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Trusts and foundations

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

Did you know?

The Association of Charitable Foundations suggest that the top 300 charitable trusts and foundations in the UK distribute £2.7bn in grants each year. This equates to about 15% of all annual income into voluntary organisations.

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, building an endowment fund which provides a sustainable local grants fund in the future. 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. 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 and 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 or a well-defined community, while others are interested in funding for particular areas of work or causes.

Different types of funding

Trusts provide a variety of different types of funding, including:

  • startup 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 or 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.

The importance of research

Research is vital. A small number of well-researched and tailor-made applications are 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, while others explicitly state that they can’t discuss applications in advance. It's worth investing time in finding out as much as possible about the trust, as you need to make a strong case for why your project will help to meet their outcomes.

Questions to ask during your research

When looking into what a trust is prepared to fund, find out about the:

  • particular problems or needs
  • type of activities they support
  • particular ways of working they support
  • types of funding they considerpossible funding restrictions
  • geographical area the trust focuses onsize and duration of the grant
  • policies on financial matters that might affect your eligibility.

Selecting which trusts to apply to

Once you have looked into potential trusts to apply to, it’s worth drawing up a shortlist.  You might want to start with a longlist and then narrow it down. Each application will be tailored to that particular trust, so it can take a bit of time to put together. Find the best fit between what you want to achieve, and the aims and restrictions of the trust’s funding programme.

Remember that some trusts are very small, and their decision-making committee may only meet once a year. They will not have time to consider applications that haven’t followed their guidance, or that don’t meet their aims.

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 this is rare. In the main, they are interested in funding one to three year projects, with specific start and end dates. It is important to describe the project as a new and distinct piece of work – with aims, objectives and targets, an action plan, audience, budget, and a plan for monitoring and evaluation.

Dos and don’ts

  1. If there is an application form, read the guidelines and complete it in draft form first. Keep a copy of what you send.
  2. If you are presenting a proposal, ensure you include a clear justification for the project – what evidence do you have that it is needed or wanted by your target beneficiaries? How do you know it is 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 your case for funding in an objective rather than an emotive way.
  6. Do ensure you have included all the correct contact details and that 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 our guidance on writing funding applications.

Making applications

Finding out about sources of funding

  • Funding central is a searchable database of thousands of grants, contracts and loans, with results tailored to your organisation or project.
  • Trust funding is a subscription-based database of over 4,500 grant-making trusts.
  • Keep up to date with new grants by following grant givers or organisations that list new funds on Twitter.

How to guides

How to write an application to a charitable trust

Page last edited Feb 10, 2017

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