A Guide to Trust Fundraising Part Two: Reaching the Audience

In Part One of this three-part guide we went behind the scenes to prepare for the performance; we looked at the need to understand trust fundraising as a potential income source, how to optimise the offer you can make as a charity and identify and maximise the range of trust and foundation sources available to you.

Now, with the show ready to go on, we can consider how best to reach and engage the prospective audience? Small charities often ask me whether it is OK to simply send out cold proposals, saying they don’t have time to do anything else. My response is that I always employ every strategy possible to try and establish some kind of relationship and that I would consider a more successful approach to be sending out a small number of proposals where we had established a contact, than approach a larger number, without.

We recently undertook a piece of trust fundraising work for a London theatre. The Theatre’s education programme focuses on talent development, so there is a limited and focused group of trusts, which are suited to their work and which they hadn’t had the resources previously to approach. The results were an unprecedented success, with all but one of the proposals submitted successful, amongst them one of the largest grants ever received by the organisation. I believe that there were two main strengths, which enabled this success; the work of the organisation is excellent and their Organisational Value Chain (see Part One) is operating at an optimum. Secondly, we navigated a route to almost all of the organisations and ensured that the bid fitted their actual interests, not just how they were explained in on the website.

There are two main routes which major cultural organisations are able to lever to engage trusts and foundations: the first is to employ their networks (Patrons, Boards and committees) to reach key influencers and decision makers. The second is to offer high profile opportunities to encourage them to engage with their work. Whilst this model applies in it’s simplest sense to a limited number of major arts organisations which have highly networked Boards and the ability to stage must see events, if we take the principles underlying these strategies, they can be applied much more widely.

As Director of PEN International, I inherited a remarkable international charity with no experience of fundraising and a Board composed entirely of writers – all but one of whom were based outside of the UK. I knew that if we were to succeed in trust fundraising, my signing bids (no matter what the quality) simply wouldn’t be enough to succeed; we would need endorsement to stand out. So I approached a number of eminent writers who were sympathetic to the organisation and, unable to offer them any formal title without changing the regulations, asked them to do no more than to lend their name to bids and to speak at one event a year. One remarkable writer in particular was extremely generous, Sir Tom Stoppard. His name at the bottom of a covering letter meant that our bids were endorsed by perhaps the most respected and admired contemporary playwright. As a charity, we were elevated to a new level in the eyes of prospective funders by his association. His signature by no means guaranteed success, but it did mean that we were always at the table and our work was considered.

The question of meritocracy in trust fundraising, is one which I explored in Part One, but when charities challenge what they see as the fairness of such an approach, I try to highlight the fact that securing an endorsement is no more or less fair than having the skills to be able to write an excellent bid. Whenever I’ve interviewed the staff and leadership of major trusts and foundations they have spoken of the difficulty of maintaining a current knowledge of who is delivering excellent work across a range of art forms across the country, within their limited resources. The staff and Trustees of trusts and foundations of all scales often need recommendations to know where to lend their support. Endorsements can be the beginning of a relationship, once you have the audience in their seats, it’s up to the organisation to stage a performance of a quality to make them want to come back and support again.

At PEN International, I was fortunate enough to inherit an organisation with a tremendous history, which meant that even if there was no fundraising track record, there were at least writers who were prepared to lend their names. But most organisations have an association with at least one eminent individual they can reach out to, to endorse their work. However, with the recent trust bids I referred to there was an issue of potentially over exploiting key organisational assets which were being employed elsewhere, so several of the bids were instead informed by the simple and universally accessible process of picking up the phone and calling trust administrators who guided and informed an approach, several of which evolved considerably from the initial proposal we had discussed, as a direct result. This simpler, lower key tool is one which is all too commonly over looked. Of course the ideal is to engage at both Trustee and staff levels, but where resources and opportunities are more limited, it’s even more important to use the opportunities you have. Before contacting a trust, write a few notes in advance  – ensure you can say who you are, what you do and outline the project as concisely as possible and be clear what information it is you are looking for.

The second tool is the staging of events to engage potential prospects. As a charity seeking support, it’s easy to overlook the fact that trusts and foundations try to operate extremely efficiently and are simply bombarded with approaches and invitations. However, as was recently highlighted to me by Director of one major cultural foundation, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to engage the trust in this way. In an interview, carried out as part of the review of the ACE Catalyst Programme, the Director highlighted that the Foundation is looking for ‘an ideal professional relationship’ and that invitations, even if not accepted are a good way of maintaining that dialogue and keeping the Foundation informed as to the work being carried out. The Director also highlighted that it is disappointing when a charity fails to secure a grant and shortly afterwards stops sending invitations and then starts to send them again in advance of making a new bid.  “ull ÒJust because the Foundation isn’t funding you at that moment doesn’t mean we aren’t interested or in a longer-term dialogue”, he said, it’s simply that we didn’t have the funds at that meeting to support you. A professional relationship extends beyond a single grant decision. Trusts who don’t want to be cultivated will inform you of this. Other short tools often appreciated are short updates on the work of the organisation, especially how projects and initiatives previously supported have developed.

So, the audience have taken their seats – in Part Three, it’s time for the show!

Caroline McCormick  |  April 2015