If I were to ask you to name a charity, which charity springs to mind? I imagine most of you would say a household name such as British Red Cross or Barnardo’s. These are examples of the large charities that are well established, have large teams and thrive on lots of generous donations and deliver great across the world. However, 97% of the sector operates on a lot less than this. They are the small charities who do incredible work on less than £1 million in annual income. You may have never heard of them but they are all around you.
In a small charity you often have to wear multiple hats, one minute you need to be a web developer and the next a social media guru or a source of reassurance for your beneficiaries.
Small charities are at the heart of our communities and work tirelessly to support those who need it most. The secret to the success of small charities is the passion of the staff, volunteers and trustees, their resilience and their ability to adapt – this can be said of larger organisations too but small charities are surprisingly good at doing a lot with very little. Despite this, they still need help.
At Small Charities Coalition, we are often being told by our members that a lack of time, resource and confidence are the key challenges they face. Individuals running, working for or supporting small charities are busy, they often don’t have the head space for increasing regulation, whilst the organisations faces increased demand for its services paired with cuts to funding.
Giving those who work and volunteer for small charities quick fixes is key to helping them succeed. I’m not talking about taking short cuts, I’m talking about offering free and accessible guidance, tools and templates that are practical and acknowledge the constraints of individuals who are the comms team, services team and evaluation team all rolled into one.
There are lots of guides out there on running a charity but they are often a minimum of 30 pages long, with some being over 100 pages and are created with large charities in mind. Expecting those in small charities to have time to read all of these is unrealistic. Guidance needs to be simple, proportional and supportive, using checklists, infographics, videos and executive summaries.
Additionally, all guidance for small and large charities needs to be displayed in an accessible format such as easy reads for people with learning difficulties or alternative formats for people who are visually impaired.
Small charities are starting to become part of the conversation but are still often an afterthought. At the moment, regulation is being created for the 3% of the sector, that is made up of large charities and it is then being adapted for small charities. This means regulation is introduced that is ineffective and inappropriate for small charities, which do not have the same level of time and resource to get up to speed. Pair this with current trends in funding cuts and a lack of options for funding diversification this can lead to poor governance, instability and difficulties planning long term.
Examples of this can be seen by the design of the new Fundraising Regulator not incorporating small charities from the start, and the response time to the Lords’ Inquiry being too short. Both show that small charities are not engaged with the design and implementation of the processes, policies, regulation etc that will impact on them.
This needs to change. Consulting small charities on their challenges and needs is key. There are various means and ways of doing this but methods need to take into account small charities’ time and resources.
As small charities make up the majority of the sector, regulation needs to start with small charities and to then be adapted to include larger organisations. It needs to start by looking at where small charities are currently at and not where they should be. By understanding the context and the challenges facing small charities, we will have a much more useful and supportive approach to regulation.
With increased competition, many support services closing down and many helplines or resources going behind paywalls; there is an ever increasing need for accessible support for those working in small charities.
Small Charities Coalition was created by small charities in 2007, for this exact reason. Now driven by 7,800 members, Small Charities Coalition delivers free, accessible and sustainable support to ensure a strong, well-equipped and confident sector, valued for the positive contribution it makes to society. Being a small charity ourselves and facing similar challenges to our members puts us in a unique situation where we can use our knowledge to make sure our services are meeting their needs.
Small Charities Coalition exists in part due to the generosity of others’ time and skills. Whether it is through pro-bono training for our members, our fantastic supporters who advise and guide our members through our skills matching service or corporates who kindly donate their office meeting rooms to us as training venues. We are extremely grateful for your ongoing support for small charities.
Working for a small charity is a steep learning curve and as someone relatively new on the career ladder this is great because you get to experience all areas of the organisation, as there is more flexibility within your role. For some however, having less structure and rigidity to your role description may not be a good thing but you definitely learn to prioritise workload and how to say no!
If you work for a small charity and have any questions about our services, or would like to support a small charity, please do get in touch. My email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
Also, join in the conversation on social media and champion small charities and their great work by using #SmallButVital.