CDE project 8 sec­tion 3: Putting the prin­ci­ples and actions into practise

Written by
The Commission on the Donor Experience
April 29, 2017

Putting the principles and actions into practise

Delivering an excellent experience for our trust and foundation donors is not rocket science, nor should it be considered to cause harm to our charities or the people or causes we are supporting. It is simply following the methods and procedures that we all know comprise best practice trust fundraising. Unlike many other donors, trusts and foundations often provide us upfront with explicit instructions on how to ensure this, including clear guidelines on when and how often to apply and the amount, duration and recurrence of funding available. Essentially, by following these instructions, employing good manners, acting honestly, ethically and respectfully, as well as adopting the attitudes and assumptions below, we have a pretty good chance of delivering a first-rate experience for our trust and foundation benefactors, and one that will hopefully (if desired by the trust) start or sustain a mutually beneficial longer-term involvement and relationship.

Magic formulas do not exist in trust and foundation fundraising to guarantee a funder will enjoy or appreciate your interaction with them. There is no one way to write a grant application or fill in a form. There is no single, one size fits all approach that will always work. There are lots of useful tips, tricks, styles and methods that can be employed, the overwhelming majority of which are included in the ‘how to’ literature and online resources for trust funding which can be easily researched and will not be re-iterated here. These need to be tailored to the individual application to the individual trust or foundation, but it really boils down to a fundraiser’s (and their charity’s) attitudes towards potential funders and their understanding of what works and is required by individual trusts and foundations.

Principles – Attitudes and Assumptions to Adopt

  • There is as much variety in size, composition, purpose, value, and management of trusts and foundations as there is in the charities and organisations which seek their support.
  • There is therefore no single step-by-step approach that will suit all trusts and foundations. 

In response to my request for comments and contributions, a number of the trust fundraisers, a legal colleague who not only represents a number of trusts but is also a trustee himself, and a representative of the Association of Charitable Foundations emphasised the importance of these principles. Using identical approaches for all trusts and foundations may find some success, however chances are the trustees and staff at the donor organisation will recognise it as such an approach. Be aware of cultural and regional differences and strive to incorporate them into your approach. Whilst there are elements which will be consistent between most donors, and which can be used to good effect in a base case for support, even minor tweaks will let your potential funder know you were thinking of THEM when you applied.  

  • Trusts and foundations, while operating as organisations, are managed by people and are trying to fulfil the vision, wish, dream or passion of their founder and their current trustees to do something to make the world a better place. As charities, we can help them realise this goal.
  • Trusts and foundations do not exist for our convenience. It is their responsibility to deliver their charitable objects as set out in their governing documents. It is not their responsibility to meet our requirements or make our lives, as fundraisers, easier or harder.
  • A positive donor experience is not about what the donor can do for us as charities, but what we as charities can do for them.

A significant proportion of the contributions to this project suggested that the application and reporting requirements of trusts and foundations are becoming a barrier to charities achieving their fundraising and operational goals. Meeting these requirements seemingly becomes an inefficient and frustrating use of the fundraiser’s time – particularly when, for example, the trusts choose to fund outside their stated guidelines, do not fund certain aspects of projects such as full cost recovery, or constantly require new and innovative projects instead of funding core activity. Whilst this attitude reflects legitimate frustrations in light of increasing ‘competition’ for the attention of these donors, it removes the aims of the trust or foundation, their trustees and their staff from the fundraising equation. It sidelines their role in supporting those who need assistance, in working with charities and others to make the world a better place to that of an automated bank machine. It is also disrespectful.

Trusts and foundations remain one of the largest and most effective funders of the work to which charities are devoted, and it is therefore in charities’ best interests to revisit these attitudes and relationships.

  • Respect and honour the trust or foundation, their staff and volunteers, and their guidelines. NEVER forget that it is not YOUR money you are spending, it is THEIR donation.

To a great extent, respecting the trust or foundation’s history, trustees, staff and requirements will go a very long way to delivering the excellent experience we want our donors to have. This includes following best practice in all aspects of the application and grant management processes, including delivering what we said we were going to, and understanding that the trust or foundation and its representatives do not function simply as a source of income for charities. We should always remember that regardless of the size of donation they may award, these funds are the result of the founder’s savings (however they may have come about); they want to use them in what THEY see as the best way possible and they want to hear how we accomplished that. Ultimately, we must respect that how they distribute their funds is up to them, not us.

Practical Actions – Beyond the basics

In addition to the above attitudes and assumptions, there are some simple practical actions that any charity or trust fundraiser can implement now to encourage an excellent experience for their trust and foundation donors. By taking personal responsibility for maintaining and improving their own fundraising skills and practice, these all represent best practice trust fundraising fundamentals and fall into three main categories:

  1. Follow the guidelines provided;
  2. Submit quality applications for quality projects and activities; and
  3. Engage in effective stewardship and relationship-building.

If you are looking to transform your fundraising situation, these fundamentals will help you reframe your strategies and build or rebuild relationships with the trusts and foundations you approach. If these already form part of your approach and relationship strategy, great! You and your charity are probably already benefitting from improved relationships with donors that feel valued. Keep up the good work!

  • Follow the guidelines provided
    • A trust or foundation’s guidelines will be set to meet their own requirements. Follow them carefully unless told otherwise. Do as much research as you can with the resources you have (including calling the funder/their representative) to determine if you are a good fit for a trust or foundation’s objects. Do not expect this information will always be provided or easily available for you.
    • Match your project, organisation and budget as closely as possible to the trust or foundation’s guidelines when available. Clearly explain a tenuous match.
    • Meeting their guidelines should be the minimum a fundraiser should strive for.
    • If you do not fit their criteria, do not apply (unless told otherwise by the donor). You will be wasting their time.
    • Deliver a good quality, accurate, honest, well-researched, well-written, and heartfelt business case individually targeted to each funder. Anything less demeans you, your charity and the trusts and foundations you approach.
    • Do not make trustees or their staff search for information they need to make their decision.
    • Submit your application on time, in the manner and format requested.
    • Do not try to pull the wool over their eyes regarding your organisational reputation, your position within the sector, or your level of expertise.
    • Do not promise what you cannot deliver.
  • Submit quality applications for quality projects
  • Engage in effective stewardship and relationship-building
  • Relationships can vary between trusts and charity applicants/awardees depending on many variables: geography, cause, community interest and history, type/size of donation sought, etc. Do not necessarily expect consistency amongst your relationships.
    • If you are successful, thank the trust or foundation appropriately, quickly and with respect, meeting any of their conditions or requirements.
    • Fundraisers should be transparent, delivering on agreed activity and targets, appropriate communication and involvement as desired by the funder, honesty, and fiscal accountability.
    • Develop a stewardship plan for each donor observing their communication and reporting preferences (including minimal or no further communication).
    • Consider inviting trustees or trust employees/administrators to an event, formal or informal, to find out more about your organisation and work and for you to find out more about them. Accept that they may or may not engage as again, relationships are built on a case-by-case basis and interest in such events varies across the country.
    • If you cannot deliver on ANY aspect of your commitment, including delays to activity, communicate with the trust or foundation as soon as possible. Be prepared to negotiate the re-purposing or return of the donation, understanding that the trust or foundation does not have to be sympathetic.
    • Accept responsibility for your activities or inactivity.
    • As a general rule, do not argue with your donor.
    • Do not assume that trustees or their staff or trustees have time to engage with you once a grant has been awarded. Equally, do not assume that they don’t.
    • Unless discouraged by the trust or foundation, build links and relationships (with trustees, staff, legal representatives) where possible and that are not related to a current or imminent proposal. This can lead to a partnership that can have a real impact on your shared goals. Leave a comprehensive record of your relationship and actions for your successor.

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About the author: The Commission on the Donor Experience

The CDE has one simple ideal – to place donors at the heart of fundraising. The aim of the CDE is to support the transformation of fundraising, to change the culture to a truly consistent donor-based approach to raising money. It is based on evidence drawn from first hand insight of best practice. By identifying best practice and capturing examples, we will enable these to be shared and brought into common use.

Related case studies or articles

CDE project 8 section 2: the approach

What should trusts and foundations expect from us, the charities sector that is seeking their support?

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CDE project 8 summary: trusts and foundations

Trusts and foundations are significant donors to charity but while most operate in ways substantially different from individual donors they have distinct needs in terms of requiring an exemplary and rewarding donor experience for trusts and their staff. This project will seek to define the best ways to deliver that experience for any trust or foundation.

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