Before I get onto this subject, I understand that small charities work on shoestrings to deliver their support, raise funds and connect with the public. That said, a professional image goes a long way and an appropriate investment in this area will reap dividends.
Just as a small business will need to set out its stall, so to speak—to compete with its rivals for a share of the target audience’s income—a small charity will be in the same boat. A new donor is unlikely to have a strong link with the organisation, and it will therefore be competing with other good causes for their donation.
Of course, within a small charity, staff will probably multi-task and have a range of duties—through need, more than anything, as the organisation simply won’t have the funds to pay staff for each individual role. It may even be that the founder and their trustees all work in jobs outside of the charity, and that they run the organisation in their spare time. In this scenario, creating a professional online and offline image and marketing the good cause may be far down their list of priorities.
However, this definitely shouldn’t be the case. How your charity is perceived by people familiar and unfamiliar with it is crucial to its everyday operations and long-term growth. This doesn’t mean you’ve to sink thousands of pounds into an all-singing, all-dancing website or rip funds from your project delivery to pay for a marketing manager. There are some basics to focus on that I believe are easy enough and cheap enough for every small charity to tackle.
Clarity costs nothing
Even if you have the most basic of websites and limited marketing literature to promote your organisation, ensure what you do have makes it as clear as day who you help and how. Illustrate the impact you make on your beneficiaries’ lives and how your donors and supporters can ease worry around the issue you’re trying to combat or move them forward towards a better situation/opportunities.
Do what you do well
I sometimes come across charities that try and solve all the world’s issues within their remit. A single organisation can’t do this, no matter how much money or time it has at its disposal. It’s far better to do one thing really, really well than a few things adequately.
Hang your hat on one main element of support, even if you offer other services; the latter can come out in conversation when you’ve attracted a donor, volunteer or beneficiary. If you’re in the early stages of your organisation’s incarnation, don’t run before you can walk. Determine what you want to be known for…if your vision is too grand or wide-reaching, you’ll actually lose support.
Resist the temptation to shoehorn
If you apply for funding and there’s a bright, shiny new fund that seems desperate to give away its money, don’t force your proposed project to fit its criteria if it doesn’t naturally do so. You may not see the harm in creating a project or service that falls within the remit of said funds just so you win the money, but what if you did win the funds? You have to then deliver the project inside the agreed perimeters and meet the targets you’ve plucked out of thin air. Eventually, in this scenario, you’d eventually see their criteria as constraints and issues that stop you from delivering your support in the way you know works.
It can also do damage to your organisation if you step too far into delivery areas from where you typically stand. Only promise what you’re confident you can deliver…if you’ve got to make significant changes to your usual brand of support and operations to qualify for a specific fund, they’re not the donor for you. Instead, spend your time researching and attracting donors that are wholly aligned to your plans; it will save you a lot of time and heartache in the long run if you forge relationships with the right people.
Word of mouth is still powerful
In today’s digital world, the temptation is to pour all your energy into online activities, particularly if you run the charity in your spare time. Whilst your efforts do need to include online promotion and networking, the majority of relationships made in the third sector flourish in person. Being present at events within your sector or scope of support, meeting businesses and other organisations that may have an interest in the work you do, and getting in front of the people you help, will bring a weighting to your connections that doesn’t happen easily when there are computer screens in the way.
Make it easy
Whatever functionality you can afford when it comes to collecting donations—whether these are via your website, via a third-party donor platform or if collecting donations in person—cover every eventuality. Few people carry cash anymore, so card machines for even the smallest donations will be incredibly useful. Unless you truly need the additional reporting features, paid-for subscriptions on such as Just Giving and its competitors may be a fee you don’t need to find; their free model may do the job. And as long as people can easily find where and how to donate money when visiting your website, it’s unlikely you’ll need any further functionality/bells and whistles—good imagery and concise copy will serve you well enough.
Again, this costs nothing. You can’t build Rome in a day. If you truly want to make an impact, accept that this may take a while. There will never be a time when charity isn’t needed—so, just concentrate on what you can do, and not on what you can’t.
If you’d like my help to get your charity off the ground and steaming forward, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0114 350 3354.