Last month SmallCharity Week came and went, with predictable – and understandable – concerns expressed about small charities’ long term sustainability.
Cue a letter from representatives of some small charities to the Prime Minister, warning him of staff burn out and indeed damage to the mental health of staff and volunteers.
For those who have spent most, if not all, their working lives in the sector, this is rather a case of déjà vu. In the heady days of the early 2000s, the Government decided that many tasks previously carried out by the public sector could, and should, be delivered by the Third Sector. Funding was made available to ensure that charities – including many small ones – had the resources to make the transition to their new roles. This was both welcome and necessary – but unfortunately it created the impression amongst some small charities that this government largesse would be permanent; and they therefore failed to explore other areas of funding.
By the start of the second decade, government support for charities was on the wane, even if its expectations about what small charities could deliver remained at previous levels.
Small charities which had expanded their funding base were able to weather this and the later coronavirus storms – but many of those which had become too reliant on statutory funding were not so fortunate.
So what for the future?
Government must understand that vital and unique benefits which charities in general – and small charities in particular – provide for our country. Even if ministers cannot provide Blairite levels of funding in the current economic situation, they must at least give support in other ways to reduce charities’ costs and help them to weather the economic storms, rather than let them sink or swim. The government talks a lot about “partnership” amongst small charities: it needs also to demonstrate this ideal itself.
By the same token, small charities need to safeguard against future loss of statutory funding by widening their funding base and seeking a broader spread of grants and donations than many are used to doing.