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Fundraising Fundamentals, Section 7.4


Cultivation of Trusts and Foundations

According to research by the Charity Commission, there are around 8,800 trusts and foundations in the UK and considerably more across the world. They are established either by individuals or by organisations to act as the vehicles for their charitable giving. Many are small and targeted at very specific causes or areas. However, some have huge giving capacity and are able to make transformational, multimillion-pound gifts to an institution.

Raising funds from trusts and foundations is a significant element of any fundraising programme, but it is very competitive and should be approached in a systematic and professional manner. As when raising funds from individuals, this type of fundraising follows the classic cycle of identification, cultivation, solicitation and stewardship.

Identification and Making a Plan

There are many ways to identify trusts and foundations. However, as there are so many, you should have a clear idea of what you are fundraising for so that you can pinpoint those trusts and foundations most likely to support you.

You can subscribe to several commercial online databases of trust and foundation information and buy publications that list their areas of interest, or use free online resources such as the Charity Commission for England and Wales, Guidestar and other sites. Searching the Internet and other media is a useful way to find trusts and foundations that have funded causes similar to your own.

If you are already working with a company (especially a large corporation), it may also have a charitable foundation you can approach. Most larger trusts and foundations will have their own websites detailing their areas of interest and how to apply.

Once you have identified a list of likely trust and foundation funders, you need to plot how these prospects map onto your fundraising projects. Read their application guidelines carefully and match up the characteristics of your fundraising projects with the right trusts and foundations. You might also need to consider your time scales, as some trusts have a long lead-time up to making a funding decision, as the trustees meet infrequently.


Once you have identified your prospective trusts and matched them to suitable projects, you need to find a way to build a relationship with them. Some trusts and foundations have guidelines about how to achieve this. Do some further research about the decision makers within a trust or foundation. Do your senior staff know any of them? Do you know anyone who can broker an introduction?

Whilst it is not always necessary to cultivate a direct relationship with a trust or foundation in this way, it can be helpful if done carefully, and is essential if the trust claims to take a ‘proactive approach’ to grant making. Some foundations may even state that they do not accept unsolicited applications. If the guidelines permit it, you might do something as simple as place a phone call to the trust administrator to discuss a possible application. An early consultation will help you craft the best possible application and introduce your organisation to the trust or foundation as a prospective beneficiary.


Most bigger trusts and foundations will have guidelines for your application. Make sure you read, understand and follow these guidelines.

Bear in mind that most trusts and foundations will have very little administrative support yet hundreds of applications to deal with every year. They have introduced guidelines to assist them in their selection process. If you ignore the guidelines, your application is likely to be rejected.

The solicitation process can take many months, especially if the grant maker has a multi-stage application process and the trustees/decision makers meet only a few times a year.

The more detail, evidence of need and reassurance of your ability to deliver on a project that you can communicate to a trust or foundation, the more likely it will be to fund your project.

Trusts and foundations look for innovation and evidence that a project is fulfilling an identified need, that it is sustainable and that the project leaders are capable of delivering the project goals in a timely fashion. Some trusts and foundations may wish to visit you before they make a decision. This visit is your chance to shine and really convince them that your project is worthwhile.


Many trusts and foundations develop long-term relationships with their beneficiaries and become repeat and escalating donors. To support this relationship, good stewardship is vital.

  • Keep your donor informed about the project as it develops.
  • Give regular reports and take every opportunity to speak to the funders in person about the project.
  • If your project ultimately benefits others, such as students or patients, then gather feedback from these beneficiaries or take opportunities to introduce them directly to the funders so they can understand the difference their funding is making.
  • Make sure that you manage your funding in a professional manner, maintaining the highest standards in recording and accounting for its expenditure.
Keeping the Momentum Going

New trusts and foundations are formed all the time, and good prospect research will help you to keep track of new funders. Many trusts and foundations deliberately maintain a low public profile as a way of managing the number of applications they receive, so investing time and effort in prospect research will widen your prospect pool.

To maintain momentum, use your database to log information about trusts and foundations, your applications to them and when your windows of opportunity to reapply arise.

You should develop a yearly calendar of activity that, if successful, will help you develop a steady income stream from this kind of funding.

Action Items
  • Determine and prioritise the trusts and foundations best aligned with your institution’s priorities and projects. Again, the 80/20 rule can be helpful: Spend the majority of time on the top prospects.
  • Plan ahead, as most trusts and foundations have long grant cycles – i.e., the majority of your trust and foundation proposals should be submitted during the first half of your fundraising year.
  • Thoroughly research priorities and guidelines outlined by the trust or foundation.
  • Find a contact at the trust or foundation, even if you are cold calling to introduce your institution.
  • Keep donors engaged and be aware of their future cycles/grant opportunities.

You Might Also Want to Read:

The cultivation process
Prospect research
Stewardship activities
The case for support
Proposal writing
What to measure and what to report

Timing Can Be Everything

Watch out for trusts and foundations that reject repeat applications within a certain timeframe. You do not want to ask a funder for £1,000 now and throw away the opportunity to ask for £100,000 for a different project in a few months' time.


CASE provides additional information about foundation relations, including giving foundation giving philanthropy trends.