I have been trust fundraising for almost 10 years.
I will always remember my first cheque. £10,000 from a small family foundation.
They had supported us before, but this was double their first donation. I was
Over the years, I have worked with every type of
foundation. From small family trusts to private philanthropists, corporates and
institutions. Like most trust fundraisers, I used to measure my success in
pounds. But today? Well, today I think a bit differently.
Of course, the final total is important. But as
competition hots up and more trusts close their doors to unsolicited
applications, it’s time to learn the value of way markers. The road to
success isn’t clearly marked. It takes years to build a sustainable trust
fundraising portfolio, and it is these moments – these small flashes of success
– that let you know you’re on the right track.
Let me show you what I mean:
- Charity X is new to trust fundraising. They have a couple of long-term high-value supporters but need to diversify their portfolio. They apply for an opportunity to present at a global conference. Against the odds (and thousands of other applicants) they win! There is no money in it, but they go anyway, hoping it will be good exposure for their team. A couple of months later they get an e-mail inviting them to apply for a new funding opportunity. It’s closed to unsolicited applications but has been opened to winners of this award. The funder had been on their prospect list for years, but they didn’t have a way in. Until now…
- Charity Y has a young trust fundraising
portfolio. They recently secured funding from a prestigious organisation and are
keen to ride this momentum. They apply for, and get, a small project grant from
a newly registered trust. It’s a notable achievement, but not a massive amount
of money. Two years later and the organisation is invited to re-apply. With a match-funding
opportunity in hand, they prepare (and win) a six-figure bid – a move that turned
this small-scale funder into one of the organisation’s most important core supporters!
- Charity Z has just launched a new
partnership with a local organisation. It started with a phone call about one project
and ended sparking discussion about another. Rather than compete against each
other, the two organisations decided to team up. It is a modest programme, but
an important relationship. It took over a year to finalise, but already the
work is proving successful. Not only are discussions around project growth
ongoing – this small initiative is opening important opportunities and
Any experienced trust fundraiser knows that it’s a
process. You cannot just slap on a six-figure target and expect the money to
come in overnight. It takes determination, creativity, connections and countless rejections to move a trust fundraising programme forward. Remember, you are
working in world where just 2% of applications can make it through. The
numbers are not in your favour. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t doing a good
Keep going. Put yourself out there. Apply for the
conferences, the awards, the presentations. Make those phone calls, go for
coffee, talk to other professionals. Every seed you plant is a step forward –
and like all good things, it takes time for them to grow. That’s why it is so
important not to forget the small stuff. Take time to celebrate positive
connections and new grants – no matter how small or insignificant they may
seem. You need to use these positives to show yourself (and your board) that
you’ve got the right ask, the work is strong and that you’re moving in the
right direction. Forwards!
So, take five minutes to count the positives and mark
the progress you are making. Set your KPIs to include connections,
networks and meetings as milestones to success and make sure you report against
You might not take it to the bank today. But don’t
under-estimate the value it could bring tomorrow.