Lessons Learned From Covid - UK Charity Trust And Foundation Grant Funding

This article uses data from the Charity Excellence Grant Funding Database and Charity Sector Data Store. It provide an analysis of the changing trends in trust and foundation grant funding, some lessons we might learn from that, what that might mean for the future and guidance on how charities might best respond.

Covid Grant Funding Background

The 1st Charity Excellence COVID grant funding list was published in early March, with 7 charitable trusts and foundations.  There was an immediate very high level of interest from charities and the funding list expanded to 120+ by the end of the month, by which time it had been viewed nearly 20k times.  The initial emergency toolkits were viewed 10k times. 

In response, the Charity Excellence COVID funder database was designed, built and launched in 9 days over Easter 2020, with 300+ funders. More than 3000 charities registered in the first month alone. 

At its peak in May 21, it held 800+ funders (including global), but the numbers of new funders began to fall in the late summer to 500+ in Sep 21. 

In Jan 21, it was upgraded to become Funding Finder and by the end of 2021 the CEF community had grown (from launch in Jun 2018) to 21,000 members.  The Founder, Ian McLintock, was chosen as a Charity Times Covid Pioneer in autumn 2021.  

Charity Excellence has been repeatedly upgraded and enables any charity to health check every area in in half a day, with access the huge resource base, including 100s of organisations that provide free help and resources, and achieve the Quality Mark.  It's fast, simple and everything is free.

To find the free help and funding you need – Register Now

Where The Covid Funding Came From

Funding came from a very diverse range of sources; individuals, companies, public sector bodies, and foundations.  These ranged from very large funders to many small new funders, such as parish councils and individuals with Go Fund Me pages.

There wasn’t nearly enough funding, but I think that the rapid and coordinated response by our mainstream charitable trusts and foundations had a major impact, not only in terms of creating a degree of consistency in approach, but also in helping to direct funding to where it was most needed. 

Many funders offered flexibility, relaxed reporting, converting to core funding, simplified applications and fast responses.  I think this had a substantial impact, as it enabled charities to be flexible in using existing funds and to access additional funds quickly, in order to respond to the rapidly escalating crisis. 

I spoke to many charities who were desperate, and the response and commitment made by our funders offered much needed reassurance. 

The Charity Data Store COVID traffic light indicators were initially all red, but rapidly turned amber and some then went to green, showing that charities were responding quickly and effectively to the huge challenges.  It is not possible to say to what extent funders played a role in this, but it seems reasonable to assume they had a material impact.       


Covid Trust & Foundation Grant Funding Focus

Understandably, funding was primarily targeted at the front line (food banks, the vulnerable), but there wasn’t and isn’t much for other charities, such as those supporting animals, IDOs etc. 

Initially, there was very little for the marginalised groups most impacted, such as the BAME and LGBTQI communities, but that has markedly improved.   Perhaps as importantly, the BAME community coordinated their efforts to secure significant funding, which they are directing to BAME groups who are best placed to reach into the most disadvantaged communities.

A reasonable amount of funding has been made specifically for core, those in financial difficulties, tech and adaptation. 

There appears to be less focus on funding registered charities, with quite a lot of funders only requiring that groups be constituted.  A small number of funders restricted funding to existing grantees. 

The most niche fund listed was the Queer Writers Of Color Relief Fund NYC. 

Covid Grant Funding Breakdown

As at mid-September, there were a total of 545 records (down from 800+ in May), including global funders and links to other funder databases and lists.  There are also 35 (soon to be 50) downloadable funder lists from the income questionnaire. 

There are 459 UK funder records, of which 30 are funder lists.  Funders are categorised based on the information they provide, so may appear in multiple areas. Where information is not available, these are listed in ‘Other’ for categories and ‘Not Specified’ for Amounts.

NPC have estimated Government funding for the sector has potentially reached £2.9b.  The CAF UK Giving: Covid-19 Special Report estimated that the public donated £5.4 bn, in the period Jan to Jun 20, an increase of £800m.  CAF also found a large increase in the number of people donating to healthcare and that the number of people giving online increased significantly.  I haven't carried out a detailed analysis of the COVID funder database records, but given the numbers and the very large amounts made available by some of our largest funders and companies, it's £s billions.

In terms of the total funding increase, whilst there is a very wide margin of error, based on the above, an estimate of circa £5 billion seems not unreasonable. 

Grant Funding Breakdown - Detail


UK Wide

England Regions

England Local


Northern Ireland









Most Popular




Arts & Culture












Least Popular
































Minority Groups











Not Specified

Up To £1k

Up To £5k

Up To £10k

More Than £10k






Charity Grant Funding Challenges

Many funders did not initially provide much detail.  Presumably, a combination of the urgency and the fact that the many new funders had limited experience in grant making.  For example, ‘funding for the most vulnerable’ was a common criteria, but often without information on whom the funders wished to fund (or maybe weren't sure who most needed funding), or eligibility criteria or amounts.  This was understandable, in light of the rapidly escalating crisis, but criteria were often so broad that large numbers of desperate applicants could and did apply.

This was compounded by the fact that in the rush to help, very large numbers of organisations listed funders on their websites, but these tended to be the same well publicised funders.  A number of these were hugely over-subscribed and soon closed, but their details remained on many websites, encouraging continuing applications.  

However, some organisations did this very well.  Not only removing closed funders, but also including update dates, flagging new funders and highlighting approaching deadlines. For those that don't have the time, restricting new funder announcements to newsletters and social media, rather than posting on websites would work well. 

Responding To The Challenges Of Covid

The Charity Excellence COVID Funder database was created to enable charities to find funders who wanted to help them, by providing a free, very simple to use  comprehensive source of funders that was searchable and updated weekly, to include new funders and removed those that had closed.  It had specific search categories for small charities & community groups, and disadvantaged groups, such as the BAME, LGBTQI+ and disability communities, and food banks and women’s' groups.   

The only marketing was via social media, but more than 3000 charities registered within the first month alone.   Disappointingly, few sector bodies and the media were willing to promote it.  

It was never intended to be a permanent database, but proved to be so popular, it was upgraded and released as Funding Finder, as part of the Charity Excellence #SurviveAndThrive programme, in Jan 21, to support charities in recovery.  It includes links to 400+ other funding databases and online funder lists, both UK and globally, giving users click through to 100,000+ trust and foundations. It has also been augmented with 50+ grant funding lists


Charity Sector Covid Lessons

The response from funders was fast and worked very well, but we faced substantial challenges in matching charities that needed funding to those who wanted to hear from them.  The COVID funder database responded to this, but whilst it was enthusiastically promoted by many smaller sector organisations, such as CVSs, there was little effort to do so by the sector media or the mainstream sector bodies. 

The lesson to take from this is, instead of each sector body duplicating work, it would be far more effective and less work for them to work collectively to create a single source of information and then make sure everyone knows about it. 

Working collectively, it would not have been necessary to build the Charity Excellence database, as we could have used the existing Funding Central and SCVO, WCVA and NICVA or DSC funding databases, as platforms to do this.  And instead of the very small number of Charity Excellence volunteers, we could also have harnessed the skills of our many furloughed fundraisers to volunteer to create a hugely capable research team to support that. 

It would have cost almost nothing, so a good question to ask ourselves might be - what could we do to encourage our sector bodies to work more collaboratively going forward?  

Grant Application Lessons For Charities

I’ve had a lot of anecdotal feedback from frustrated applicants who submitted large numbers of bids without any being successful.  Partly that was over-demand, but COVID also brought the key funding application lessons more sharply into focus; these remain the same. 

Investing time in research to find the right funders for you, always pays off.  There are lots of online funder databases available.  If you don’t have the money to do so, even the COVID database aside, Charity Excellence has 35+ different funder lists and downloads with 100+ free funding finders, and is itself completely free. 

Equally, a smaller number of well-crafted bids will always bring in more funding.  Nor do you have to be a fundraising expert.  This short Charity Excellence video (3 mins) was created to help anyone to avoid the common pitfalls.

Of the 21 metrics tracked on the Sector Data Store dashboard, income generation is rated lowest by charities themselves.  Getting more bids in, is obviously a high priority but, if you don’t manage all aspects of fundraising well, you will not be successful. If you’re not sure how to do that, you can use the COVID Fundraising For Recovery Toolkit, or complete the income questionnaire; it takes 30 mins.        

Finally, there isn’t enough funding, so effective control of costs and applying funding to maximum effect is now critical.  That’s something funders really value, but we’re not all that good at, so it’s a real opportunity.  

The Charity Excellence Framework online toolkit enables you to health check your entire charity in half a day and has the largest resource base in the sector, including its 6 COVID19 toolkits and funder database.  Everything you need in one place and everything is completely free.  If you want to see how it does that, watch this 2 min video.

International Aid Funding

The database includes global funding, which can be analysed in the same way as the UK funding, but the international sector is simply too big to be able to create any meaningful sectorial analysis.  However, this aid tracker does, is updated monthly and uses graphs to make this more easily accessible. 

Thank You

To Martin Gallagher, CEO of the Clare Foundation, whose charity funded the coding costs, and the small band of fundraising volunteers who helped improve the funder information. Particular thanks to Claire Wingate, Helen Harvey, Karen Ironside (Clare Foundation), Louise Tait and Jane Tingle.


This article is based on data from the Sector Data Store and COVID funder database, and my work with various groups during the crisis.

Research is broad based and ongoing, so the data is probably the most up-to-date and comprehensive available.  It won’t list every funder, but is believed to be representative. 

Closed funders are deleted, but the numbers in this article (18 September) are reasonably representative, excepting for the points made above. 

The numbers reported will include funder lists and guides that have been included to help users.  There are about 30 in total.

The numbers are total funders and do not take into account the total amount each contributes.  

Access All The Free Resources & Free Funding Database

Find funders using the Funding Finder database and 50+ funder lists.  Health check your charity in half a day, access the huge resource base, including 100s of organisations that provide free help and resources, and achieve the Quality Mark.

Fast, Simple And Everything Is Free.

To find the help and funding you need – Register Now

The questions are phrased brilliantly - challenging how we prioritise our management time." Ecosystems Knowledge Network

Register Now