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Do you want to change the world? The case for smaller charities…

Photo by Jessica Podraza on Unsplash

There are problems in every town, in every city, and in every country of the world. Whilst your charity may aim to address and help with one of these problems, it’s a huge task to eradicate one of society’s issues forever.

Which is fine; most people don’t have the time or resources to launch and sustain a worldwide charity – leave that sort of thing to Bill and Melinda Gates.

Simply put, what most charity founders want is to make the world a little better. Even if that means supporting just a handful of people, such action can still have a huge impact on their lives, which is reason enough.

Wanting to create a small charity or community group is not wrong, nor a waste of people’s time, money and efforts. It’s far better to do something well than try and tackle something bigger and get out of your depth.

There are plenty of people who run a charity almost as a hobby, alongside their day job. However, if this is what you intend from day one, it’s a good idea to have a chat with an expert like me to ensure you register your cause in the most appropriate guise with the relevant bodies. Because, if you don’t have to jump through the many hoops involved with the launching of a charity, why would you?

The problem is, unless you work in the third sector and have extensive knowledge of the different bodies and organisations it contains, how can you decide which basis is best for you? Also, consider the liabilities—if you feel at some point that the charity has run its course, you should be able to close it easily, without it having any financial impact on you.

Join forces, or not?

In one of my other articles, I suggested that people who only wish to create a local charity or have limited time and resources to spend on their cause should consider joining a larger organisation that’s already working on the issue. It would allow you to volunteer your time and efforts on an ad-hoc basis, whilst safe in the knowledge that you’re playing your part in the fight against your chosen cause.

However, that’s not the right answer for everyone, and plenty of people will be keen to start their own charitable organisation. They want to tackle the problem in their own way, with a new approach that’s perhaps different to the ones larger/national charities may take.

There’s nothing wrong with that all. A large charity can have its drawbacks, the same as anything else.

Sometimes (and I say this loosely, not about one cause in particular), a charity can become so big that they can lose sight of what’s happening at grass roots level. They can become regimented in their support, adhering to nationally renowned programmes that don’t always ‘fit’ every single person looking to them for support. Of course, they have their benefits, too—mainly the attention they can bring to a problem, which is likely to be far bigger and more powerful than any local or smaller entity.

There’s room for everyone.

Have a clear plan

Whatever the size of your charity, you need a clear, realistic plan of what you want to achieve—otherwise, you risk muddying the waters of both your organisation and any others trying to combat the same issue. A five-year plan will help get your charity past its first few years, get it settled into its community and established enough to show grant-making organisations some sort of track record for funding.

Smaller charities may only envisage funds coming in via local fundraising initiatives, such as local donors, bag-packing events in supermarkets, small scale events, raffles, etc., etc. A long-term plan will still be helpful, as people within the charity will know how much needs to be raised, and by when, and they can plan their events schedule around this.

Being close to the coal face

Another benefit of running a small charity on a local level is that the founder and/or trustees will be more familiar with their beneficiaries and the impact the charity’s support has. In comparison, CEOs of larger charities probably won’t have a clue what happens on their front line day-to-day, nor truly meet/understand the plight of the people their charity helps. That’s not a slight; they have so much to oversee, so many layers of management to be responsible for and so many programmes/projects to effect, they couldn’t possibly get stuck in at the coal face, too.

Small charities are more adaptable than larger ones and can change their support quickly to account for any external forces or new pressures that appear. Their support can generally reach their beneficiaries much quicker, as a small entity wouldn’t have as many people to sign off decisions. The people within the charity are likely to be local, too, and therefore aware of the financial, political and social landscape around them.

As mentioned, there is no right or wrong when it comes to creating a body or organisation that supports a cause close to your heart. If you want to create a small-but-perfectly-formed community group, register a formal charity, or launch a larger charitable organisation that has the potential to help people across the whole of the UK, that’s completely your choice. However, it’s worth getting some advice before you decide, so that you know what you’re likely to be up against and the commitments you may need to make in all scenarios.

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