Five Challenges Faced By Small Charities – How To Overcome Them

For the past six years, IFC has run free fundraising advice clinics in London, Manchester and various cities around the world.

Although open to anyone, most attendees are from small charities, giving us a great insight into the issues they face. To help celebrate Small Charity Week, here are five fundraising challenges and solutions faced by small charities:

  1. A constant battle for survival

It’s often difficult to take a step back and breathe when you are a small charity with very little reserves and the need to bring the money in now. However, finding that time is vital if you are going to break the cycle. Planning for the future may not be easy, but if you don’t want to be in the same battle in three, five or 10 years’ time, you need to think about it now.

Most forms of fundraising take time to bed in, before you will see any returns, so you need to build that into your plans and start laying the groundwork now, in the knowledge that you won’t see the benefit right away.

Five years is a good time frame to consider. Think about where you want the charity to be in five years’ time. What difference do you want to be making in your community? Will you still be a small charity or is your ambition to grown beyond that? Once you have established where you want to get to, you can work out how much money you will need to fund it, and work backwards from there to create a fundraising strategy which will support the organisational strategy, rather than the organisational strategy being dependent on fundraising.

  1. Limited time to devote to fundraising

The term small charity is quite a broad one, ranging from tiny organisations with a turnover of just a few thousand pounds, to actually quite substantial set-ups with professional staff, and perhaps even a paid fundraiser.

Either way, there is not enough time to spend on fundraising. You can’t do everything, so don’t try. Instead focus on a small number of areas where you can make an impact. Starting with trusts and foundations is often an effective way to make the most of limited time, as a small number of well targeted applications can raise as much or more as an event which takes months to organise. Similarly, it can be much easier to attract a small number of large gifts than a large number of small ones.

In the long term, it is sensible to diversify your fundraising, so you are not over-reliant on one or two methods of fundraising, but it is always better to do a few things well, than lots badly.

  1. Lack of Money to invest

By taking the approach above and by focusing on just a few fundraising methods, you can control the costs and see what is working for you – and similarly what isn’t.

Nevertheless, there is no getting away from the need to invest in fundraising. It costs money to raise money and if you don’t invest, then you are never going to see the results. Small charities often face a dilemma over where to put their limited resources, but it may be worth taking any spare funds you do have and investing them in fundraising, rather than on delivering services, so that those services are better funded in the medium and long term.

  1. Developing skills

A participant in a fundraising clinic once said that she realised she wasn’t going to get much out of a course in major donor fundraising, when the trainer started telling them to “get your research team to…”.

Training can be difficult to access for small charities. It can be expensive, and as this example shows, it is often not designed with them in mind. It is one of the reasons why IFC started the fundraising clinics in the first place, because we recognised that just a little bit of good advice could make a huge difference.

There are places out there for small charities to look, however. The Small Charities Coalition, who we partner with for our London clinics, runs some excellent low cost training, while our own wikifund (www.wikifund.info) is a great source of information on different fundraising techniques. CVS’s and local Institute of Fundraising groups are also good places to find out more.

  1. How to stand out from the crowd

We’ve heard it said that there are too many charities in the UK, many of them doing more or less the same thing. Whether this view is right or not, it can certainly be a crowded market place, and attracting support can be tricky.

It is important to focus on what it is that does may you unique; for example are you meeting a need no-one else is, or are you doing it better than anyone else?

It is also important to focus on those who benefits from your work; it is their stories which people care about, not that of your organisation. Show your donors the people in need and the threat they are facing, whatever that is, and then demonstrate how they, by supporting you, can make a difference. It is those individual stories which people will remember, and which will convince them to support you.