Do small charities matter?

By Helen Cracknell, lead support for groups at Community Impact Bucks

As Small Charity Week (19-24th June 2017) approaches I have been reflecting on the fact that when we talk about charities most people tend to think about their favourite cause or some national, well known charities – whether they are known for positive reasons or not.  But small charities are quite different. When I asked my partner what came to mind when he thought about a small charity he said “something local, run by volunteers.” My own personal experience of small charities, for example both as a member and then volunteering with a local job club after redundancy, is exactly like this. In my role with Community Impact Bucks as Lead Support to Groups most of the people who come to us for help are small, local groups either entirely run by volunteers or with very few paid staff.

NCVO defines small charities* as under £100,000 income, which represent 83% of the total. As most of these charities are local (some 70-80%) they have a fantastically important role in dealing with grass roots issues and making a positive difference to the vulnerable people in our communities. However, classifying charities just by the size of their income doesn’t give you the real picture.  It’s the impact they are making that really matters.

Just imagine what life would be like if these small charities weren’t there: for people who are depending upon them for their trip to the local social club in the community bus; for help getting back on their feet after bereavement, redundancy or other life-changing events; having a local hall or community building where people can attend local activities and events; activities which bring different parts of the community together; and all the other ways in which individuals and communities benefit from their work. And imagine this scenario against the backdrop of the squeeze on public services, which hits the vulnerable in our societies even harder. So I believe that small charities matter much more than we perhaps understand or give credit for.

Sometimes we can feel overwhelmed by the scale of problems around us which stops us from doing anything at all. I have always loved the story of the young girl walking along a beach where thousands of starfish had been washed up during a terrible storm. When she came to each starfish, she would pick it up, and throw it back into the ocean. She had been doing this for some time when a man approached her and said, “Little girl, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish.” After a few moments, she bent down, picked up another starfish, and hurled it as far as she could into the ocean. Then she looked up at the man and replied, “Well, I made a difference to that one!”

So, if you run or work in a small charity make the most of Small Charity Week to get your own charity recognised for the great work you are doing. And if you want to get involved in a small charity you won’t need to look far for groups of people who would really appreciate your energy and skills. In the words of the anthropologist Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

*A focus on small charities NCVO UK Civil Society Almanac https://data.ncvo.org.uk/a/almanac16/a-focus-on-small-charities/

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