Scarcely a week, indeed scarcely a day, goes by without a media report from somewhere in the UK of a small charity struggling financially or threatened with bankruptcy or closure.
This strikes me as ironic, because small charities have not been in the media firing line during 2015 and 2016 so far. The tragedy of Olive Cooke; the excessive salaries paid to some charity chief executives and other senior staff; concerns about charities sharing data illegally; undesired – and undesirable – street fundraisers pressuring vulnerable people – all these criticisms have been laid at the door of major players in the charity sector, but small charities have escaped criticism.
This is right – small charities do not, by and large, pressure donors, pay eye-watering salaries or pass their data around – for one thing, most lack the resources to do these things, even if they wanted to do so.
The logical consequence of this should surely be that donors transfer their allegiances away from the big charities to small, local players which use their gifts wisely for the charities’ beneficiaries and spend the minimum necessary on administration, fundraising, governance and other areas which are important – but which should take second place to their charitable objects.
Such a transfer of allegiance would help small charities now struggling to find funding for their activities. Back in the heady days of the Blair government, grants from government, local government and the NHS were part of the staple funding of local charities – and, sadly, too many became over-dependent on statutory sources.
Now we live in a very different environment where, for the small charity, statutory funding of any great size is the exception rather than the rule. Here at Minerva we are spending a significant proportion of our work helping small charities up and down the country face the funding challenge – and so avoid closure. All these charities are performing vital tasks for the vulnerable and disadvantaged in our communities – and many have no fundraising staff and no experience of tackling the funding challenges they now face.
One secret to success is fundraising in a wide variety of areas – not just the National Lottery (a favourite !) or grant-making trusts; but individual donors, corporate donors, community fundraising, legacy initiatives and the much underused payroll giving scheme.
The other key point is this: organising a fundraising campaign from any or all of the above sources takes time. So anticipating statutory funding cuts and taking action immediately cuts are announced, even though grants are not due to end for 12 months, are essential preservation measures. Tackling the funding problem head-on early on is the small charity’s key to survival and future success.