Small charity survival: lessons from the field

Small charity survival: lessons from the field

Small charity survival: lessons from the field

In recent years, smaller charities have found themselves under increasing financial pressure. While they continue to provide the vital services that help make a difference within their area of impact, small to medium-sized charities often focus so much on the delivery of these services, that too few resources are left to focus on organizational development. This lack of focus on what these organisations need to meet their mission can jeopardise their long-term survival.

The Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) recently shared the early findings of their Resilience programme – a dedicated programme aimed at helping small charities develop and ensure their long-term survival. Since 2017, 10 small to medium sized UK charities have been receiving grant funding and bespoke advice and training on this programme, funded by philanthropists. These charities were selected from a pool of applicants, whose annual income is between £250,000 and £1.5 million – with priority given to those with an annual income of under £1 million.

Beth Clarke, Manager of the programme has said: “we see the programme as the starting point for a wider campaign, one that creates an environment where smaller charities know what they need to become more resilient. We hope that charities will feel emboldened to convey these needs with clarity and urgency to the wide array of funders who assist their vital work.”

Some insights CAF Resilience gained from the charities themselves included:

  • Delivering on their mission meant doing less, not more, and with a renewed focus on quality and impact. One programme partner – Home Start Lincolnshire, who provide support to local families with at least one child aged 11 or under – stopped delivering work that wasn’t vital to their vision, to focus on what really matters to the families they support.
  • Managing income generation is one of the most stubborn challenges CAF Resilience partners faced. The Link CIC are an organisation supporting the mental health of young people and their families. They used some of their grant to commission external bid writing support, however, work on the programme led them to instead, try upskilling delivery staff and fund a few extra hours each month to develop relationships with schools that could pay for their services. After just six months, they had three times as many schools contracted for their services and a robust pipeline.

Beth Clarke noted, it’s not just about what charities can do to make themselves more resilient, but also how funders can help charities on this journey.

The Resilience programme has five core recommendations for funders:

  • Fund small charities with a focus on their organisational strength and resilience: time with an independent advisor will help charities identify what they really need.
  • Build long-term relationships with small charities: multi-year funding with agreed outcomes but flexibility offers stability as charities come to grips with their plans to become more resilient for the future.
  • Show confidence in small charities and create an atmosphere of honesty: encourage the charity to be honest about what does or doesn’t work and where skills gaps lie.
  • Recognise that you might not be able to “see” funding working: organisational strength is not bricks and mortar but can offer unseen benefits with real impact.
  • Recognise that building partnerships takes time and therefore money: exploring partnerships to become more effective is not a quick process, but with a clear strategy, they can pay off in the long term.

CAF’s Clarke said while it might not be the first thing people think of when they plan to fund a charity, this approach to building for the future is critical, as is inspiring more major donors to support charities in this way.

“This will ensure that these services so many people depend upon will survive. In uncertain times, organisational resilience has perhaps never been more crucial for small charities across the UK.”

CAF is both a charity and a champion for better giving. For over 90 years it has helped donors, companies, charities and social organisations make a bigger impact. Through CAF Bank, it offers simple and straightforward day-to-day banking, designed exclusively for charities.

Click here to read more about their Resilience programme.

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