Small Charities- the ‘hidden giants’ of the sector – by Alex Swallow, chief executive of the Small Charities Coalition

Posted by on Aug 27, 2013 in August 13 | No Comments

WHEN I ask you to think of a charity, what is the first one that pops into your mind?

Unless you have a personal relationship with a local charity it is likely that it will be one of the ‘biggies’- the charities that are nationwide or international, have hundreds or even thousands of staff, that get in the news regularly, run huge campaigns and can afford a lot of advertising.

However, the vast majority of charities are nothing like that. Around 160,000 charities (97% of the sector) have less than 1 million pounds in income and many are towards the bottom end of that scale.

A large number of these are run entirely by volunteers. Such charities were often first set up when their Founder was personally involved with an issue, or because they perceived an injustice in the world, or because their supporters wanted to pursue a niche cause, that larger charities didn’t focus on.

Many public debates and indeed much of the public perception of charities focuses on the ‘household names’. In fact, there are many local small charities doing excellent work that people might come into contact with, but not realise are charities at all.

The Small Charities Coalition, the organisation that I lead, is here to help. (

Small charities do a great job, but can’t always access the things they need. For example, within the small pool of people who help run them, they may lack certain skills. Skills like legal knowledge, financial skills, communications skills and fundraising skills. They can bring in these skills by adding to their Trustee Board, and this is something that we help with. We can help train up the people who are currently involved, for example in a training partnership with IBM. Or they can buy in outside expertise to do the job for them.

This can be really expensive so we work with a lot of experts who are happy to give up some of their time for free. Small charities often lack access to information, which allows them to make the best of their time, to help their organisation thrive and to decide on a strategic direction for their work.

In partnership with a lot of other organisations including the Charity Commission, we try to guide them to be able to make informed decisions for themselves.

Of course, there are a number of advantages to charities being small. Their size can allow them to keep in close contact with the people that they support, to keep their costs low, to be nimble and innovative and to focus narrowly on the key issues they wish to have an impact on.

Some small charities have ambitions to get bigger and they should be supported so they can scale up so that the great benefits that they provide can be accessible to a wider audience.

So I urge you to keep smaller charities in your mind as well as bigger ones. They need donations, volunteers and for their messages to be heard. With your support they will have the opportunity not just to survive but to thrive.

Alex Swallow is also the Founder of Young Charity Trustees and a former regular contributor to Champions Club Community.

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