Not just an add on: why influencing change is a core part of the work of small charities

IVAR have launched a new report 'Small Charities and Social Change', a welcome piece of research in this area which draws on the experiences of 11 small charities detailing their impact. Here, our influencing Officer, Lydia Rye details experiences of what helps small charities in this work but also why it’s so important that they and the beneficiaries they serve are at the table with decision makers to share their insights, ideas and experiences.

As the Influencing Officer for Lloyds Bank Foundation I have spent the past 8 months exploring with our grantees what small charities need to influence effectively and what that means for us as a funder in how we support them.  The report from IVAR on Small Charities and Social Change is a very welcome piece of research in this area which draws on the experiences of 11 small charities.  It echoes not only some of our experiences of what helps small charities in this work but also why it’s so important that they and the beneficiaries they serve are at the table with decision makers to share their insights, ideas and experiences.

First the importance of recognising why this matters; that “promoting social change is a valid and valuable part of small charities’ work” that as locally connected and often specialist organisations charities have insight and evidence of the direct impact of policies and practice on the ground – as well as valuable insights into what changes would make a difference. 

It is often amongst groups served by small charities that the gap between policy and reality are experienced.  Take the example of Switchback which “through its work supporting young prison leavers on release … found that some individuals due for release on an electronic tag (Home Detention Curfew) were not released from prison on the stated dates.”  Whilst this might not seem significant the reality of its knock on impact on the ability to plan and support young prison leavers as well as the uncertainty created for them about the circumstances of their release had a real impact.  This inability to rely on the official record of what was happening and when would not have been discovered without Switchback’s rootedness on the ground.  Together with others they collated and shared data on their experiences leading to a change in Government guidelines and practice to ensure individuals were released on time.

"Through working with those with personal experience of the issues to set their organisation’s influencing agenda, design strategies and make recommendations for change small charities are able to ensure that solutions really do best serve those directly affected."

Lydia Rye

It is precisely this link into service delivery that demonstrates why the report concludes that “social change work is not an add on and needs to be resourced”.  We see this daily in our work funding frontline service delivery; that for many small charities influencing change is not about setting up new or external campaigns. It is instead rooted in their core working and how they achieve their charitable purpose - and needs resourcing as much as frontline delivery does.  

We know that longer term core funding allows charities the flexibility to respond to changing needs and frees up time and resource for essential influencing work that is interconnected with the delivery of effective services.  It’s also important as a funding community that we recognise and make explicit the value we see in this work. We need to think about other ways in which we can resource and support charities through convening, developmental support and help to amplify the voice of grantees across the wider sector.

All of this must be rooted not only in the experiences of small charities but in the experiences of those who use them.  As the report says “people with direct experience need to be empowered to raise their voices and be heard”.  Here again small charities are invaluable in supporting this to happen.

Through working with those with personal experience of the issues to set their organisation’s influencing agenda, design strategies and make recommendations for change small charities are able to ensure that solutions really do best serve those directly affected.  They also have the relationships and ongoing understanding of people’s circumstances that allows them to work with people to avoid tokenism in sharing stories. In doing so, it can not only influence change but support individuals’ personal development.  A great example of this is the work of AVA and Agenda funded through our Transform programme, which worked to train survivors of domestic abuse as peer researchers. They conducted a wide ranging piece of work which not only culminated in a deeply insightful report but also led to many of those involved growing in confidence and moving onto paid work.

The report includes important lessons for small charities, funders and the wider community of change makers.  At the Foundation we’re increasing our support to help small charities influence change. We’re building a community of change makers by introducing new training opportunities, helping charities to build networks and support each other to influence change and providing resources to enable small charities to make change happen .

We’ll continue to explore how we can best support small charities – because, as the report makes clear, small charities play an important part in social change. Whether it’s at an individual or government level, we want to encourage small charities to influence change, and help them to do so.