Too many small charities?

Published by Susan Robinson on 12 October 2022

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Small charities could be forgiven for coming out of the party conference season feeling a little hurt, especially after comments made by the pensions minister Guy Opperman at a fringe meeting at the Conservative party conference.

Talking about the support he had received when he had a brain tumour and accessed support from up to 40 charities, he is reported to have said: “I would scrap the lot and amalgamate them all into one or two at most, so we can drive forward real change there. They can have some localised input, but the truth is there is too much amalgamation of pre-existing work and loss of the impact that you could have.”

Does he have a point, are there too many small charities trying to do the same thing? Rather than focus on the number and in honesty in some instances there will be some doubling up, the point surely is how do they respond to local needs.

An advantage of smaller charities and one we have all seen the benefit of over the last couple of years is their ability to respond in a faster and more targeted way than the larger charities can. This is where their strength comes from. If you are a cancer sufferer, having a local support group can be a lifeline and will really help to meet the needs of the patient and the local community. The needs of those in the rural South West for example are likely to be very different to those of someone in the urban North East.

In my experience smaller charities are more likely to be able to identify the things that can help make a difference to people, be able to point them to financial support and they can build trial programmes at a local level which can be scaled up and rolled out nationally.

Smaller charities have direct experience of dealing with local people. They are terrific at campaigning locally and working with a network of MPs to raise awareness of specific issues and causes. They are brilliant at mobilising a small army of volunteers at a moment’s notice.

What would we do without the thousands of local food banks for example that have taken a national issue and delivered at a local level to those in need. And don’t forget the ability to scale up. There have been excellent campaigns that have started locally and then been rolled out and scaled up to a national level.

The important question for charities and one we ask those people thinking of setting a new one up is, is there already someone in your local area doing what you hope to do? If so, would it make more sense for you to volunteer and work alongside them rather than setting up a new organisation?

Think about the unique difference you can make or where you can take a national issue and help make a difference to your local community. The organisations which have a clear purpose and where they are fulfilling needs which otherwise would go unmet will be the ones that have the best chance of success.

Also knowing when to pull the plug on activities is important – ask has the charity done its job? Is the need still there, are there others now doing a more effective job, would it make more sense to work more closely with or partner with other organisations or charities. Nothing ever stands still, the world around us changes constantly and at terrific speed. It is good to reflect on the things that others outside of the sector say and it can help to define who you are and the purpose your charity has.

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