Researching possible donors and funders

07 September 2020

Successful fundraising and grant applications begin with research into possible donors and funders.

We understand the process of finding the right funder for your charity can often be overwhelming and time consuming. To make your search quicker and easier, we have collated key sources and developed a template to help you organise your research.

Starting your research – where to go

The following sources are a good place to start your research. They include lists of COVID-19 emergency funding, as well as more general funding directories:

SiteDescription General  FundingCOVID-19 FundingCost
Charities Aid Foundation (CAF)
  • A wide range of support and guidance on all aspects of charity finance and fundraising. 
  • Includes helpful insight reports and research.
Charities Excellence framework
  • Contains several online heath-check questionnaires for your charity to review fundraising, governance and impact. 
  • You must register on the site for access.
Charity bank
  • A wide range of support and guidance on all aspects of charity finance and fundraising. 
Funds Online
  • Contains four lists of funding sources including grant making charities, statutory sources and contributions from companies. 
  • Run by the Directory of Social Change, who provide further resources and training on their website.
  • This directory includes both general funds and COVID-19 emergency funding.
Grants Online
  • Contains regional funding information, as well as funds organised by cause. 
  • Grants Online also have a separate regularly updated list of COVID-19 funders.
Local community foundations
  • 46 local community foundations across the UK provide support to local grassroots charities and groups.
  • Check the UK Community Foundation website to see local support in your area.
Lottery good causes
  • Provides information on the various lottery fund programmes available.
The Heritage Funding DirectoryYYFree
Third Sector
  • Third Sector’s new COVID-19 grants tracker, for Third Sector members only.
  • Third Sector also provides news and insights from across the charity sector.

Resources for successful applications

Some of these websites charge subscription fees, so consider if you are part of any umbrella organisations or a network that already has access, so you do not need to pay. It is also worth researching the annual accounts and reports of other charities and organisations doing similar work to you, to see which funders have supported them. Annual reports are in the public domain and are available via the Charity Commission website.
Once you have researched and found potential funders, the sources below offer support and guidance to help write a successful application:
  • Our Case for support – Guide to success highlights key grant application questions and how your charity can respond to them.
  • The Charity Commission has information on all UK-registered trusts and foundations, including annual reports, names and contact details of trustees. Use this to see the size of grants a funder usually gives, the causes they support and if you can map a connection to any of the trustees.
  • Funders themselves are often useful sources of information about how to write a stronger application. For example, The Garfield Weston Foundation has a list of useful resources on grant applications.
  • The UK government has basic advice available for new charities starting to fundraise for the first time.
  • The Institute of Fundraising is a valuable source for fundraising updates and information on grants and trusts, including guidance on the perfect grant application.
  • NCVO’s range of resources to help charities with fundraising and income are currently free to view during COVID-19. Usually this content can be accessed by members only.

Researching donors and funders – what to look for

When researching possible donors and funders, you will need to consider the types of information in the table below. We have provided a downloadable template for you to capture this information during your research. Examples of how you can use this template are provided on the next page.
NameName of potential funder or donor
TypeThe type of potential funder that you want to approach. These include trusts, foundations, corporate funders, statutory bodies and philanthropic individuals who may be able to support your activities.
Area of interestThe potential funder’s areas of interest, the fit with your organisation and the projects/activities which need funding. For example, the funder may be interested in the protection of the environment and natural heritage; promoting the arts or helping marginalised sectors of society.
Past givingOther charities, projects or organisations that a funder has supported in the past, and what kind of grants they have awarded. The funder may have a particular track record in supporting grass root community groups or the restoration of museums and heritage buildings. Understanding what a funder likes, or has a tendency to support, will help you to work out if they are a good match for your organisation. Knowing about relevant past grants or gifts, including the amount, will also help you gain a sense of what level of gift to request.
Key peopleTry to find a list of trustees, key executives or administrative staff (such as a grants manager) of a given trust, foundation or funder. These should be listed in their annual reports or provided on the given funder’s Charities Commission website listing. Try to map a route to any of these through your networks to effect an introduction or letter of endorsement. 
ProcedureAny key elements in the funder’s application process including deadlines and any financial information or supporting materials that they require. Some may wish you to complete a paper application form (rather than online) while others have an online quiz to assess your suitability for their grants. Some funders have several deadlines per year so think about which deadline ties in best with your charity’s governance process.
Important to noteAny special considerations relating to your approach to this funder or donor for a grant or gift. For example, some funders exclude capital projects or ongoing costs.
Target amountThe target amount that you will be seeking from this donor, taking their areas of interest and track record into consideration.
Next stepsWhat your organisation needs to do next to approach this donor or funder. For example setting up a phone or video meeting with the grants manager or drafting an application for funding.

Top tip: It can be helpful to colour code each of the possible funders/donors to show their potential to give a gift or grant to your charity. This can be according to their likelihood to give or the possible size of their financial contribution. Colour coding can help you to prioritise your approaches and applications. For example: green – most likely to give to your charity; amber – may give to your charity; red – unlikely to give to your charity.

Download an empty template for your research here


Example research template
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