Whilst partaking in a fundraisers favourite pastime recently (glass in hand enjoying the sunshine), a friend and fundraising colleague posed a question I had never been asked before. We had been putting the world to rights as so often happens at these sort of things, before the gem of a question appeared. “Why do you love small charities?” he asked me with the serious yet inquisitive face he does so well.
I collected my thoughts for a moment, and mulled through the data. The data that tells us that there are 164,108 registered charities in the UK with over £62.5 billion in income. 93% of these charities rely on less than £500,000 per annum, leaving a staggering 89% of the annual income attributed to the 7% largest charities.
A pessimist might sit and think, “well, there’s not much point in fundraising for my local charity I volunteer for- all the money goes to the big guys.” But, what small charities tend to forget (and I include myself in this sometimes), is that the scale of change is relative.
Small charities collectively deliver a massive amount of change on a local scale to beneficiaries they know, care about and want to help succeed. Small charities do not have beneficiaries into the millions, and nor should their income be. What doesn’t change is that like big charities, small ones are filled with passionate and dedicated people determined to make a vital difference everyday. What they sometimes fail on is articulating that difference to the right people at the right time in the right way. It is this that we must learn from our bigger cousins.
At my Charity (£0.8 million this year), Envision works with between 1200 and 2000 teenagers in 3 Cities across the UK to create a can-do generation full of social action- what that social action looks like is down to the individual. Over the past 12 months, there have been bake sales, awareness raising sessions, community campaigns, fun-runs, corporate fundraising challenges and much more. And the beneficiaries have ranged from Shelter (The housing and homeless charity) to Break the Chain UK (human trafficking) to Camden Food Bank. 186 causes and charities supported by young people this year as they learn how to get involved in social action, and only 36% were large charities. My beneficiaries are delivering people powered change, but how do I tell potential donors about it, and more importantly, why they should support it?
Envision doesn’t have a sophisticated fundraising team with multiple specialisms focussed solely on one area of fundraising- rather, we have a small group of people who, in addition to the day to day work running the charity, also help out with fundraising. This provides a unique opportunity to tell stories about our work first-hand to our donors, but does create capacity issues- more fire-fighting than blue-sky thinking and strategic planning.
This is why I love small charities. The opportunity to get right to the centre of the action quickly and easily. The ability for our donors to experience the difference being made on the ground on their behalf. The chance to speak to people making the difference, rather than just the fundraiser sat in an office far far removed from the ‘doing’.
Too often at small charities we hear the phrase, “we need to raise awareness about what we do if we are to improve our fundraising success.” I disagree. As small charities, we don’t need to worry about raising awareness, we need to fundraise well. If there is an area of fundraising you don’t know about, ask someone else or read a book. If you want to do something better, ask for help. If you want a mentor from a big charity, go find one. Fundraisers are by nature a supportive bunch, and there will be people willing to ‘coach’, support and advise you if you make the ask. Here in the UK, the Institute of Fundraising is starting to do more to actively support small charities with regional groups, special interest groups, small charity conferences, regional conferences, small charity training sessions and social media forums like LinkedIn. I would like to see them do more to actively engage small charities and lone fundraisers who aren’t members, but that will come with time.
In the meantime, small charities like mine need to learn the lessons that have made big charities so successful at what they do. Big charities benefit from the collegiate approach to their work. This is something small charities can do collectively… if we can get over the mentality that every other small charity are after ‘our donors’. I am reminded of a story my good friend I’m sharing this beer with once told me. Whilst I was securing a donation for £5,000 sat round the big table in the middle of our office with a donor telling her about one of our recent beneficiaries, his large charity was putting the finishing touches to a direct mail piece that told a brilliant story about a recent beneficiary. Same approach, different way of telling it. That mailout reached 150,000 people and saw a response rate of 3% with an average donation of £25 (£112,500 in donations). We were both successful, but we played to our different strengths.
Thanks to another fellow fundraiser, every fundraising activity I do or plan to do at Envision has an impact/benefit/cost analysis taken. It is a quick 30-second snapshot that helps me prioritise my fundraising activity, and also work out whether a new project is financially sound before embarking on it. Below is an example (click to expand):
It was this process that told me to implement a direct mail campaign at Envision. All in-house, our first run went out six weeks ago now and has seen new donor gifts coming in at 2.4% return with an average gift of £100. With some advice and guidance from fellow fundraising colleagues elsewhere, I am confident this will rise of 4% next time round.
Why do I love small charities? Because the power of change is limitless, if we are prepared to think small and act big.