A Guide to Trust Fundraising Part Three: Into the Spotlight

In the third installment of this three-part guide to trust fundraising, we will explore the actual application process, the chance for the organisation to finally step into the spotlight and showcase it’s work on the page.

The first piece of advice is very simple, more than meet the expectations of your audience: If there is an application form, complete it clearly and in full. If there is a deadline, try and submit early. If there is a word count, stick to it, and you should generally be able to provide the necessary information in no more than four pages. Trust fundraising is highly competitive and you don’t want to inadvertently provide a reason for a trust not to fund your organisation; and the ability to convey the significance of your work with concise clarity is extremely valuable when the time, which can be devoted to each application, is greatly limited. I commonly see bids that say click this link, or refer to page x etc. The job of the fundraiser is to make the work of the prospective donor as easy as possible; too often bids only make sense to someone already familiar with the work of the organisation.

The research you’ve carried out to inform the case for support for the approach (explored in Part One) should also inform the language and style of an application. Very few donors appreciate jargon; the effect is generally alienating.  However, many have key words linked to their area of focus, which you may want to focus on and use to frame the approach to your application. For example, the Clore Foundation has put a great deal of thought into it’s choice of the use of the word ‘learning’, rather than ‘education’, or other such terms. Yet still I see bids, which choose to ignore this, or use their own internally preferred language, which hardly conveys a strong empathy with the work and approach of the trust from the outset.

More broadly speaking you will also want to consider what can be termed, ‘tone of voice’. By which I mean the personality and style of your organisation as it is conveyed in the choice of language and style of your application.  I am not suggesting that you should reinvent your language and style for every proposal; your character should be consistent. But just as one dresses to suit the nature and formality of a situation, tone of voice should reflect the relationship. And broadly speaking, the rules of most relationships apply: calm confidence is appealing; arrogance, or desperation are not. What is essential is that you are clearly conveying that you are an ideal to partner to deliver the shared ambitions of your organisation and the potential donor and a linguistic empathy is a good place to start.

For many organisations the real dilemma in making a bid for funding hinges around not fluffing their lines, in other words, knowing how much to ask for? An appropriate sum to request is usually best ascertained by a review of charity accounts, which often detail the size of specific gifts made. Otherwise, the categorisation of how gifts are acknowledged by organisations gives an indication of scale. Of course the size of a gift will also reflect the relationship to the donor and it’s no use benchmarking yourself against an organisation of close proximity with a long-standing relationship, if this is your first approach.  One other point, the ask should be clear within the first couple of paragraphs of a proposal, even if it is made more formally elsewhere in the bid; it should be clear what you are looking for up front.

Budgets are an area many fundraisers find challenging to compile and in particular, knowing how much detail information to include. I am an advocate of simple budgets with headings, which are clearly understandable and not too technical or specific to your organisation, with a notes section outlining how figures have been reached. Given trust funded projects are a key income source for many charities, I would also suggest that wherever possible, organisations should look at a total cost recovery model, apportioning up to 12% of organisational overheads into the cost of delivering a project.

Very few projects budgets I see attend to the issue of monitoring and evaluation, even though this is growing in significance for funders; with traditional arts supporters wanting to see how the project will be used to inform the sustainable development of the organisation and broader social agenda funders more interested in the wider collection of data. This doesn’t need to be a lengthy section in the proposal, but it should be clear that this is a process you consider essential to ensuring value for money from the funds and a few indicators of the kinds of measures, which will be used, are essential.

Finally, who should deliver the speech – who is the proposal from? As I outlined in Part Two, eminent individuals can be extremely valuable in advocating for an organisation and in this scenario I usually propose that they sign the covering letter to accompany the proposal (as without a formal role, they can’t sign the bid on behalf of the organisation) and then the Chief Executive or Artistic Director, should sign the form or have their contact information on the application, as appropriate. If the relationship is more established, the covering letter can be signed by the senior executive, and the bid can come from the relevant fundraiser.

As we’ve noted throughout this three-part guide, trust fundraising has become an increasingly crowded and competitive funding stream and there are no guarantees or short cuts to success. However, following these principles should help to lead to the kind of success your organisation deserves.

Caroline McCormick  |  April 2015