How to write a successful trust letter

  • The number of organisations applying for funding from trusts continues to grow
  • How you plan and present your trust application could mean the difference between success and failure for your project
  • Our six-stage letter writing guide can help your charity increase its chances of success

Competition for funding from trusts can be intense. Trusts usually receive many more applications that they can fund. We look at how to write a successful application letter and make the most of your bid for trust funding.

1. Gather your documents and write a plan

Funders generally want to support projects that have been well thought-out and carefully planned. They want to know that their money is going to a good cause and will be well used.

If you have planned your project well, you will be more able to clearly communicate this to funders in your trust letter. To write a good trust letter you will need:

  • Information about the project for which you are applying for funding
  • Statistics and facts to support your application
  • Beneficiary case studies and/ or quotes
  • A budget
  • A copy of your accounts

A plan will bring many of these elements together.

If you haven’t already made a plan, a good starting point is to outline your proposed projects and activities for the next 12–36 months. If you are a small organisation the following steps will help you create a simple plan:

  • Write a calendar of your proposed projects and activities for the year. Do you have time to do them all? Can they all happen at once or one after the other?
  • Create a basic budget. Write a list of all the costs involved in your plans. What equipment will you need? Don’t forget to include costs such as insurance and volunteer travel expenses
  • Think about staffing. What support will you need to deliver the projects? Who do you already have on board (staff and volunteers)? Do you need to recruit extra help or find people with a specific skill?
  • Think about need. Funders will want to know why your project is needed. What documentation do you have to illustrate need? Personal stories (case studies) and quotes, surveys, statistics, news stories all help to demonstrate this
  • Think about your impact. Funders are interested in the difference the grant will make. For example, how many people will benefit from it, what will change as a result? Think about how you will measure success during and after the project. This may help with future funding applications too

For more help with planning read our article 5 steps for funding success.

Once you have a plan, add it to your fundraising folder containing all the information you need to apply for funding. Now you are ready to start researching funders.

See our guide on 5 ways to find sources of funding to help you to get started.

2. Choose a funder

Each funder has its own set of rules on who can apply and how to apply. These are often referred to as funder guidelines or funding criteria.

When choosing a funder read through the guidelines and make a list of the ones that are the nearest match to your project. Don’t apply to trust funds that have little or no interest in your type of organisation, project or catchment area.

To provide further insight into the funders preferences, research who they have supported in the past. Some funders list previously funded projects in their guidelines or on their website.

For example The Yapp Charitable Trust provide grants for running costs for small registered charities. They provide details of their guidelines on four different pages of their website; eligibility criteria, grant making policy, exclusions, how to apply and a useful recent grants section.

Some funders don’t have websites. You can often find a list of previous grants in their annual accounts. You can download a copy of their accounts using the Charity Commissions charity search facility. You can also look at the committee members to see if you know anyone.

Use funder guidelines to manage the application process

Read the guidelines from each funder on your shortlist and make a note of the following information to help you produce your letters.

  • What information do they ask to be included in the letter?
  • What accompanying documents do they ask for? For example many will ask for a copy of your accounts
  • What are the funder’s key points of interest?
  • What are the deadline dates? Some funders review applications throughout the year, others have deadlines. Sometimes they have different dates for different funding streams. For example the Trusthouse Charitable Foundation make decisions for their fast-track applications within eight weeks of receipt of application.
  • However, decisions for the small grants programme are made quarterly
  • Look at the deadline date and decision time in relation to the proposed start date of your project, to ensure enough time is available

Many funders provide contact details so you can call or email them to discuss your application or any queries you have.

3. Decide what you are applying for

Funders want to know what their grant will be used for. A letter asking for any size of donation towards your organisation’s general charitable services, is less likely to be successful than a letter requesting support for a specific project or capital item.

For example a small children’s charity worked out that they needed £20,000 to run holiday activities for disadvantaged young people. Rather than applying for one big grant, they divided up the project into smaller chunks (such as half-term projects and projects in a particular location) costing £2,000 each and applied to several funders.

They worked out that these mini-projects would be more appealing to small funders as they would be able to understand the difference their money was making. It would be less effective to ask smaller funders for a general contribution towards the total annual cost

4. Describe your organisation

To write a good trust letter you need to practise writing clearly and concisely. Generally trust letters are two pages long with a budget as your third page.

Practise describing your organisation in one paragraph. Funders normally ask for:

  • Aims
  • Objectives
  • The date the organisation started
  • Your legal status
  • Your charity registration number if you have one

Include this information in the first section of your trust letter.

5. Describe your project using the five W’s

After you have written the ‘about your organisation’ section, you can move on to describe the project or item you are requesting funds for.

Ensure you cover the five W’s – what, why, where, when and who.

  • What: Give the project a name. Describe what will be delivered, how and what the results will be
  • Why: Why is the project needed?
  • Where: Include details of the venue and the catchment area
  • When: Say when the project will be delivered and how often, including the session times. When will the project be completed or is it on-going?
  • Who: Who will be delivering the project? Who will benefit from the project? How many will benefit and how?

You should try to include case studies or quotes from beneficiaries to illustrate your points in this section. These stories are a great way of bringing your project to life and helping funders to connect with your work emotionally.

6. Signing off and sending

All trust letters should be written on your organisation’s headed paper, with your organisation’s registered address and charity number if you have one.

The letters should be sent from and signed by the person in your organisation who is responsible for co-ordinating fundraising. This person should be the main point of contact for fundraising enquiries. Include their role, direct email and phone number.

Read each funder’s guidelines to see if they accept letters by post only or if they welcome them by email. Remember to include a copy of your latest signed annual accounts, along with any other requested documents.

A nice finishing touch is to add some project photographs to bring your letter to life.

Some guidelines will also inform you when you can expect to hear back from the funder. Some funders meet monthly others quarterly or even annually. This means responses can be quick or they can sometimes take up to six months.

When you are successful always send a thank you letter, keep records of when you received the grant and when the funding finished. This information will help you to plan future applications.