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Thorough research reaps rewards

3 top tips to finding funders

For someone who loves being around people I’m always faintly surprised when I enjoy research projects.  For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been immersed into the world of trusts and grant givers for one of my clients. This has involved me spending a lot of time with my computer, and not a lot of time with anyone else!

In theory Trust Fundraising goes like this: after some research, one finds a charitable trust who gives away money. You write to the funder with a ‘bid’ asking for money.  They consider the bid and if they like you, they give you money. And with £4.4 billion* available annually this method of fundraising can be a very valuable part of any charity’s fundraising strategy.

In reality it’s a little bit harder than that. Firstly, there are around 9000 trusts, foundations and grant giving bodies in the UK; quite a few to trawl through.  Secondly, each funder has its own criteria or objectives to meet. So, for very specific projects it can be a little like looking for a needle in a haystack.

I’ve been involved in trust or grant fundraising for about ten years. It can be very rewarding; one writes a bid and a few weeks later a lovely big cheque arrives in the post. Boom! Or, you spend days researching a fund; carefully crafting your application and nothing comes of it. I’ve always found the former outweighs the later and therefore, really enjoy the process.

Trusts and foundations give grants according to their own vision and objectives so that your application is about showing how your project or charity meets these. That means careful research is vital to a successful application.

If trust fundraising is part of your fundraising mix here are my 3 top tips to reaching potential grant-givers;

Be clear on your own objectives

Before you start looking for funding you need to have thought carefully about why your organisation needs funding. It may be for general purposes, to set up a new project or for a piece of equipment.

What is the problem or issue you want to address and what evidence do you have? How will the grant help your organisation meet its mission and vision? Funders want to see that you are addressing a real need and it sounds cliché, but that you are making a real difference.

Have you thought about the amount of money you will need? Some funders prefer to give smaller amount that will make a direct difference to locally based groups.  Others give larger grants to high profile causes.  You will need to pitch your bid to match their giving preferences.

With so many different funders supporting a huge variety of projects it can be very easy to be distracted and mould your project to what they fund. However, by clearly defining your organisation’s need you will be able to identify prospective funders to fit your project

Use multiple search engines

The more research one does, the greater the chances of success. By looking at who they’ve given money to previously, the trustee backgrounds and their giving guidelines (more of these later) you will be able to write a more informed, targeted and hopefully successful bid.

The Charity Commission has details of the 181,635 charities registered in England and Wales, and this a good starting point for a basic search. The Directory of Social Change publishes The Directory of Grant Making Trusts each year with information of about 2000 grant givers. There are a number of other online databases such as J4bCommunity or  funding central as well as local voluntary action networks all of which will help you build up a picture of a trusts giving and objectives.

Read and follow the guidelines

Before you even put pen to paper – or more likely – finger to the keyboard, you must read and follow the trust’s application guidelines. This is where time put in to researching prospective funders will pay dividends.

Some grant giving bodies or trusts have their own websites.  They will set out very clearly what to do to make an application.  For instance, they may ask that applications are only sent by post, that only charities limited turnover apply or they may specify what size envelope to send your application in (I chose to ignore this once and, needless to say, did not get the requested funding). At this research stage by reading and following guidelines you will save yourself time in the long run because, often once you investigate, you may not meet the application criteria.

For trusts without websites, the Charity Commission website gives information about the giving objectives of the funder.  This information together with submitted accounts will help you decide whether your project fits their giving criteria.

Trust fundraising isn’t a quick fix. Writing a tailor made bid for each separate application can take time. But when your research pays off with a successful bid its all worth it!

*DSC's 2015 Trusts Insight report