Trusts research is a key part of the trust fundraising function so if you have already addressed the other factors that determine your success in raising funds from trusts (such as the strength of your case for support, the presentation of your financial information, the quality of your stewardship etc), you are then in a position to widen your pool of funders. So where should you begin?
A good place to start is by checking your charity’s records to see who was funding you five or ten years ago (if available). Even if long lapsed, a former donor is still a good prospect compared with a completely cold one, so it is worth a look. This really underscores the value of keeping trust records long-term. The best example I have come across was a client that had files going back 60 years and it was fascinating to see the correspondence trail, showing some very long and valuable relationships. It was also a very good starting point for research.
The next place to look is at your competitors. Who is it that funds them? Don’t just think of the obvious ones either. If you have developed some innovative projects recently, it may be that that will open up some new funders that have supported organisations in related fields. You can try looking at their websites and reports and accounts, we well as using Google and trying free word searches on Trustfunding. This should give you some good leads.
A further popular source is the Charity Commission website, where you can identify both longstanding and newly registered trusts (new trusts are registered every month, though not all have much money to distribute immediately).
Then there are some good free sources of information on funding sources, such as the bulletins produced by local councils for voluntary service and local authorities. These will vary across the country but are well worth signing up for. Another useful free source is the Rural Services Network, which produces a free monthly funding update.
The next sources to consider are the paid subscriptions, including Trustfunding, Funding Central (free to very small organisations), Invisible Grantmakers, the Trust List etc. These all vary in price and scope, so explore them before buying. None of them is comprehensive, but they can all provide a useful piece of the jigsaw.
Researching potential trustees among your support base is also a useful step, as there may well be people on your database with links to trusts. Sometimes such links will enable you to secure grants from trusts that would not normally give to your type of cause, because of the personal connection.
Another useful source of trusts can be your major donor activity, if you have one. Many wealthy people give via a charitable trust they have established for this purpose, so talking to whoever runs your major gift work will be important. In some instances the approach will be directly to the wealthy individual, while on other occasions it will involve making a traditional submission (albeit with as personal an approach as possible).
The final option in relation to finding new prospects is to commission external research. Although there is a cost to this, it is often a very good investment and there are several key advantages. Firstly, it saves time if you are short of capacity. Secondly, it can give you access to sources you would not otherwise have (for example, we have access to an archive of over 10,000 UK trusts) and, thirdly, it can provide expertise that may not be available in your charity.
In conducting your research, remember to be creative. What are the different themes you can use as your fundraising hooks? These could be based on the people you are working with, your location, the type of project you plan to run etc. Consider the many ways your project can be presented and seek funders with those interests.
Trusts research alone will not win you the funding you need, but it is an essential element of fundraising that should be conducted on an ongoing basis, in order to ensure that you are not missing out on funding opportunities.
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