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Trust and foundations grants in the UK

Originally published: March 2017. | Last reviewed: March 2017.

Most small nonprofits don't have the luxury of a staff member dedicated to researching and responding to grants from trusts and foundations. That task might fall to the fundraising officer, the founder or chief executive, or even a volunteer. If you're that person, what do you need to know?

Invest time researching trusts and foundations

With more than 10,000 trusts and foundations in the U.K., spending a massive £4.4 billion annually according to the Directory of Social Change (DSC), there's a lot to sift through. It's easy to get distracted by grants that — even if you meet basic eligibility criteria — go beyond your core mission.

"No two grantmakers are the same, with each maintaining its own distinct eligibility criteria, guidelines and application method," write the experts at DSC. So it's unwise to fire off the same application to multiple funders: send fewer, more targeted proposals instead. (In fact, under the Fundraising Regulator's code of practice, mass mailing and cold calling to trusts must be avoided, except in exceptional circumstances.)

And it's rarely worth spending time and resources on an opportunity that's not the right fit for your organization: you’re unlikely to be successful — or worse, if you win, you may struggle to implement what you promised.

Shortlist the best grants for your charity

Set aside the time you need for research. That might mean a few days intensively researching the top 50 or 100 trusts or foundations that could support you, and then additional hours allotted each month to looking for new opportunities that have come up or old ones you've missed.

Some small charities create fundraising subcommittees or groups made up of a staff member, trustees and volunteers to spread the load of resource-intensive researching. Others have one person draw up an initial list of potential funders and then engage a wider committee to take the next steps.

As you come across promising trusts or foundations, note important details:

  • Name of the grantmaking organization
  • Website (direct link to the relevant grant page)
  • Deadlines
  • Thematic focus
  • Typical grant amount and/or range
  • Annual giving amount
  • Entry point (for example, any personal connections or previous contacts with the organization)
  • Contact details
  • Any positive signs or red flags to consider

You might then rank your list according to size of potential grant or affinity to your cause, so that you can score each prospect and end up with a shorter list of the most promising ones.

Grant research resources for your charity

You can pay an outside expert to do prospect research for you — this gets you a well-researched list of potential funders who align with your cause. Some fundraising specialists, such as New Charities and Factary, can provide clients/subscribers with a monthly list of newly-registered grant-making organizations.

But it's equally possible to sift through the opportunities yourself, using either free or paid services. Paid services include the DSC's yearly handbook, "The guide to major trusts," and their online database. Invisible Grantmakers highlights little-known trusts in an annual publication. You'll also find sector-specific databases.

Some smaller organizations stick to free resources. Vic Hancock Fell, co-founder of NGO Team Kenya (which gets about 60 to 70 percent of its income from trusts and foundations), told MissionBox: "We've found that for our needs, research using free resources has sufficed so far." As well as looking at charity accounts on the Charity Commission website or at similar charities' websites to see how they've been funded, Team Kenya asks others for recommendations and makes use of free databases.

Some free resources include:

  • Funding Central. This database is run by NCVO. It's free for organizations with an annual income less than £100,000. Larger organizations currently pay a fee of £100 + VAT.
  • The Good Exchange. This online community automatically matches eligible applications for available charitable funding. Fees for listing a project are handed to the funder upon acceptance of the project.
  • Funds for NGOs. The site publishes the latest funding opportunities according to sector.
  • The Charity Commission's database of registered charities. Still in beta, this database is currently the only resource listing every charity in England and Wales. You can use it to find out more about specific grantgiving organizations whose names you already know.
  • Umbrella networks in your sector. These will usually share information of new funds or upcoming deadlines. For example, NIDOS, the network of international development NGOs in Scotland, provides a directory and monthly email alerts for funding opportunities (not restricted to Scottish organizations).

Not all trust and foundation grants are worth pursuing

As you're exploring, look out for signs that a particular grant opportunity may not be worth pursuing (or at least, should cause you to ask some questions first). For instance:

  • The average amount granted is significantly above any project budget you've implemented so far (the funder may question your ability to manage a project of this size)
  • The funder's thematic focus looks promising, but the list of previous grantees doesn't include your type of organization
  • The same charities receive funding year in, year out
  • The balance sheet shows that the funder is "spending out" (spending significantly more than their income, which is sometimes done in anticipation of closing a grant-making charity)
  • The granting organization receives all of its own funding from a company that is struggling
  • All of the granting organization's funding goes to a particular geographical location (even if such a restriction isn't mentioned in the guidelines)
  • The funder already supports a charity you consider to be a direct competitor

Establish trust and foundation contacts, nurture relationships

The best way to deal with the doubts raised above or any other questions is to speak to someone from the granting organization. If details are provided, contact the funder directly to better understand the organization's priorities and to find out whether your project or organization would be considered. Make sure to keep a note of responses to your inquiries for future reference.

There's another reason to get in touch. Personal relationships help cement trust: people give to people, not organizations, as fundraising trainer Trevor Gill advises. Convincing someone who knows nothing about you or hasn't funded you before can be tough. So think of relationship-building with trusts and foundations as a long-term exercise — whether that's by arranging a meeting, talking to someone at a networking event, or making a phone call to introduce yourself and your organization. (And make sure that any relationships or contacts are handed over when staff members move on.) Spending time getting to know your potential funders is all part of the research.

This article draws on the expertise of New Charities, a U.K.-based firm that provides prospect research tools for professional fundraisers.



MissionBox editorial content is offered as guidance only, and is not meant, nor should it be construed as, a replacement for certified, professional expertise.



Association of Charitable Foundations: Giving trends: Top 300 foundation grant-makers (2016)

Directory of Social Change: Trusts and foundations

Directory of Social Change: Accessing funding from grant-making charities (2016)

New Charities: The trust list

Factary: New trust update

Directory of Social Change: The guide to major trusts 2017/18

Social Partnership Marketing: About Invisible Grantmakers


Fundraising Regulator: 10.0 trusts

Trevor Gill Associates: Fundraising briefing: 10 ways to radically improve your next grant application (2011)

Institute of Fundraising: Grant making trusts guidance



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