A refusal to accept unsolicited applications is a particularly unfortunate attitude which prevents small – and often volunteer-led and run – charities from accessing grants. In a recent blog in the New Philanthropy Capital (NPC) newsletter entitled “Why funders need to champion small charities”, Kate Symondson of the Symondson Foundation stresses on the one hand the importance of funding small charities and overcoming barriers to achieving this; but in the very next paragraph she states that she will not accept unsolicited funding applications. She appears not to see the irony of these conflicting attitudes, nor does she explain how needy small charities come to her notice if she is not already aware of their work and their requirements.

I chair a grant-making trust which is much smaller than the Symondsbury Foundation. We accept applications from small charities anywhere in the UK and the Commonwealth. Although there are more such applications each year than our trust can possibly fund, we narrow them down on merit – the strength of their applications and how they convince us that our small grants would make a difference and enable them to achieve goals which would otherwise remain unachieved, or be delayed in their achievement. We certainly do not give priority to charities which can afford fundraising consultants or salaried fundraisers, nor do we discriminate against the all-volunteer charities whose applications may not have the finesse of some of their counterparts.

Our decisions may not be perfect, but we believe they are fair. We also give written feedback to each applicant we decide not to fund, so that small charities understand the reasons for our decision. We sometimes offer suggestions as to how they could improve their applications, should they wish to re-apply in future years.

This feedback seems to be appreciated. A recent response from a charity we had turned down was: “Thank you for letting me know and thank you for the nicest, most informative rejection letter we’ve ever received.” The basis for our policy is that no small charity should be excluded from seeking grants from us, whether we have previous experience of their work or not; and if we can’t fund them, we can at least explain the reasons for this and give them encouragement for the future.