Seasoning, substitution and skill: Trust fundraising beyond the recipe book

Deanna Wolf

Guest Bloggers | 23 January 2019

Deanna Wolf explains why her fundraising practice is similar to her cooking - flexible and creative - ahead of her session at the Trusts Fundraising Conference 2019.

I like to cook. A lot. Most of the time I don’t follow a recipe as freestyle was the name of the game growing up. It was about learning and understanding the process so well that a strict measuring (or inclusion) of the ingredients wasn’t necessary. So my chilli is never the same twice, and soup is whatever needs cooking in the fridge. You might say most meals in my house are like Master Chef Invention Tests. I try to bring this flexibility, and creativity, to my fundraising practice.

Back in 2016, I wrote in the Trust Project for the Commission on the Donor Experience that “there is no single, ‘one size fits all’ approach that will always work” when it comes to successful trust fundraising. I still believe this. A good trust fundraiser, like a good cook, will know the skills, qualities and processes they need to regularly apply to craft a consistently tantalising and satisfying offering.

  • Your ingredients – Know and understand the details about your project, budget, and organisation. If you know them well, you can prepare and combine them in a multitude of ways to meet a multitude of goals. You’ll also know how and when to make substitutions to achieve your goal.
  • Your guests – Who are your donors? What do they want? Have they made it clear in advance? Do they want you to surprise them? Do they have exceptions or limitations? Do they have sophisticated tastes or are they just looking for a good, straightforward explanation? Are they open to dialogue before you start preparation? Are they hungry for information, or will a succinct morsel be enough. 
  • Your method – Know when to call first, and when to submit an application ‘cold’. Season your application or proposal with interesting facts and figures, but not too much. Taste-test your submission with critical friends to make sure you’re getting it just right, and be sure to display it to its best advantage on the page. Practice the basics often enough the methods becomes second nature. Understand the value and reason for warming up, maintaining, and cooling a relationship. Stir your applications and donor relationships periodically to re-invigorate them with fresh ideas and conversations.  
  • Your rating – You’re only as good as your last application or award. Look for feedback and adjust your method and ingredients appropriately. To keep your donors coming back, keep them updated about how things are progressing and any latest news. As in the retail and restaurant trades, one-off customers (or donors) are nice, but it is those who return again and again who make the difference in the bottom line on a daily basis.


To ensure that your beneficiaries, your donors, and your team all have places at the top table, try to work these qualities into your day-to-day trust fundraising practice. 

  • Be knowledgeable; about your beneficiaries and why they need support. 
  • Be diligent; in your research, proposal and budget preparation, relationship building, and stewardship (including reporting).
  • Be flexible; in your process, delivery format, and timetabling (to meet those deadlines!).
  • Be honest; in your content, conversation, and reporting. If you can’t tell your donors and supporters the truth, you probably shouldn’t be asking for or accepting their support – financial or otherwise.
  • Be passionate; in your writing style, belief, and the project and organisation.
  • Be hopeful and resilient; in your goals, strategies, and your own work. 
  • Be grateful; for your success, colleagues, and trustees who choose to reward your charity or project. 
  • Be confident: in your skills, experience (or growing experience), and the value of your work.


Best practice trust fundraising ensuring a great supporter experience requires more than just following the guidelines and spell-checking your work. It’s knowing when to move beyond the recipe book and be confident in your skills to deliver something truly delectable and satisfying to your potential donors. And then do it again and again. After all, there are thousands of ‘recipes’ on how to make chilli!

If you want to move beyond the recipe book in your trust fundraising practice, especially when tailoring donor-centric approaches, come to my session at the IoF Trusts Conference 2019.

Deanna Wolf is running a session at the Trusts Fundraising Conference 2019 on 'Stewardship I: Myths and misconceptions, expectations and attitudes: getting it right for trusts and grant fundraising'. This year the conference is taking place over two days from Monday 4th to Tuesday 5th February. Read the programme or make a booking here.

Deanna Wolf, Senior Consultant Trust Fundraising, Money Tree Fundraising



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