Don’t forget the small stuff: Why trust fundraisers should count success in more than just £££

Published by Jennifer Ruthe on

I have been trust fundraising for almost 10 years. I will always remember my first cheque. £10,000 from a small family foundation. They had supported us before, but this was double their first donation. I was very proud!

Over the years, I have worked with every type of foundation. From small family trusts to private philanthropists, corporates and institutions. Like most trust fundraisers, I used to measure my success in pounds. But today? Well, today I think a bit differently.

Of course, the final total is important. But as competition hots up and more trusts close their doors to unsolicited applications, it’s time to learn the value of way markers. The road to success isn’t clearly marked. It takes years to build a sustainable trust fundraising portfolio, and it is these moments – these small flashes of success – that let you know you’re on the right track.

Let me show you what I mean:

  1. Charity X is new to trust fundraising. They have a couple of long-term high-value supporters but need to diversify their portfolio. They apply for an opportunity to present at a global conference. Against the odds (and thousands of other applicants) they win! There is no money in it, but they go anyway, hoping it will be good exposure for their team. A couple of months later they get an e-mail inviting them to apply for a new funding opportunity. It’s closed to unsolicited applications but has been opened to winners of this award. The funder had been on their prospect list for years, but they didn’t have a way in. Until now…
  • Charity Y has a young trust fundraising portfolio. They recently secured funding from a prestigious organisation and are keen to ride this momentum. They apply for, and get, a small project grant from a newly registered trust. It’s a notable achievement, but not a massive amount of money. Two years later and the organisation is invited to re-apply. With a match-funding opportunity in hand, they prepare (and win) a six-figure bid – a move that turned this small-scale funder into one of the organisation’s most important core supporters!
  • Charity Z has just launched a new partnership with a local organisation. It started with a phone call about one project and ended sparking discussion about another. Rather than compete against each other, the two organisations decided to team up. It is a modest programme, but an important relationship. It took over a year to finalise, but already the work is proving successful. Not only are discussions around project growth ongoing – this small initiative is opening important opportunities and networks.

Any experienced trust fundraiser knows that it’s a process. You cannot just slap on a six-figure target and expect the money to come in overnight. It takes determination, creativity, connections and countless rejections to move a trust fundraising programme forward. Remember, you are working in world where just 2% of applications can make it through. The numbers are not in your favour. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t doing a good job.

Keep going. Put yourself out there. Apply for the conferences, the awards, the presentations. Make those phone calls, go for coffee, talk to other professionals. Every seed you plant is a step forward – and like all good things, it takes time for them to grow. That’s why it is so important not to forget the small stuff. Take time to celebrate positive connections and new grants – no matter how small or insignificant they may seem. You need to use these positives to show yourself (and your board) that you’ve got the right ask, the work is strong and that you’re moving in the right direction. Forwards!

So, take five minutes to count the positives and mark the progress you are making. Set your KPIs to include connections, networks and meetings as milestones to success and make sure you report against them.

You might not take it to the bank today. But don’t under-estimate the value it could bring tomorrow.  

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Sara Read · February 26, 2020 at 11:27

I have just come across your very interesting and relevant post Jennifer. Thank you for highlighting this insight into the world of Trust fundraising. I love so much about this job, but often come up against unrealistic expectations from others in the wider fundraising sector that the grants just roll in with little or no effort. Creativity, dedication and the ability to withstand a lot of rejection really does sum it up. But when you do get a win, it’s a great feeling. Wishing you all the best along your current path.

David Schwemer · July 21, 2020 at 01:48

Great article especially for someone new to fund raising. I recently Joined a Dream factory chapter in NJ. The one thing that has become very apparent to me is the lack of Corporate , Trust and benefactor contributions. The question I have is around identifying Corporate and Trust funds that Dream Factory could apply for. What I am looking for other articles or websites that will help a complete novice get started in helping our wonderful organization increase its presence, build a contribution base and ultimately provide more dreams to chronically and critically ill children.

chandan · August 25, 2020 at 15:22

It is true fund raising is difficult job but you meet people who donate have many times good thought. Specially they are not able to do due to their professional commitments and lack of time. So they see their dreams of helping through funds that they donate. That thought make you as a fund raiser prosperous in thought.

io games · November 18, 2021 at 08:38

Great article. I’d love to hear more ideas on how to capture names on a website.

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