Skip to main content


hand choosing an unlock icon from locked icons
hand choosing an unlock icon from locked icons

Revitalising Trusts Project

Did you know there are approximately 24,000 registered charities in Scotland? From small local charities to large international organisations, all charities are regulated and awarded charitable status by the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR). Many of these charities have been sent up as trusts to distribute grants or give donations to where there is a need in Scotland.

Charitable trusts typically provide public benefit by making grants or donations to other charities, voluntary groups or individuals as laid out in their original constitution.

In May 2021, we launched Scotland’s Revitalising Trusts Project, which we set up to identify charitable trusts that appear to be inactive and support them to reactivate.  Through the Revitalising Trusts project, which is being run in collaboration with OSCR, we have identified nearly 300 dormant charitable trusts across Scotland. 

There are different reasons why a trust can lie dormant.  It can be difficult to recruit new trustees, find time to run the charity or as times change, it can be impossible to identify beneficiaries befitting the original deeds of the trust.

Some of the Trusts identified by Foundation Scotland include those formed over a century ago, for example to help boys with the surname Stewart, supply pensions to women of good character or provide medical assistance pre-NHS. We have already worked with 28 trusts, unlocking their funds to suit current day needs, totalling around £2.3 million from lost and forgotten charitable accounts. So what does a dormant trust look like - do any of the following statements apply to you?

  • We find it difficult to identify beneficiaries.
  • We cannot spend the income of the charity.
  • We find ourselves providing money to the same people or groups every year.
  • We find it hard to attract trustees.
  • We want to be involved in how the money gets spent, but we don’t want the legal responsibility of being a trustee.
  • The work of administering the charity and its investment is becoming onerous, costly or disproportionate to the level of funding.
  • We wish we knew more about local issues and opportunities. For example, who else is funding projects and activities for our cause or in our area?

Did you answer yes to one or more of these questions? If so, don’t worry, we can help.

A collaborative approach

Working with OSCR, the Project has been established to help ensure funds from apparently inactive or dormant charitable trusts are ‘unlocked’ to support good causes across Scotland. For this project, OSCR has defined an inactive or dormant trust as one which has:

  • Not spent or received any money in the last five years; or
  • Spent less than 30% of its income in the last five years.

Even though many of these trusts are very small, collectively, they hold a significant amount that could make a huge difference to local communities if we can revitalise them. For example, a similar project has been enormously successful in England, and since 2018, it has revitalised over £50 million of inactive funds. These funds have been managed by local community foundations and other charities, distributing vital funding to community projects throughout the country.

Why are we working with OSCR?

Foundation Scotland and OSCR are committed to seeing charities provide public benefit and make a difference to Scotland's communities. Together, we have the resources and experience to assist charities in their journey to ensure that they continue doing so. We've appointed a Project Advisor who will be working closely with charity trustees to assist them in addressing any issues of inactivity (with support from OSCR). They will also link the experience and knowledge of the Foundation Scotland team with regard to grantmaking, fund management and local community funding.

What does revitalising mean?

Revitalising will mean different things and could result in any of the following:

  • Getting help to manage your funds again
  • Winding up your trust and transferring to another active grantmaking trust 
  • Support to create a new fund 

Foundation Scotland will then lead in supporting trustees to help them work through their options to create an action plan to revitalise their funds. Throughout September 2021, OSCR will begin to contact inactive or dormant charitable trusts in Scotland. Here's a list of frequently asked questions to help you understand what might be involved should you get contacted.

Frequently asked questions

  • If I receive a letter what will it say?

    If you receive a letter from OSCR, it will outline why it believes your charitable trust to be possibly inactive/ineffective or dormant. It will also outline what options and support are available to you and what will happen next. The letter will ask you to have a discussion with your fellow trustees and make contact with OSCR. It will also let you know that the project advisor from Foundation Scotland will make contact. It is important to remember that if your charitable trust has a rationale for any inactivity or dormancy, you must let OSCR know following receipt of this letter.

  • What help can we expect to receive?

    Each trust that makes contact with the project will be supported on a bespoke basis. The project will work with the trustees to identify barriers the trust has or is facing and their aspirations for the charity.

    The project advisor will then work on an action plan for the trust and will help support the trustees with these actions along the way. This support will be delivered by the Project Advisor and, where appropriate, other team members from OSCR and Foundation Scotland. The project may also seek to link you directly with organisations in your area, such as your local Third Sector Interface (TSI). Support will come in a variety of ways, which could include helping Trustees with the technical aspects of revising a Trust Deed, helping to identify beneficiaries, and undertaking research of similar funds and need in the local area.

  • We would like to retain some control over where the funds from our trust go. Can we still do this?

    This is absolutely possible. The project can support you if you need help identifying beneficiaries or if your choice is to wind up the trust. If you intend to reactivate your grantmaking activities, we can support you to find beneficiaries and make local connections. If you seek management of your funds by Foundation Scotland, we can also ensure that you control where and how your funds will be distributed. For more information on how Foundation Scotland can help you manage your funds visit the Helping you distribute effectively page.

  • What happens if we don’t respond to the letter we receive OSCR ?

    If you don’t respond to the letter within four weeks of receiving it, then the project advisor from Foundation Scotland will follow up with an email or a phone call to the named principal contact. If a trust does not reply to subsequent requests to respond to the project, OSCR may undertake further enquiries.

  • We did not receive a letter from OSCR, but we still need help. Can Foundation Scotland still offer support?

    Foundation Scotland can support any charitable trust based in Scotland to revitalise if this is something you wish to do. You don’t need a letter from OSCR to do this, just drop us a line on the contact details below. We will still undertake an action plan for your trustees and explore and support the available options with you.

  • Is there a cost to get support?

    There is no charge to the support from Foundation Scotland for the Revitalising Trusts Project, however, there may be times where it is necessary or more appropriate for you to use a professional legal advisor which may incur a cost. Where this would be the case the Project Advisor will identify this for you and help you find a suitable professional advisor if one is not already known to you.

  • Who can we speak to

    We’ll be happy to talk to any trust no matter what stage you at or if you simply want to have a chat about the project. Scroll down to the bottom of the page for the best people to contact.

Where we can help

Each trust we work with is supported on a bespoke basis. The project will work on an action plan with the trustees to identify what barriers the trust has or is facing and their aspirations for the charity. Here are some ways we've supported trusts in the past.

We can help you create a new fund

We take time to understand your fund's history, how and why it was set up initially. We’ll then look at ways to modernise your fund whilst staying true to this purpose. We can help identify areas your revitalised fund can support, putting money where it’s needed most. 

To get started, we’ll establish a reorganisation scheme with you and OSCR. This lets you wind up the trust and transfer the assets to Foundation Scotland. We’ll take on all the governance responsibilities, and we can soon begin distributing funds once again on your behalf whilst removing all your administrative burden.

Set up a fund

We can help you manage your giving

We work with a large number of established charities to support them with their giving.  This approach doesn’t require a reorganisation scheme with OSCR. Your charitable trust continues, and we set up a process to distribute funds, with as much or as little involvement as you wish.

Visit our Helping charities with their giving page to find out more

Help with giving

Why work with us?

We’re an established, trusted charity with exceptional knowledge of the most pressing issues facing our communities and the groups tackling these on the ground. We manage funds on behalf of hundreds of individuals, businesses and other grantmaking charities. We provide expert advice to those wanting to give, at the heart of their communities, both now and in the long term.  Since 1996 we have helped distribute over £100 million to charities and community groups throughout Scotland.

Proven impact

Formed in 1898, the William Stewart’s Trust was set up to provide for the sons of the eight Incorporate Trades of Perth, or failing that, boys with the surname Stewart. The overall purpose of the funds was to provide for their education. The William Stewart’s Trust was identified by Foundation Scotland and OSCR as a ‘dormant’ trust, which had not paid out for many years.  Only three of the original 8 Incorporated Trades still exist today and only supporting boys named Stewart is a limited remit. At the point Foundation Scotland made initial contact in early 2022, the Trust’s funds were being held with a local legal firm. The firm reached out to the current heads of the trades who were, unbeknown to them, listed in the deeds as the appointed trustees of the William Stewart’s Trust.  It was agreed that the trust would wind-up and John Wood, Chairman of the Bakers, worked alongside Foundation Scotland and the firm to put a reorganisation scheme in place with the intention of breathing life back into the remaining funds.  

It was important to all involved that the funds kept with the original purposes of the Trust – benefitting local educational needs. The trustees selected a small local charity, The Tay Rivers Trust, as the sole beneficiary of all the remaining funds.  The charity works in facilitating environmental research and education in the Perth and Angus area. This windfall has been an incredible boost for the charity, enabling the organisation to employ its very first member of staff who will help develop the charity’s successful Salmon in Classroom programme allowing the programme to potentially reach a further 100 young people in the area/year and establish a small fundraising plan, meaning the transfer of £11,000 will in fact mean so much more to the organisation.

“It was certainly a surprise to find out that I was a trustee of a trust I had never heard of!  Initially I was really quite worried about what this would mean and what I would be obliged to do – however, the team at Foundation Scotland led the way and it was happily a very straight-forward process.  It’s frustrating to think that thousands of pounds have been sitting needlessly in a dusty bank account when the funds could have been helping others, but I am just delighted they are already working hard for the Tay Rivers Trust.  I know the charity well and their wonderful Salmon in the Classroom activity is a fitting beneficiary.  It’s great to know that hundreds of local young people will get the chance to learn, enjoy and take part in these great environmental activities all thanks to the Revitalising Trusts project”

John Wood, former trustee of The William Stewart’s Trust 

Information for fundraisers

The Revitalising Trusts Project may provide opportunities for future funding; however, currently, the project is in the early stages of identifying and making contact with inactive trusts; this process will take some time.

Once revitalised, should any trusts offer new funding opportunities, we’ll share this within our monthly newsletters and social media channels. In the meantime,  please don't contact us with any funding enquiries relating to this project.

Contact information

Contact name

Steff Bell, Project Advisor (Foundation Scotland)

Contact name

Steve Kent, Policy Advisor (OSCR)