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Fundraising from trusts and foundations: the basics

There are about 8,800 grant making trusts and foundations in the UK alone, giving a total in excess of £2.5 billion to charitable causes each year.  There will always be some factors that you can’t control when applying for funding.  For example, very often there will more applications than funds available, and different funders may prioritise applications differently.  However, to give you the best possible chance of success this recipe may help.

Serves – any organisation that plans to tender or seek grant aid, including NGOs, voluntary and community organisations.

Preparation –1-5 days depending on the complexity of the project and the funder’s requirements.

Cooking time – 1-6 months waiting for a decision.

Heart of money - photo courtesy of torange
Heart of money – photo courtesy of torange


  • Project design
  • Data on grant making trusts
  • Eligibility
  • Guidelines
  • Track record, USP and experience in the field
  • Key people
  • Endorsements
  • References
  • Evidence of project need
  • Project aims
  • Goals
  • Objectives
  • Timescale
  • Expected project outcomes
  • User involvement
  • Monitoring and evaluation
  • Budget
  • Fundraising strategy
  • Exit strategy
  • Case studies


  1. Think about your project design. What need do you want to meet? What do you want to achieve? How will you do this? Is it realistic for your organisation to do it? Why do you think your activities will lead to the outcomes you want (i.e. the Theory of Change)?


  1. Research data on grant making trusts to find local, national or international funders that may be relevant. Sources include published directories and online resources. Draw up a shortlist of possible trusts that include those that operate in your geographical area, are interested in your field of work and have sufficient funds to make grants of the size you need.  Double check the eligibility of your organisation and your project, and note approaching deadlines.  If possible contact the funder to discuss your project; this clarifies issues and may help to establish a relationship which may improve chances of success.


  1. Follow the funder’s application guidelines and process requirements. Note that many trusts and foundations have their own online form or document that you can download. Be sure to answer all the questions fully and succinctly; usually there is a page/word/character limit.


  1. Provide information about your organisation’s track record, USP (Unique Selling Point), and experience in the field. If your organisation is new, or unfamiliar to the funder, space permitting it will be worth including endorsements, experience and skills of your key people. References may be requested anyway.


  1. Add any evidence of project need, including external research and data, and your own consultation or other involvement with your target community or potential beneficiaries.


  1. Add in the project aims and goals and say how you plan to achieve them – how and why the planned activities are expected to lead to meeting the project need.


  1. Now shape the Where possible they should be presented as SMART – i.e. Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time bound). They should be about quantifiable outputs such as numbers of computers, activities or publications. See Recipe 2 for more detail on how to do this. The timescale for the whole project should be stated.


  1. Then add the expected project outcomes. Again, the SMART rule should apply in constructing outcomes. See Recipe 2 for more details on how to do this.


  1. Explain your strategy for beneficiary or user involvement: this could include for example their serving on a project advisory committee, or participating in monitoring, or in championing the project to their peers will be involved in the running of the project. Many trusts like to see this sort of thing for community projects, and the involvement itself can be a positive experience for the users.


  1. Describe how you intend the monitoring and evaluation of the project to be carried out. This is about processes involved in identifying progress in the achievement of the objectives and outcomes. See Recipe 3 for more detail on how to do this.


  1. Prepare a realistic budget for your project. As well as direct costs such as new staff, volunteer expenses, travel and training, don’t forget hidden costs like premises, rent, utilities, office costs and the time existing staff will spend on project activity.


  1. Many trusts prefer not to fund 100% of you budget; many will only fund up to a maximum anyway. Rather than ask for a contribution it is often better to ask for a specific sum and state your fundraising strategy, i.e. how you are going to raise the balance. If you already have raised the balance that would look even better to the trust.


  1. Prepare an exit strategy. Unless yours is a one off project or a pilot, you will need to show sustainability – that you have plans in for the work to carry on in some way after the end of the project. This might be because the project will demonstrate its worth so you can source long term funding or contracts to keep going, or perhaps deriving an income from trading will be an option.


  1. Make sure someone else reads through your application to check for spelling mistakes and that it makes sense, and re-check it yourself. Avoid jargon or other in house terminology that could confuse or irritate the funder. Double check you have met the funder’s application requirements and you have included any additional documentation that is required. Add a few case studies if this is allowed.   Submit in the format requested.


Good l