Treating Trusts as Major Donors

Would you like your trust fundraising results to grow? I wanted to share some ideas from one of the outstanding sessions at this year’s IOF Convention.


Lucy Sargent and James Holland of Marie Curie Cancer Care told the story of how trust income has increased from £1m / year four years ago, to £3.5m / year, last year.


The key insight is that 47% of trusts in the UK are family foundations. If nearly half of all trusts are in fact a giving mechanism for wealthy people, let’s make sure that all our internal strategies help us to treat them more like Major Donors.


In working with dozens of charities, I have found the most effective techniques used by major donor fundraisers, especially in terms of networks and influencing, are under-used by many trust fundraisers.


Here are some of the not-so-obvious tactics that have helped Lucy’s team achieve their results:


Team Structure


  • All of their ‘portfolio managers’ look after both trusts and major donors – there is no split. (So whenever remotely possible, they apply the skills of influencing major donors to all of their prospects).
  • They have created two specific roles which some organisations don’t have – a) a business development manager whose job is to find the best projects to seek funding for and b) a patron development manager, who focuses on finding and appointing well connected volunteers.




  • Every trust is rated using a 5 category ranking system in order to understand and so best prioritise. This means that the most effort is systematically applied to the best prospects, in a way that would not happen if left to gut feel and people doing their best to think strategically.


Networks and Influencing strategies


They focus on finding influencers – people who know the people they need to influence. They told the story of one trust that had said no to all requests for a meeting to understand the trust’s priorities. When their system showed that one of their special events volunteers had a good link to a trustee, they quickly secured a first meeting.


  • They have a KPI which reports the number of applications per month that include an endorsement from a peer.
  • They promote a Peer Review list, ie every year they send out to all their senior volunteers, a list of people they’d like to find connections to.


‘That’s fine in theory, but not with the trusts I work with…’


Some trust fundraisers have said to me that most trusts don’t behave this way, they don’t accept unsolicited applications and they don’t like it when you try to reach them via your volunteers. If this is your experience, I have three observations:


  • People are people, irrespective of official structures and systems. Whatever someone says, to be human is to be open to influence by people you know and trust.
  • One third of all trust applications in the UK fail because they are ineligible. A big reason for their success is that they use influence to meet donors to find out what they really want. Lucy said ‘as our intelligence becomes better, we don’t waste time with ineligible applications’
  • Lastly – even if this way of working jars against the reality that you have experienced in the past, the numbers are hard to ignore. These strategies are raising an extra £2.5m per year compared to when their approach was similar to the majority of trust fundraising operations. If you are ambitious, this approach must be food for thought.


Rob Woods – helps charities raise more money through training and coaching. See for free resources and upcoming courses.