Many of the charities I talk to and work with were set up in the last 2 decades of the 20th Century or the first decade of this one.

Their finances were based on grants, or sometimes Service Level Agreements (SLAs), from national or local government. Many of these charities existed happily for many years on the basis of this funding, with occasionally a National Lottery grant thrown in.

The end of the Blair government heralded a change in the funding climate, with statutory grants being progressively reduced or withdrawn altogether, and many charities finding that their cast-iron SLAs were being challenged by commercial organisations which were prepared to undertake loss-leading activities so that they could expand their operations.

These changes led to an increase in trust funding applications to compensate for the loss of statutory support. The highly competitive field of trust fundraising was an area which many small charities were ill-equipped to tackle. How does a small, local charity convince a board of Trustees they have never met to make them a grant against competition from other, often larger, grant seekers whose applications they cannot benchmark?

The Armed Forces used to have an old adage: “Time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted.” This is true of fundraising in general – and trust fundraising in particular. My rule of thumb is as follows:

  • Check through the Directory of Grant Making Trusts (DGMT) to establish which trusts might support your charity, either on the basis of the geographical area where you operate or the charitable work you do
  • Then look at each trust’s entry on the Charity Commission website. This will enable you to access the trust’s own website, if it has one; and also look through their most recent annual accounts and see what sort of charities they are supporting and what size of grants they are currently giving
  • Note the trust’s telephone number – if it publishes one – and call its office. It’s amazing how much useful information you can gain from a friendly chat – which can also bring decision-makers on-side ! Find out how the Trustees like funding applications composed – letter ? application form ? by post, e-mail or on-line? supplementary documents, photos or plans? If you get this right first time, it saves harassed trust administrators chasing you for what you didn’t supply ! And do make sure you find out their funding application deadline, if there is one.

None of this, of course, will guarantee you a grant. But it will increase your chances in the tough competitive field which is today’s trust fundraising.