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Small charities are exhausted

That’s not to say that larger charities aren’t feeling the strain at the moment, I’m just hoping to paint a picture of how the third sector is serving smaller charities and social enterprises.

If you go back to pre-pandemic times, funding wasn’t as scarce as it is now. It was possible for small charities to build a relationship with one or two funders who would underpin the majority of the projects they ran and services they offered to their beneficiaries. When their funding came to an end, it was often a given that the award would be renewed.

In current times, however, this is not what small charities face when looking for financial support. Funding pots have drastically shrunk from what they once were, with some funders winding up their financial support altogether.

Barring a couple of national organisations, such as the National Lottery, most grant-makers have reduced the size of their awards, and they’re more likely to partly fund a number of causes than put all of their eggs into one basket, so to speak. In one way, this is a fairer system, and it indicates that they want to do the most good across the board with the money they can afford to give away.

For small charities, however, the field of funding is no longer relatively level—it has actually tipped against them. With so many smaller organisations competing for funding, each good cause has to send out a lot of speculative applications to gain a few small grants. Even then, their project may not be fully funded, so they have to repeat the process. Again and again.

I’ve spoken to a few smaller charitable organisations and they admit that they’re exhausted. It’s like running a marathon just to receive a few small crumbs at the finish line when it’s been weeks since you last ate. The time commitment it extensive; no longer can one organisation rely on one funder—they have to write and submit numerous applications and cover every base, in the hope that at least one of them wants to back their proposal. Some charities are submitting 30 – 40 applications to grant-makers each month. Like a lottery, the more they ‘play’, their odds increase, and they’re much more likely to win some funding as a result.

30-40 applications a month is a lot to ask of a dedicated employed fundraiser in a large charity, and yet the people I’m talking about are the founders and sole bodies behind smaller organisations. In many cases, these people still have employment unrelated to their charity to ensure their personal bills are paid. Their funding efforts, therefore, is likely unpaid. Writing 40 bid applications a month will make a huge dent in their downtime. There’s nothing fair about that.

It doesn’t help that some of the most popular funds expect applicants to jump through hoops for even the smallest financial awards. It always amazes me how much information grant-makers require when they’re offering an award maximum of £500, yet other funders barely scratch the surface for information before handing grantees ten to twenty times that amount!

The charitable sector does not favour the smaller organisations, and it’s top-heavy…lots of managerial roles and middle-men-type-outfits that just add unnecessary layers of bureaucracy and reduce the size of the money pot the eventual beneficiaries receive. Small charities make up almost 99% of the third sector, yet they’re forced to fight for the scraps after the larger charities, with their rich, robust resources, receive financial backing. Putting in a flurry of applications makes sense on a probability basis, but they take time to complete. But if small charities don’t make the effort to secure funding, they not only risk stunted growth as an organisation, they may even be forced to wind up their good cause. Yes, the third sector is definitely heavily weighted in just one direction.

I can see with my own eyes that a lot of my clients are exhausted from playing the numbers game (which may as well be bingo, for the revenue it brings). What grant-makers need to realise is, though larger charities have the infrastructure to run huge projects, the vast majority of charitable work is delivered and underpinned by small charities that are all struggling to stay afloat.

Gaps in local authority funding have increased the need for their support, yet no one is helping them…


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