.  It is worth investing time in finding out as much as possible about the trust… after all you’re trying to find the perfect match between the outcomes of your project and what the trust wants to achieve.

Questions to ask during your research

When looking into what a trust is prepared to fund, ask the following questions:

  • what problems or needs is the trust particularly interested in?
  • what type of activities is the trust prepared to support?
  • are there any particular ways of working that the trust is keen to support?
  • what types of funding is the trust prepared to consider?
  • are there any restrictions on what the trust will fund?
  • what geographical area does the trust focus on?
  • what is the size of grant and the duration of grant?
  • are there any policies on financial matters that might affect whether or not we can apply?

Selecting which trusts to apply to

Once you have looked into potential trusts to apply to, it’s worth drawing up a short list.  You might want to start with a long list and then narrow it down.  Because each application will be tailored for that particular trust it takes a bit of time to put an application together.  So you can’t send out hundreds.  Find those where there is the best fit between what you want to achieve and what a trust says its purpose is.

Making the application

It is important to think about your application in terms of a project.  There are a few trusts and foundations who will fund a community organisation’s core-costs.  But in the main they are interested in funding one to three year projects.  So it is important to talk about the new work you want to undertake in terms of a project – with aims, objectives and targets, action plan, audience, budget, and monitoring/evaluation.

Do's and don’ts

  1. If there is an application form, read the guidelines and complete it in draft form first. And keep a copy.
  2. If you are presenting a proposal ensure you put a clear justification for the project – what evidence do you have that it is needed? Wanted? And the most appropriate solution?
  3. Do include the supporting information requested.
  4. Don’t include lots of superfluous background material that hasn’t been asked for.
  5. Do attach a covering letter that summarises the case you are making for their funding in an objective rather than an emotive way.
  6. Do ensure you have included all of your correct contact details and the appropriate person has signed the letter or form.
  7. Do ensure you include any references requested. Don’t say that these will follow.
  8. Do ask a “critical friend” to read through and review your proposal.

See also the DSC guide to writing funding applications.

Useful links

Making applications

  • Directory of Social Change (DSC) publishes a number of grantmaking directories. Look at their publication lists. They also offer grantmaking database software accessible online. Their major publications are available in reference libraries and at your local CVS.
  • Research from DSC about the terms and conditions set by grant givers. Learn from their critical conditions research.
  • Fit4funding is the website of the Charities Information Bureau who provide funding advice for community groups and voluntary organisations. They also have a monthly newsletter and a free grantfinder database.
  • NCVO's page on Trusts and Foundations has information about making an application.

Finding out about sources of funding

Grants databases and their usefulness depend on how often the data is updated and the flexibility of the search engine. They are great for generating a ‘long list’ of grant makers to research but they cannot substitute for collating your own information from trust websites and talking to staff from the organisation.

If all this looks a little daunting, the most important thing is to have a go! Practice makes perfect!

Have your say

What is your experience of Trusts and Foundations? Share your experience or ask your questions on the Fundraising forum.

Alternatively, if you want to share your experience more formally, we'd love you to write a case study about your experience. What worked well, what didn't, what challenges did you overcome? Email to find out more about using your experience to help others learn.

Further help and advice

Why not try the KnowHow 'Fundraising' free online training course?

Comments (2)

A KnowHow member

A KnowHow member wrote on May 06, 2009 05:32 PM

I am writing in my capacity as a trustee of FunderFinder (not Fundfinder as given above). We are a charity that holds a database of around 4,500 grantmaking trusts. We publish this on a CD called 'Groups in Need', which is searchable using a variety of criteria to give you the best match for your needs. You should be able to access it through your local CVS or library. You can also download free resources from the FunderFinder website, including a package called Apply Yourselves, which will help you write a funding application.

Rowena On

Rowena On wrote on Feb 12, 2014 10:50 AM

I believe that FunderFinder sadly closed in July 2011.

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