How to help small charities make a bigger difference

Let’s celebrate the difference small charities make…

Hot on the heels of Volunteers’ Week, a fantastic celebration of the good things that people do, we’re this week highlighting the work of the many thousands of organisations that make up the majority of our sector. Yes, it’s Small Charity Week, a time to showcase the difference made by organisations across the country. If what I see on my travels is anything to go by, a week isn’t going to be enough. Our colleagues at the FSI, who organise Small Charity Week, have coordinated all sorts of activities so hopefully we’ll do justice to the inspiring things that are going on everywhere in our communities. I’m pleased to see the CVS I’m a trustee of is joining in, as I sure many others will be, including the Small Charities Coalition.

At NCVO, we’ll be joining in the celebrations by sharing stories of the great work that you and others do and by highlighting the difference that you make. We get questions from journalists every day asking us ‘Is there a charity doing anything about..?’, and we’re especially keen to highlight charities that are addressing the problems those journalists are reporting. They’re equally keen too, by the way. So if you’re a small charity with a solution, this week is a good time to let us know. And Giselle Green from our Constructive Voices project wants to hear from you. And if you don’t think a small charity can get noticed, look at London’s Doorstep Library or The Choir With No Name.

…though we need to do more than just celebrate

Small Charity Week is also a reminder that we need to support the people who work and volunteer in small charities. As Lloyds Bank Foundation are keen to remind everyone, these organisations are #smallbutvital, but also not without challenges. Research by NCVO looking specifically at small and medium charities has highlighted a number of challenges, including the slow, long-term reduction in the availability of local government grants, the seemingly ever increasingly difficult challenge of winning contracts and rising levels of need. These are tough times for all charities, but especially small and medium sized charities.

So, NCVO and the other umbrella bodies will also use this week to remind politicians and government that there is more that they can do to make life easier for small charities. For example, if you haven’t come across the Grants for Good campaign, it’s a call to government to remember that many small charities find contracting difficult and aren’t remotely interested in social investment. For our part, we think that the NCVO manifesto we launched for the recent general election has many of the concerns of small charities at its heart – so we’ll be pushing government on proposals to make volunteering easier for everyone, to help build the grant-making firepower of local Community Foundations and to make it easier for small charities to deliver publicly funded services. NCVO will always stand up for small charities.

The practical support you need, now, in a format you can use

We know that if small charities are going to make an even bigger difference, we don’t just need to change the rules of the game, or campaign for a different type of playing field. To continue the metaphor (we are Sports and Civil Society now, apparently…), we need to coach the world class athletes running our small charities and support them with best available tools of the trade. At NCVO we’ve been doubling down on that challenge over the last year, improving the content on Knowhow Nonprofit, making Studyzone training courses free to members and trying to provide more of the content that you tell us is needed, such as checklists. We’re also experimenting with new types of content, such as this podcast on trends in volunteering, which you can play on your phone. And all of our data is showing that small charities are using this more and more. We know that we’ve got more to do – please do tell us what you want to see more of.

Each day of the week we’ll be sharing some of our key guidance and resources related to the theme of the day, from a video on how to write a winning funding bid and discovering funding opportunities through Funding Central to what our research tells us about the impact of small charities and how to build an impact culture.

Here’s a snapshot of our most viewed practical content by our smaller members (exclusive access with their NCVO membership).

Small is beautiful…

So this week, we’ll be sharing more of our practical help and support and we’ll be signposting you to the tools and resources that small charities are telling us that they find most useful. We’ll be campaigning for changes that will help small charities. And we’ll help to spread the word about the good work that small charities do. People in a number of different cities are arguing that we need to rebuild communities from the ground up – if they’re right, then the next big thing may well be a lot of small charity things.

And finally: please do help us spread the word that membership of NCVO for the smallest charities – those with an income of less than £30,000 – is free. This is something that our larger member charities have taken the decision to help fund by paying an additional voluntary membership fee. That’s really important to us – and it’s important to say here because large charities sometimes get blamed for the challenges faced by small organisations. But what we’re increasingly seeing is a desire to collaborate between large and small, based on different strengths. Hopefully this is something we’ll be talking more about in the future, based on work with the Lloyds Bank Foundation. At NCVO we’re lucky to work with charities and voluntary organisations of all shapes and sizes.


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Karl Wilding Karl Wilding served as NCVO's chief executive from September 2019 to February 2021.

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