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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.

On April 7, 2014 / Fundraising Skills

Client Testimonials 
‘What I love about the Major Gifts Mastery Programme is it’s so practical. I’ve seen loads of monetary value come from what we learned, including a gift of £200,000 from a trust that came about because of the learnings in the course. If you want to raise more money, I’d urge you to do the Programme.’

Paul McKenzie, Head of Major Giving and Corporate Partnerships, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home

Rob's outstanding pitch training helped me secure a partnership worth £380,000 over three years. One of the crucial things he helped me do was to better understand the psychology of who I needed to convince, and use this to craft my influencing strategies, structure and stories to help them say YES. If you need to win more partnerships, I would absolutely recommend you get on Rob's training.

Karen Arkell, Senior Officer, Corporate Partnerships, Teach First

'We recently had a pitch we just had to win. I'm absolutely clear that what we learned from Rob helped us get the deal, which is a partnership that's going to raise £1 million. Rob is better at helping you influence your donor to get the gift than anyone I've met.

Ben Swart, Head of Corporate New Business, NSPCC

Rob's exceptional training has taken our programme to the next level. One example was a colleague re-connecting with a lapsed donor on the phone, resulting in a £100k+ gift; his first in four years. I would absolutely recommend Rob's training programme as an invaluable investment for any fundraising team.

Victoria Stephenson, Head of Major Donors, UNICEF UK

Following the course, Major Gift Fundraisers at the NSPCC increased gift income by 29%

Citation by UK Skills National Training Award

We're currently involved in our largest ever Campaign, with a target of £500 million, so we've invested in the best training available. Rob's courses have been an essential part of our annual King's Knowledge learning programme for the last five years, because he continues to help us get outstanding results.

Gemma Peters, Director of Development, King's College London

I’ve found the Corporate Partnerships Mastery Programme hugely helpful already. It’s helped me in so many ways, but as an example, I applied one of Rob’s pitching techniques and it completely wowed the panel, and has resulted in a partnership worth over £100,000.

Kieran Cornwall, Senior Strategic Partnerships Manager, Cystic Fibrosis Trust

I was on the pitch team to win a partnership worth £1,000,000. I was determined to pitch to the best of my ability. Rob helped me present with confidence, persuasiveness and enthusiasm, enabling me to connect with the pitch panel – and we won the partnership.

Kirsty Lawson, Corporate Account Team Manager, (Head of) at Alzheimer’s Society

Rob showed my corporate fundraising team lots of excellent new business strategies. The techniques made a made a MASSIVE difference to our financial results, including helping to win a partnership worth £2 million

Jess Coombs, Head of Corporate Fundraising, Teenage Cancer Trust and formerly at Action for Children