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Championing Small Charities

Through funding, research and policy work we’re raising the profile of small charities and addressing the challenges they face

How we're Influencing Policy and Practice

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Building the Evidence Base

Improving Commissioning

Strengthening the Sector

Championing charities through the coronavirus crisis

This page was updated on 10/1/2023

Building the Evidence Base

We know small charities matter. But how can we make sure government, funders, charities and others know that too? Research and evidence help us champion small charities by showing what is happening to small charities and why it matters, highlighting problems as well as indicating solutions and identifying best practice.


97% of charities are small, with an income of less than £1m. Yet this huge number of charities receive less than 20% of the sector’s income.


We funded ground-breaking independent research, The Value of Small, which showed that small and local charities are distinctive in what they do, how they do it and where they do it. Importantly, this enables small charities to deliver high levels of value – to individuals, the economy and communities.


This research built upon earlier studies we funded which looked at what evidence already existed about the value of small charities (To Small to Fail, IPPR North), as well as the numbers, income and spending of small charities (Navigating Change, NCVO).


Our own research with grant holders has also highlighted how small and local charities face rising demand yet falling resources (Expert Yet Undervalued). The Trading for Good report shows that many small and local social enterprises face similar challenges – and highlights that even social enterprises are more reliant on grants in more deprived areas. We’ve also supported research to explore how social value can be used to better support local communities and economies (Front and Centre). That is, the additional benefits that an organisation can bring beyond delivering a service – it could include developing volunteering opportunities, employing local people, generating social capital or driving down the demand for other services for example.


We use this evidence to make the case to Government to better support small and local charities, including directly influencing their Civil Society Strategy in England. This has been shared with Ministers and government officials.


You can read some of our government consultation responses based on our evidence below:



As part of our focus on small and medium-sized charities, we have invested in a number of research projects to build the evidence base for their distinctive role and value in the voluntary sector.

We’re currently exploring how best to build the evidence base as we work towards uniting this data and publishing an annual ‘health check’ on the landscape small charities are operating in. We hope this project will increase the visibility of information on small charities with wider audiences and support the campaigning efforts of charities and partners moving forward.

Independent researcher Dr Cat Walker, Director of The Researchery is working with us to review the breadth and quality of the evidence currently available. Throughout Autumn 2019 we are reaching out to organisations who collect data on small charities and will continue working with our existing partners who have helped shape the early stages of this project. These include NCVO, the Small Charities Coalition, the FSI, LocalGiving, Locality, 360Giving and Sheffield Hallam University.

Any questions or comments about this project can be directed towards Alex Van Vliet, Research and Learning Manager,


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Improving Commissioning 

Many of the small and local charities that we fund receive some funding from government. But the ways in which government pays for services can make it difficult for small but vital charities to access vital funding. We’re working to address these challenges and improve the commissioning environment.


Commissioning and procurement - the processes that guide what services government will pay for and how - too often disadvantage smaller charities. Yet, as our research shows these charities are often best place to deliver services in local communities.


Our research, Commissioning in Crisis, shines a spotlight on the challenges small charities are facing. We have used it to show that three core problems make it much harder for small charities to compete:

  • a lack of understanding about what services are needed and who can best deliver them – resulting in services that meet people’s needs effectively
  • specifications which prevent small charities from competing, such as needing an income of over £1m to deliver a contract worth £400,000
  • processes which make it much harder for small charities to participate because they don’t have professional bidding teams – so service managers are having to meet tight timescales when completing a 50,000-word application in evenings and on weekends, on top of their day job

We work with partners to try and improve commissioning and procurement practice.


At a national level we are trying to influence the Procurement Bill which will set out new rules to  guide how contracting authorities pay for local public services. Charities can help to make sure the Procurement Bill addresses the challenges they face when it comes to commissioning and procurement by getting in touch with your MP.


We’ve pulled together a briefing that explains all you need to know about the Procurement Bill, how it could effect your charity and how you can contact your MP about it.


At a local level we have also worked with Locality on Keep it Local. The campaign encourages local authorities to move away from large-scale contracting and better work with local organisations. 17 local authorities have already formally adopted a Keep it Local approach which has helped to improve local commissioning in those areas . If you want to encourage your local authority to Keep it Local, take a look at the resources you can use to start the conversation.


You can read some of our consultation responses pushing for changes to commissioning below:


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Strengthening the Sector

While we want to amplify the voices of small charities in all our work, we also want to support charities and the small charity sector to speak up for themselves. That means helping to build the confidence, capabilities and capacity of the sector to influence change.


The charities we fund are experts who are often picking up the pieces from broken systems. They step in where the state or others have failed and help people to turn their lives around. This work is critical. In doing it, small charities also see where things aren’t working and are well placed to innovate new approaches to support. They know what’s going wrong and often, how it can be fixed. That’s why we believe that small and local charities should be able to use this knowledge to influence change – to innovate and strengthen their communities, and to stop the problems they see from occurring in the first place.


We help to upskill charities to develop their influencing and communications skills through our Enhance programme and are in the process of working with existing grantees to build on this and develop new forms of support to help build charities’ confidence, capabilities and capacity to do this work for the long term.


Our funding has already supported the Sheila McKechnie Foundation Social Power project which examines what makes social change happen – it’s a useful tool for anyone wanting to bring about change.


We are supporting charities in the domestic and sexual abuse and criminal justice sectors to influence change through specific funding programmes.


Since 2015 we have supported Small Charities Coalition’s policy and campaigns work, enabling the membership body to raise the profile of small charities and work with government to better support small charities. Through our support, ACEVO is also ensuring that they are better able to meet the needs of charity leaders.


We’ve also invested in initiatives to support the sector more broadly. We contributed to Civil Society Futures, the independent inquiry into civil society that is helping the sector to question how we can be fit for the future. Our own publication, Facing Forward, is also aimed at helping charities, funders and government to think through how they can prepare for the future and ensure small charities can thrive.


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