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Small charity support: 5 key points for insfrastructure organisations

What’s next for small charity support and the role of infrastructure organisations? This was the question NCVO and the FSI (Foundation for Social Improvement) focused on in their discussion on Thursday 20 April. This was following the announcement of FSI’s plan to close.

This was jointly written by the co-chairs of the Small Charities Advisory Panel – Vicki Beavers and Ray Coyle.

The discussion focused on addressing these questions:

  • What kind of support do small charities need?
  • What did small charities particularly value about the support and services that FSI offered?
  • How can the sector continue the legacy of FSI and SCC (Small Charities Coalition)?

Over 170 people joined us for the event. For NCVO and FSI, it was an opportunity to listen to the voices of small charities and their supporters. A space to hear their thoughts on the best way forward. Here we share 5 key points from what we heard.

1. Infrastructure organisations should advocate for small charities

Small charity infrastructure organisations, like the FSI and SCC, were strong advocates for small charities. Small charities felt understood and represented by them. They were ‘for small, by small.’

Infrastructure organisations can play an important role by:

  • making sure small charities are heard and feel represented at decision-making tables
  • advocating small charity needs to central government and funders
  • engaging with small charities to help them ‘tune into the reality of being small.’

Participants talked about the value of Small Charity Week, set up and led by the FSI. The week has been an opportunity to highlight the needs of small charities, celebrate their contribution to civil society and bring small charities together to network and learn from each other.

Participants were pleased to hear that activity was being planned for 2023.

2. Building trust between national and local infrastructure is key

The FSI and SCC were trusted by small charities and small charities trusted their advice and guidance. Participants commented on how during the pandemic, these small infrastructure organisations had regularly engaged with small charities, offering opportunities for peer support and reassurance.

One local infrastructure body shared how their relationship with FSI had resulted in them co-delivering relevant, practical support locally.

Infrastructure support that’s trusted needs to be available at a local and national level, with opportunities for small charities to learn from and support one another.

Collaboration and building strong relationships between national and local infrastructure organisations is key. This helps build trust and enhances support at a local level.

3. Develop resources with smaller charities in mind

The resources and training provided by FSI were highly valued because they were accessible, affordable, and created through a small charity lens.

[They] were excellent for learning and helping me establish how to develop things – without them, I would have made more mistakes, false assumptions and not had a useful sounding board. This needs to continue in some form or other.

One participant commented about FSI’s Big Advice Days

Small charities need capacity building, training and resources that are affordable and accessible.

4. Provide clear pathways to support

Small charities want clear access to support. They find it hard to know where to go and what guidance to trust, with so much guidance available. There was discussion about whether this challenge could be addressed with a single point of access.

Poll results showed that 77% of participants supported this idea whilst 23% did not. Some suggested a single point of access could become a trusted advisor, working closely with and signposting to local and national infrastructure.

This would help small charities to navigate the current ecosystem of support at a local and national level. To achieve this, collaboration across local and national infrastructure organisations would be key.

Some challenges to this were fed back:

  • Concerns were raised about how this would work in practice. A single point of access for small charity support would place significant responsibility on one organisation. There was a question about how to make a single point of access visible, nationally, and locally.
  • For some, if a large infrastructure organisation was the single point of access, it would undermine what was valued in the support offered by small charity infrastructure organisations, namely ‘support offered by smalls for smalls.’ The diversity of the support currently offered to small charities was seen as a strength and could be lost with this approach.

One suggestion was to see if the Charity Commission could provide a list of networks or resources for support when charities register. This would help make support more visible and let small charities know what support they can access.

Signposting to more specialist support where appropriate is crucial. For many, a mapping exercise of the support that’s available to small charities would be a useful next step.

This would help make sure support is coordinated across local and national infrastructure and minimise duplication of effort. It would also give a better understanding of where small charity needs are not being met and how this could be addressed.

5. The importance of sustainability

Two small charity infrastructure organisations have closed in the last eighteen months. For both organisations, fundraising and income generation were a continuous challenge. Neither of these organisations charged for membership and their training fees were very low.

It was seen as vital to use this as an opportunity to think about what a sustainable funding model for small charity support might look like. Whilst many participants would like FSI’s training materials, resources, and tools to be made freely available to the small charity sector, it was recognised that this may not be sustainable in the medium to long term.

Participants put forward ideas that could contribute to a sustainable funding model including:

  • developing a funding model that asks larger charities to support small charities
  • more conversations with funders and government that will support local and national infrastructure organisations
  • raising awareness of the value of small charities amongst philanthropists and wealth advisors.

NCVO’s continued support for small charities

NCVO, guided by the Small Charities Advisory Panel, will continue to listen to and advocate for the needs of small charities.

We’re determined to uphold the recommendations of the 'Small and Mighty Report' that followed the closure of the Small Charities Coalition. We’ll continue to work with other infrastructure organisations, locally and nationally, to make sure that small charities find the support they need and are involved in decisions that affect them.

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