How changing our relationships with trusts led to a huge spike in income at Sue Ryder

24 April 2019
Trusts and FoundationsRelationship Building
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Andy Watts, Head of Trusts at Sue Ryder, explains how by changing how they interact with trusts and foundations, they were able to increase trust income by 349% in the space of a year.

We have had our most successful year ever with trusts and foundations at Sue Ryder raising over £2.8 million in grants and pledges –349% higher than last year. While we have been lucky to have exciting projects including a capital appeal, we have also had upgrades worth around £1 million from trusts compared to their previous grants. There is no big secret to this other than a commitment in our team to treating trusts individually and not like an ATM. After all, it’s hard to have a relationship with an ATM!

As the saying goes that "once you’ve met one trust or foundation…. you’ve met one trust or foundation". You are more likely to have success if you seek to understand and treat them as a collection of individuals.

It’s easy to forget that their Trustees are volunteers who give their time (and often money) to charity. They will have experiences that will link them to your cause, geographical area you work in as well as have influence on the people around them, such as their friends and peers. 

We spend a lot of our time at Sue Ryder focusing on trusts that have already supported us. A recent THINK survey of charities that are part of its Philanthropy & Partnerships Forum showed 85% of trust income came from repeat or multi-year gifts. At Sue Ryder its 81% this year.

A lot of our growth in income has come from being in the right place at the right time when our existing trusts are looking to give larger than usual grants. While you can’t control this, you can be deliberate in your actions and keep in touch regularly with the trust so that you are on their radar. After all, a striker is more likely to score the closer they are to the goal.

Here are three approaches that have been working for us:

1. Getting to know you

We seek to understand how a trust works, who the decision makers are, and what links they might have to our cause, their history with our organisation and any contacts we have. We aim to develop a relationship with the Trustee or admin, taking opportunities to speak with them on the phone where we can – we call every trust to thank them after they give a grant (where we have a number and permission). This is a great time to ask why they chose to support us and enquire about their current priorities or plans.

We plan out touch points to have with a trust each year. We ask ourselves where we want our relationship with them to go and how we are going to get there. We look at what we have to do to keep them engaged, whether that is through events, our bi-annual email update or any media coverage on the project they are funding. We aim to meet with a trust at least once a year or at least speak on the phone.

We always seek to meet supporters face-to-face as nothing can deepen a relationship in quite the same way. I asked for a meeting with a family trust by mentioning the project manager was going to be in London. It was an opportunity for the trust to get an update first hand on how the project was going.

In this instance I asked about their priorities and future plans as a trust. They revealed they were reviewing their giving with plans to hand out larger than usual grants. I have recently been in touch with them about our capital appeal which we are close to completing. Now this trust that has previously given us £10,000 a year has now invited an application for £100,000. On top of that, they also agreed to write to another trust they know asking them to support us!

I might have been too late in finding out about this trust’s plans if I hadn’t sought a meeting with them, and I also doubt they would have agreed to write to the other trust if I hadn’t had this meeting.

2. Create memories

It’s important to remember that our charities are often part of our trust supporters’ lives and identities. We had a local trust that had supported one of our hospices every few years with grants of £1,000. We invited them to events every year at the hospice and kept them updated. At one event, they revealed they were spending out in the next few years and invited us to apply for a six-figure grant.

I knew the Trustees were all friends of the founder when he was alive and that they had given their time for many years to continue his legacy. We wanted to create a special memory for the Trustees. We knew His Royal Highness (HRH) the Prince of Wales was due to visit the hospice in his role as Patron so we arranged for the Trustees to be guests at the reception and join HRH as he planted a tree in the Woodland Walk the trust had funded.

We followed up by creating a photo book as a memento of the day for the two Trustees who had attended.

The relationship we had with this trust made it comfortable for us to go back and ask if we could keep the £30,000 that was under spent on the above project, which they happily agreed to.

3. Recognise milestones

I’m sure many of you will have trusts that have been giving £5,000 every year for years. It’s easier to take these trusts for granted as we focus on the larger size grants, however the giving from these trusts can add up significantly over time and deserve to be recognised. You also never know if a trust might have a sudden injection of funds – such as if their founder dies. This happened to us recently where a small trust invited us to apply for a six-figure grant!

In any relationship, anniversaries are a great opportunity to show appreciation. We have recently been thinking about how we recognise trusts that have reached particular milestones in supporting us, like in the example above. We realised one trust had given us £277,112 over 25 years!

To mark this we wanted to create something personal to the trust so we took a photo of residents and staff at the project the trust funded holding up the amount raised. We then created a thank you card using the magic of Moonpig which included a handwritten thank you from our CEO.

Inspired by Nikki Bell’s example of creating videos for supporters, we are also filming a video thank you message. This provides another touch point with one of our most generous trust supporters and an opportunity to deepen the relationship. I will let you know how it goes.

I would love to hear what’s working for you in showing donor love to your Trust supporters. Do get in touch, either by emailing or on Twitter at @andywatts27. Happy fundraising!

Andy Watts
Andy Watts
Head of Trusts at Sue Ryder
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