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Gaining Insight: A Guide to Understanding Your Trust Fundraising from an External Perspective

Most charities see their trust fundraising from an internal perspective, with a focus on making it grow, rather than understanding the total market size you might be operating in, and your place in it. As a trust fundraiser I always saw my job as being to identify every potential grant maker for my charity, and then to approach or apply to each one, every year.

Over the years I’ve come up with five categories useful to understand trust fundraising, and where you sit will have a significant impact on the direction of travel and what you can do to improve your income.

Nascent - A new charity, or an established charity looking to move into trust fundraising for the first time. Typically, no previous support from trusts and no trusts in the pipeline. Scant understanding of the external trust market, or how many potential funders they could approach for funds.

Best course of action: Prospect research to kick start trust fundraising, enabling rapid growth.

Embryonic - Whilst some trusts may have supported the charity in the past, there are few warm or cold prospects and little understanding of how big their particular trust market might be.

Best course of action: Again, prospect research will lead to rapid growth.

Developing - A history of trust support over several years and a strong pipeline of trusts to approach. Unsure about total trust market, and no clear plan to research total market size.

Best course of action: A trust audit to see where you sit in comparison to your competitors, and the likely size of your trust market. Prospect research will likely add significantly to your prospect pool.

Developed – A well-established trust fundraising programme, communicating to a balanced portfolio of trust supporters. A good understanding of their trust market, with the majority of significant funders identified.

Best course of action: Maintain relationship, explore identified funders & keep an eye on new grant makers to add to your prospect list.

Mature - A well-established trust fundraising programme, with the vast majority of their potential trust market identified and engaged. Regular dialogue with all significant funders to establish whether they are likely to consider an application, or not.

Best course of action: Maintain relationship & keep an eye on new grant makers to add to your prospect list.

How do you know if your trust fundraising is ‘developing’ or ‘mature’? Well, there are over 11,000 grant makers on the Charity Commission spending over £100k each year. In Scotland, over 1,700 grant makers on OSCR award over £100k per year. Take a quick look at how many prospects you have right now. If it’s much less than 1,000 I’d suggest you have a way to go to identify your total trust market.

Naturally, the process of prospect identification is time consuming, and often feels fruitless, yet until we understand the total prospect pool of our particular cause we just don’t know if we’re missing a really significant funder who’d love to work with us.

We’ve been helping charities with trust prospecting tools for over a decade, and have a range of services and publications to help. Do get in touch if you’d like to know more about our bespoke prospect research, you can find our publications here:

As always, good luck with the fundraising!

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