Managing your philanthropic commitments effectively

Being in a position to support charities through a charitable trust is hugely fulfilling, generally very interesting, and a great opportunity to meet people and learn about the diverse world we live in.  At the same time, becoming a trustee of an established registered charitable foundation, or setting up your own, will guarantee that your own name will be noted by the thousands of charities seeking funding.

It is very likely that you will receive many invitations and inquiries from all quarters, including friends and acquaintances asking for your ‘advice’ to gauge whether you might be able to help a charity they are involved in.  Some trustees feel besieged by all of this, and find it counter-productive to achieving the trust or foundation’s objective. If this scenario sounds familiar, here are some simple things you can do to stem the flow of written and personal approaches.

Why so many applications and approaches?

Every day, charities ranging from universities to the local youth club spend time looking through books and online databases to find charitable trusts who might support them. As soon as they spot one that does not, at first glance, seem to rule them out, they will often ‘give it a go’ and write a letter or proposal to the trust, usually putting in considerable time and effort.  Sadly, their efforts are often in vain, as basic information that could save their time - as well as that of the charitable trust on the receiving end - is not easily available.

During the charity’s search they might also look at the names of the trustees, dig out their home address if it is available online, and add them to their database for invitations and updates on the basis that they might be interested.  One philanthropist told me that he gets three personal requests a day, aside from direct mail, for funds from charities with whom he has little or no connection.

Clearly there are better ways of raising funds and there are many switched-on charities and organisations that take pride in relationship building, but often smaller, hard-pressed charities have no choice but to adopt these methods.  Larger funders already provide stacks of information to ensure that only the right projects or requests come to them, but small charitable trusts with few or no paid staff can help themselves a great deal by taking some very simple steps.

1. Make it clear whether or not you will accept unsolicited applications.

There are lots of reasons not to be open to outside requests. You may or may not wish to explain yourself, but if your funds are committed and there is no chance that you will be persuaded to support a cause, even by a friend, then publish this information.

Include clear statements in your annual accounts or Charity Commission entry, both of which provide the original data for many online sources. 

Put up a single web page with a straightforward note making the situation clear. This can be done at no cost and will be found by researchers if you include the web address in your Charity Commission website page., the main source of information for professional or volunteer fundraisers and charity staff, will happily update the entry relating to your trust if you contact them.

Once you have done these things, you need not be concerned by or reply to any requests which disregard your advice, and you will be doing a huge favour to all the charities out there seeking support.   Hundreds of funders ‘seem’ to be good prospects when they are not, just because they aren’t communicating clearly.

2. Publish what you really want to fund.

Be absolutely clear about what you will and won’t fund; the size of grant you would be likely to consider, types of organisation and causes, whether you would consider funding core costs or prefer to fund specific activities.

The larger trusts have a long list of inclusions and exclusions. This is very much worth emulating and building as your objectives and goals change or develop.   Once again, provide a list to, and include wherever you can in other communications. 

3. Clarify the information you want to receive

A huge saving in trustees’ time can be made by asking applicants to restrict their proposals to a small number of pages.  In many cases, two pages of A4 should be plenty of space to provide you with everything that you need to know.

4. Ask applicants to answer some simple questions

The page limit plus some clear direction on what you want to know will make a huge difference to the trustees’ experience.   Here are some suggestions.

  • What does your project/organisation aim to achieve?
  • How much do you need and what will you use the funds for?
  • Who are the beneficiaries and how many people will benefit?
  • How will you know whether the project has been successful?
  • How much money have you raised so far and how will you raise the outstanding amount?

Some reading this will recognise that their trust or foundation is already following these suggestions, but as someone who has been involved in raising funds for many organisations in the past, my experience is that only a small fraction of funders really make it clear what their funding practices are.  With a small investment in time, the process, both for trustees and the many worthy causes trying to ‘make ends meet’ could be much more effective.  Communicating clearly ensures that both charities and their funders save time and money, which can be put to best use in directly supporting good causes.

The law and practice referred to in this article or webinar has been paraphrased or summarised. It might not be up-to-date with changes in the law and we do not guarantee the accuracy of any information provided at the time of reading. It should not be construed or relied upon as legal advice in relation to a specific set of circumstances.

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