Institute of Fundraising’s annual Trusts Fundraising Conference, 29th Sept 2014

The Institute of Fundraising’s annual Trusts Fundraising Conference was a new event for me. A whole day to reflect on trends and developments in the ‘bread and butter’ of my trade, an opportunity for networking, and my first bit of CPD since 3 days at the Institute’s National Convention in 2013.

I came away with a dozen pages of notes and scribbles, with many recurring themes and only really a handful of key lessons, which is par for the course – three days of National Convention resulted in just two key lessons: “people give to people” and fundraising succeeds when you “test, fail, learn” albeit with layers of context, application and example.

So let’s start here with the context, application and examples applicable to the world of Trusts and Foundations (including Lottery):

1)      Cathy Pharoah (Co-Director of Cass Business School) presented key trends on Trust giving, noting that many new (major) donor have chosen to give via the establishment of Foundations but contrary to assumption, are not giving in particularly innovative or new ways – they are quite traditional in their structure and grant making.

That said, there may be a trend toward more funders seeking to fund via strategic funding partnerships, which might present a greater onus on fundraisers to develop meaningful partnership projects and applications.

2)      Lysa Ralph (Head of High Value Giving (which includes Trusts) and Events at British Red Cross) picked up on this idea presenting alongside Peg Bavin of Send A Cow. In a context where contracts are now a feature rather than a trend in statutory (in this case International State) funding, consortia bids are increasingly necessary.

British Red Cross and Send A Cow case study

British Red Cross and Send A Cow case study

In the past decade statutory funding via contracts have doubled in the same period that grant funding has decreased by 77%. Partnership are an important strategy for charities wishing to grow their Institutional Funding, and Lysa’s advice was to develop a partnership “before the money is on the table”. Each member (including the lead partner) should know their USP (Unique Selling Point; their contribution to the partnership), and in the early planning stages, should develop their own “fantasy league” of partners.

3)      Ben Cairns of IVAR (Institute of Voluntary Action Research) extolled the virtues (and vices) of Funding Plus. Also sometimes known as Grant Plus or Funder Plus, and new but also not really new in the Trusts/Foundation approach to Grant Making, Ben defined Funding Plus as “Any activity which is additional to a grant in the grant-making process”.

The new funding Programme launched this year by Lloyds Bank Foundation is a good example of this, but generally the approach can include anything from additional funding for charity development, to in-kind support, to mentoring; there are no fixed boundaries and the main purpose is to help the funder achieve THEIR mission. Ben raised the interesting idea that funders’ missions might best be served by strengthening the ability of those they fund to achieve (in turn) their own mission, and that doing so is more important a goal than the sustainability of the funded organisation. He called on fundraisers to consider how they can exploit the opportunities of Funding Plus, alongside placing the onus on funders to clearly communicate their own aims.

4)      Dawn Austwick, CEO of Big Lottery Fund suggested that in a changing fundraising environment, Trusts and Foundations are soul-searching about their ongoing role, and warned delegates to “be wary of the funder that has all the answers” to society’s problems; funders should be listeners. To this end, she announced that Big Lottery Fund will soon be launching an online, grant-holder led community for sharing ideas, discussion and experiences.

Ben and Dawn with Conference Chair Richard Piper

Ben and Dawn with Conference Chair Richard Piper

5)      Stuart Sherriff of New Charities and Gryphon Research Ltd shared tips for fundraisers new to their organisation, highlighting that we might expect as much as nine months to develop a coherent fundraising strategy, identify star ambassadors (who might sometimes be your beneficiaries), and in that time hopefully secure those important first grants. Announcing all three at once can offer a unique opportunity for a fundraiser to build momentum and channel enthusiasm towards growth in Trusts income.

On the question of the value of “invisible grantmakers” to the Trusts Fundraiser’s prospect list, most seemed to agree from experience that these funders wanted to remain invisible and didn’t take lightly to those that sought to find and approach them.

6)      Bea Theakston, Head of High Value Fundraising (including Trusts) at Samaritans, explained how their Trusts team of two, doubled grant income in four years from £345k to £760k. They achieved this through ruthless data management, research and planning. This involved a cull of their Trusts database from 5,000 Trusts down to just 950 who were either active supporters (through funds) or serious prospects.

Her key tips were: “be brave and flexible, think long-term, invest time and focus on relationship management” including circumstances when relationship with a small number of really important funders had seriously broken down, and through honesty, patience and perseverance (and time) won back.


A small band of Twitter users (perhaps five at most; what that says about Trust fundraisers as a group, I’ll leave to the twitterati) shared highlights from the day, some of which you can see on my Twitter feed or by searching #ioftrusts, and I shared my worst fears for the afternoon: “So you have a room with largely introverted Trust fundraisers, and then you save Meet the Funder Q&A for the end of the day…” Fortunately, the expert funder panel proved to be anything but introverted, and their insights can be found in part two of this conference review (to follow at the end of this week).

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