In fundraising, small really can be beautiful
Here at Listen, our mission statement includes this line: ‘we will work with charities of all sizes, as long as we have the capacity to.’ Which basically means we’re serious about representing the Davids as well as the Goliaths of the charity sector.
But in practice, not all charities are born (or budgeted) equal, and it’s increasingly clear that some smaller NGOs feel lost when it comes to approaching fundraising agencies and finding a partner they can rely on - especially when some of those charities are at a disadvantage in terms of resources and skills in-house.
Clearly, it’s critical that all charities can access all successful fundraising channels. But if in fact that’s not happening as it might, shouldn’t we as a sector seek to rectify that, and quickly?
Certainly there’s an argument for the agency community to commit more fully to keeping its doors open to smaller charities looking to outsource services. Which organisations agencies choose to work with is their business, of course, but the decision to make space for smaller NGOs can be mutually beneficial: agencies doing so often report a workforce that’s all the more motivated because it gets to see more readily the impact it’s making.
But there’s patently a need for something much more concrete, and exactly ‘what’ is a question that has been occupying the Institute of Fundraising recently too, not least because 2014 represents the third and final year of funding granted to it by the Office of Civil Society to help small charities by offering training courses and free support sessions.
This excellent three year project has given many smaller organisations the chance to build meaningful capacity and get support in everything from finance to fundraising to developing talented staff. But with the end in sight, surely now is the right time for all of us to think more broadly about how we might empower smaller organisations in the marketplace so they’re not behind the curve in the first place.
The Institute understands that one critical way to achieve that is to pair up experience with eagerness to learn. Hence its Small Charity Coaching Programme, its Charity Leadership Programme and its Mentoring Scheme which will create 28 mentor/mentee pairs in three separate tranches in the London region this year (and then repeat the trick in 2015 and 2016).
Their insight is a simple one – knowledge and experience is best shared face to face, so get the experts and those hungry for support in a room together and let that process play out. And maybe, in time, small charities will possess already the knowledge they need to fundraise effectively, and feel fully equipped to reach out for agency help when outside assistance is required.
The bottom line is capacity building for charities that don’t have sufficient internal resources. And those agencies who are asked to be a part of that process can rest assured that partnering with smaller NGOs iswin-win for everybody involved.
For charities like the Mines Advisory Group, with whom Listen worked on a phone campaign only recently, working with an agency has, in the words of DM Manager Louise Wells: ‘given us the confidence to be braver in our choice of activity’ quite apart from delivering many new, real world donors.
For fundraisers, working with a small charity is regularly cited as one of the most rewarding professional experiences there is, not least because the impact they make is often so immediate and tangible.
And for the beneficiaries themselves, who are the real reason any of us are working in this sector in the first place, there is – of course – the prospect of imminent help. So often, the smallest charities striving to make the humblest of gains are those, conversely, doing some of the most awe-inspiring, unique and necessary work.
And if that’s not reason to strive to equip small charities to be meaningful players in the fundraising game, I don’t know what is.
Tony Charalambides, Founder and Managing Director of Listen