Our Trust Fundraising Scorecard is an online self-assessment tool that helps charities to benchmark their approach to grant-seeking and make targeted improvements to increase grant income. The Scorecard was not designed with the intention of undertaking research, but the strong level of participation and the subsequent conversations provided a rich pool of quantitative and qualitative data that we felt a duty to analyse and share.

Our report draws on:

248 charities answering the 40 questions in the Scorecard

53 conversations with fundraisers/charity leaders to discuss their results

22 conversations with grant-seekers and grant-makers to discuss the questions in this report.


As might be expected, the score achieved on the Scorecard, as well as total grant income and largest grant size, tended to be higher for the larger charities. However, we did not find the same correlation between the size of charity and higher success rates or Return on Investment (ROI).

The majority of respondents (59%) actually did not know their ROI on trust fundraising, but of those that did, it’s interesting to note that the charities with total income of £750k to £4.99m had by far the highest figures with 64% achieving a return of more than £10 for every £1 invested.


When asked, do you think your charity is maximising its grant funding potential? 94% said no.

Is this realistic? No doubt many of the charities taking the Scorecard could increase the level of their grant income but they can’t all do so.

“With a finite pot of funds available, this isn’t going to be the reality. In fact, as competition probably increases over the next couple of years as we recover from the pandemic, it seems probable that average success rates will decline.”

Max Rutherford, Head of Policy, Association of Charitable Foundations


We asked both grant-seekers and grant-makers what they viewed as being the most important thing to get right in applications. What stood out was that the strongest theme from fundraisers was to tailor applications to meet funders’ needs, while grant-makers were looking for an ‘authentic voice’ and were put off by the idea of applications being tailored to meet their guidance.

“The thing that really stood out was the paradox of having to pitch with authenticity and try to anticipate what you think the funder wants to hear. I think using your genuine voice is the most helpful thing that you can do, as the application will be written in a more engaging/accessible way that will support with the review of the application.”

Sufina Ahmad, Director, John Ellerman Foundation


There were frustrations around the lack of communication from many grant-makers and the significant number who still do not provide information on their funding priorities, criteria and application or assessment processes. This results in higher numbers of ineligible applications and ultimately a waste of everyone’s time and resources.

A small action that could make a big difference in making the system more efficient would be for each grant-maker that does not have any guidance, to state on a basic web page or in their annual report, what they prefer to fund, how they make decisions and if/how they would like to hear from applicants – something brief and simple would be a big improvement as long as it is specific enough to help people understand whether they should invest resource in preparing an application.

When people gave examples of having great relationships with grant-makers it was generally with those who were open to having clear communications, particularly where this involved detailed, open and honest conversations.


Despite the inherent power imbalance in the relationship between grant-seekers and grant-makers, charities have a strength in being rooted in their communities (whether place based or issue based) and therefore offer grant-makers significant value in being able to share first hand knowledge and insight on the issues they seek to address.

We asked grant-makers ‘how can we collaborate to better serve our communities?’ and the responses support our belief in increasing communication, collaboration and seeking co-production.

“Charities have the knowledge and ability to affect change in their communities. We need more joint conversations together (grant-seekers and grant-makers). We need more confidence from grant-seekers – who have power in their knowledge, networks and expertise. It does feel like there is more desire and emphasis from grant-makers to operate differently.”

Sarah Ridley, Advisor and former Chief Grants Officer at London Marathon Charitable Trust

You can access the summary report and the full report by following the links below.

What next?

Questions of how to improve the way we achieve our charitable objectives and/or the way funding systems operate are far too complex for us to draw a conclusion from the work we have undertaken in preparing this report.

Rather than drawing conclusions or making recommendations, we share this report with you as a way of adding further insight to existing conversations on these topics and invite you to explore these questions with us further:

  1. Take what insight you can from this report to inform your approach to funding social change, whether you are grant-seeking or grant-making.
  2. If you are a grant-seeker, and haven’t already participated (or you have and want to see if your score has improved), take the Scorecard at
  3. Engage in our programme of trust fundraising training and grant-making trends events at
  4. Share your reflections on the report, experiences and questions in the comments box below
  5. Book now for your free place at our online event on 14 July 2021 to discuss the questions:
        1. How can we collaborate (grant-seekers and grant-makers) to better serve our communities with a more effective and efficient system for funding and delivering social change?
        2. Can we envision a radical alternative to the current system, as opposed to making incremental improvements?
  6. Register your interest as a grant-maker in piloting an alternative model, by e-mailing – by registering your interest, you will receive a brief paper with ideas from the above event and an invitation to join an iterative process of exploring the opportunity to pilot an alternative model of funding social change.

We also signpost you to existing initiatives that are seeking to improve funding systems:

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