03 October 2014
The 2014 Trusts Fundraising Conference saw more than a hundred Trust Fundraisers gather to hear the latest developments, trends and insights in this field of fundraising which contributes more than £2.5bn per year in charitable funding to the sector.
A mix of strategic context and practical experience ensured that all delegates had plenty to think about, and fittingly it was the funders themselves who ignited the audience into a lively Q&A session at the very end of the day.
Chief Executives David Emerson of the Association of Charitable Foundations and Julian Corner of Lankelly Chase Foundation, Director of the Dulverton Trust Andrew Stafford, Foundation Manager of the Santander UK Foundation Ltd Alan Eagle, and Chief Grants Officer of City Bridge Trust David Farnsworth, all demonstrated great enthusiasm not only for their work, but for the work of us as fundraisers.
Key themes from the session included:
1) There is no “Trusts and Foundations Sector”. Each is an individual charity with its own vision, mission, and passions. Fundraisers must consider them individually and engage with them individually. This is true of all 8,000 or so of them!
2) Fundraisers could do well to consider “how does my application help this funder achieve its mission and purpose?” rather than “how can I fit my project to this funder’s criteria?” The outcome may result more from a conversation around attempts to answer this (former) question than from presenting an application as the final word.
3) Relationships between funders and funded often break down as a result of lack of communication (this is an issue discussed by all of the panel). Trust is the key ingredient in the relationship. The recipient of funding should be proactive in sharing problems, and this can often result in a deepening rather than weakening of the relationship. Funders don’t want to find out about your problems from someone else.
4) Be precise and concise in your communication. “If you are vague or use jargon you are probably trying to hide the fact that you don’t really know what you are talking about”.
5) Know who you are applying to and do so in a way that works for them. Dulverton Trust used to receive nearly 1,200 bids per year, with 82% rejected. After introducing an online application process ineligible applications were reduced to just 14%, and applications to just 309!
6) On the issue of sustainability (how do applicants explain how they will be/are sustainable in a way that is acceptable to funders?), the panel agreed that it is less a case of knowing who will fund ongoing work in future, and more a question of applicants having a plan for sustainability; “A written Business Plan is proof that you have thought about a plan and what happens next.” How does their grant now fit into the applicant’s long-term plan without creating dependence.
7) In summary, funders give funds because their mission is to make a difference, and their strategic approach is to do so by funding others. Trust is important. Commitment of applicants to their cause is important. Perfection is not important.
This final session of the day went a long way towards addressing conference Chair (and Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Children’s Charity Chief Executive) Richard Piper’s opening remarks at the start of the day about the power dynamic of Trusts as Game Keepers and Fundraisers as Poachers The panel reinforced Richard’s earlier assertion that Trusts and charities need each other; theirs is a relationship of interdependence.
In fact, via the almost ubiquitous law of Serendipity which seems to govern all fundraising, the lessons from this conference echo and reinforce the 2 key lessons I drew from 2013’s National Convention: “People give to People” (yes, Grant making Trusts and Foundations are run by people – very human people with very human emotions, experiences, passions and limitations), and “Test, fail learn” – albeit perhaps at a slower pace than some other fundraising and income streams.
I feel somewhat encouraged at this conclusion, and from spending a day with fellow fundraisers (including networking with a couple of other independent consultants), a renewed sense of pride in our profession.