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PhD Funding from Charities

Written by Ben Taylor

If you’re not lucky enough to have a Research Council studentship or a university scholarship, funding a PhD can seem like a daunting prospect. PhD funding from charities can be a viable alternative, however – if you know where to look, these organisations can be excellent (and unexpected) sources of financial support.

By building up a ‘portfolio’ of PhD grants and applying to a range of charities and trusts, you could find yourself with a healthy amount of funding to support you during your doctorate.

This page will give you an idea of the range of doctoral funding that’s available from charities, as well as tips for making a successful application for financial support.

Charity funding resources

Even though there are plenty of charities out there offering funding for PhD students, it can be difficult to know how and where to begin your search. Don’t despair – there are several grant databases that provide an excellent resource for current and prospective PhD students on the hunt for funding.


Turn2us is a charity that maintains a searchable database of charitable grants for people in need. After filling in a few details about your location and situation, Turn2us returns a list of charities that may be able to provide you with support.

The Alternative Guide to Postgraduate Funding

The Alternative Guide to Postgraduate Funding was created by two PhD students who secured over £50,000 in charity grants towards their studies between them. As well as offering practical tips for identifying suitable organisations and making successful applications, the Alternative Guide runs a database of more than 1,000 charities.

You can also find out more about funding PhD study without a scholarship from one of the co-founders.

The Grants Register

With a focus on postgraduate and professional funding, the Grants Register is one of the most comprehensive sources of information for PhD students looking for support. It’s not limited to the UK, either: listing around 3,500 awards, the Grants Register has an impressive scope.

The only problem is that the Grants Register isn’t available online, only in physical form. However, many universities and local libraries will have a copy of the directory for you to browse.

PhD funding guide

Our own funding guide covers the essentials, from Research Council studentships and university scholarships to PhD loans and other forms of funding.

Large charitable trusts

It’s something of a myth that charities are small, needy organisations. Of course, there are lots of charities that do fit this description, but there are also plenty of charities that have assets worth at least a million pounds (and in some cases much more).

The following trusts and foundations are well worth your time and attention if you’re a PhD student looking for funding.

It's worth noting that some charities don't acccept applications from students. Instead, funding is awarded to universities, who will then be able to offer a certain number of scholarships or grants.

The Wellcome Trust

A global charitable foundation, the Wellcome Trust supports thousands of researchers around the world. The Trust aims to spend up to £5 billion in the next five years, providing ample opportunities for talented scientists, researchers and artists in a range of fields including Biomedical Science and Population Health, as well as the Humanities and Social Sciences.

Along with funding for existing projects, the Wellcome Trust also offers full doctoral studentships for PhD candidates in relevant areas. Importantly, these studentships are normally open to all nationalities, the main condition usually being that you’re enrolled on a PhD in the UK or Ireland.

Take a look at the Wellcome Trust’s funding schemes.

The Leverhulme Trust

The Leverhulme Trust is another large charitable trust, distributing around £80m of research funding each year. It has a broad remit that covers the Arts, Humanities, Sciences and Social Sciences, helping all kinds of researcher achieve their goals.

A large proportion of funding from the Leverhulme Trust is aimed at established academics looking to complete a significant research project. However, the Leverhulme Doctoral Scholarships scheme is dedicated to supporting doctoral students, offering a fixed sum of £90,000 over the course of four years.

The Leverhulme Trust doesn't accept direct applications from students. Funding is awarded to universities, which covers up to 18 scholarships. The scholarships will be offered in a research area which the unversity has identified as a priority.

The Nuffield Foundation

The Nuffield Foundation provides funding for social policy research, with an emphasis on education, welfare and justice. It doesn’t cover PhD programmes, however, instead focusing on promising research projects.

Find out more about applying for a grant from the Nuffield Foundation.

Small charities

Beyond the large charitable trusts and foundations above, there are thousands of small charities in operation across the UK. It’s unlikely that a single grant from one of these organisations will be enough to fund an entire PhD, but with a little perseverance you can begin to build up a healthy ‘portfolio’ of funds from charities.

Luke from the Alternative Guide to Postgraduate Funding managed to raise nearly £40,000 from various bodies, showing what dedication can achieve.

The best way to get started in your own quest for funding is to use one of the charity support resources mentioned above and find out what organisations are operating in your local area.

You’ll probably be surprised by the diversity of these charities – some of them have a rather niche focus while others have an especially broad remit.

To give you a taste of what’s out there, we’ve listed a few notable examples of smaller charities that provide support for PhD students:

  • Leverhulme Trade Charities Trust – This is the Leverhulme Trust’s sister charity, offering grants to students who are closely related to a travelling sales representative, pharmacist or grocer (or employed as one themselves).
  • The Vegetarian Charity – The Vegetarian Charity provides small grants (usually up to £500) to vegetarians and vegans who are younger than 26.
  • The Sir Richard Stapley Educational Trust – This organisation gives annual grants of between £400 and £1,000 towards courses in any subject (but not professional qualifications like PGCEs and law conversion courses).

Applications for PhD charity funding

Applying for charity funding isn’t quite the same as applying for other forms of PhD funding. Whereas Research Council studentships and university scholarships can involve rather lengthy applications processes with a single annual deadline, smaller charities are often more flexible. You may find that they have several deadlines for grants spread over the course of the year.

Many small charities don’t have an online presence – if you’re applying by post, make sure you include a self-addressed, stamped envelope for the charity’s response.

In terms of the application itself, the process is usually relatively simple. Charities will normally ask that you write a personal statement detailing your financial situation, your PhD and the potential impact of your research. Following these tips should stand you in good stead:

  • Avoid jargon and overly technical terms – This is particularly important if you’re contacting a small charity that doesn’t have expertise in your PhD specialism. Write for a well-educated, interested audience without knowledge of your topic.
  • Career – Explain why a PhD is essential to your career. Make sure they know that a doctorate isn’t a self-indulgence, but an important part of your employment prospects.
  • Research impact – Talk about the ways in which your doctorate could affect wider society. If possible, make a connection between your PhD subject and the work of the charity (this might not always be feasible).

Charities are often happier if they’re part of a wider support network for your studies, rather than the sole funder of a PhD. Make sure you mention any other funding sources – if you can show that you’re working hard to secure support from several places, this will be a good sign of your commitment.

If, for example, you’ve applied for a UK PhD loan, you should talk about this in your application. Although these loans can’t be combined with public funding like Research Council studentships, you can top up your funding with a PhD funding grant from a charity or trust.

Combining multiple sources of funding is usually referred to as ‘portfolio funding’, and requires careful planning. With a little organisation, it can be a good option for dedicated PhD students.

PhD funding

Want to find out more about other PhD funding options? We’ve written guides to Research Council studentships, university scholarships and doctoral student loans. Then head over to our course search to find your perfect PhD opportunity.

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Last Updated: 15 November 2023