Applying for trust funds

Charitable trusts in Britain give away something like £500 million a year. Grant-making trusts and foundations provide funding for charitable purposes from returns on investments made by trustees. Trusts need to convince the Inland Revenue that they use their income only for charitable purposes and so may only be able to help if your group is already a charity. The amount they give per grant varies so you need to match your application to the trust carefully.


  1. How do I choose to whom to apply? 
  2. When do I apply?
  3. What are the basic things the trustees need to know?
  4. What will the trustees want to see?
  5. What about once you have got the money?
  6. More information

Making Music is grateful to the Voluntary Arts Network for providing most of the following information about fund-raising.

1. How do I choose to whom to apply?

The first thing to remember is that all trusts are different: it is not enough to write off a standard letter. Eight out of ten applications for funds from trusts fail because they are outside the guidelines so before you apply you need a copy of the trust’s published guidelines for applicants.

There are several trust directories which can provide you with addresses to write to for information, for example Guide to the Major Trusts, Volumes 1 and 2, published by the Directory of Social Change. You could also get hold of the trust’s annual report and find out whom they have previously funded. Remember all trusts have their own interests and targets so find out as much as you can about their habits before you apply. If you can, phone their office and ask if they respond to initial enquiry letters or would be prepared to discuss your proposal on the phone. If they agree then write down your ideas and put them in the post; the trust will often give you a view of whether you are likely to succeed and some pointers to improve your application.

The worldwide web has become a very useful source of information about trusts. A number of websites offered a tailored search facility for finding appropriate trusts, although some of these require subscription at a cost. If you would like to gain free access to a subscriber-only site please contact the Making Music office. If your request for funds meets the criteria of more than one trust then by all means apply in batches but remember it is much better to compose five well targeted letters than to send a mailshot to 20 trusts which looks like a blanket application. If you are lucky enough to be offered funds by two trusts for the same project then you need to tell one of them what has happened. When you contact them you can ask to use the money for something else instead: they may agree and will certainly appreciate your frankness.

2. When do I apply?

Many trusts meet only once or twice a year and you will need to apply well in advance of these meetings. Most (but not all) have set deadlines for applicants. If you have applied to a trust which meets regularly you may still have to wait many months for a reply, but some let applicants know within a week or two. If a phone number is not given on the trust’s headed paper or application material then phone calls are probably not welcome. Many trusts do not have an office but are run by solicitors, accountants or the trustees themselves and may react badly to applicants who contact them too often. The guidelines usually state whether unsolicited contact is welcome.

3. What are the basic things the trustees need to know?

The trustees will want to know how much money you want and what you want it for - but they also need some background information to work with. Your application must include the full name of the organisation, its address and phone number and the details of someone who will be their contact point - this needs to be someone easy to get hold of who knows about the project and is kept fully up to date on developments.

Tell the trust how the organisation works. Do you have paid staff, when do you hold meetings, do you have a constitution, what sort of funds do you manage?  Include a copy of your accounts for the trustees to look over as well as a brief history of the group.

4. What will the trustees want to see?

  • That you have a good idea

That yours is the sort of proposal they want to fund and you have something which is different from the other applications they have received that week. Read between the lines in their guidelines and see what they are implicitly looking for. Trustees are aware that a poor application can hide a good idea but the better the presentation the better the chance of success.

  • That your organisation is well managed

You need to show a solid record of achievements in the past and describe the ways in which you intend to manage your project. You also need to build into your proposal some money for evaluation, to give the funder some regular feedback and to check on your own progress. It is a good idea to incorporate milestones into your planning, for example to get the research for the project done by the end of the first month. Most trusts would expect your project to have some kind of, preferably external, evaluation.

  • That they are getting value for money

The Drama Association of Wales applied to Carnegie to fund a summer school for 29 students. They argued that the school was open to groups from all over the UK which made it more attractive to the trust. They also submitted an application which said that the students who attended would go back to their groups and each train 25 more people so that the subsidy instead of being 200 for each of 29 students was in fact 3 per head to train more than 700 students. This bit of creative thinking meant the trust saw the summer school as a far better investment.

  • That you will disseminate the knowledge and information you gain

The more people you can help through your project, the happier the trust will be to fund it. If you can pass on knowledge through your publications, skills sharing, training or a conference then the project will have helped not only those directly involved but the wider voluntary arts sector.

  • That others are investing in you or will do if you get the money

If you have had cash from other trusts or public bodies in the past then include this in your application, it makes you look like a sound investment! If getting money from the trust will mean you can lever funds from your arts council or local authority then make this plain too. Trusts are as happy to top up an organisations fund and to fund as a whole project themselves. Some trusts will provide partnership funding for lottery applications so check this out before applying.

The most important thing to remember is BE ENTHUSIASTIC. Presentation can help but the idea is paramount. Funders want to see common sense wrapped in love and if the people behind an application can show they are committed, innovative and sparky then their passionate approach will be an important, sometimes pivotal factor.

5. What about once you have got the money?

It may seem obvious, but write and thank the trust when you receive the grant and keep in touch. Send the trustees press cuttings, annual reports and regular information about the projects they have funded. They will remember you much better next time you ask for help!

Thanks to John Naylor of Carnegie UK Trust for the above information.

6. Further information

Searchable databases

Voluntary organisations

Arts Councils


We hope you find this Making Music resource useful. If you have any comments or suggestions about the guidance please contact us. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the content of this guidance is accurate and up to date, Making Music do not warrant, nor accept any liability or responsibility for the completeness or accuracy of the content, or for any loss which may arise from reliance on the information contained in it.