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


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:



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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 has changed, with grants being replaced by bureaucratic contracts making it much harder for small but vital charities to access funding. We’re working to address these challenges and improve the commissioning environment.


Funding is a huge challenge for charities. Many used to receive grants from their local authority in recognition of the important services they provide. In recent years government grants to local charities have seen a massive decline. There have been a rise of larger scale, more generic contracts that favour larger organisations and are much harder for small charities to access.


Commissioning, the process where government decides what services it will pay for and how, has increasingly disadvantaged smaller charities. 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’re pushing for changes to commissioning systems. We want to see more use of grants and support the Grants for Good campaign – so were pleased to see a commitment to greater use of grants feature in the Civil Society Strategy.

The Value of Small and Front and Centre reports demonstrate how small charities generate value and how commissioners can recognise it – known as social value. We’re feeding this work into government at a local and central level to advocate for change.


We’re also working with Locality on Keep it Local. The campaign is encouraging local authorities to move away from large-scale contracting and adopt a Keep it Local approach. Locality is working with the councils in Bradford and Bristol to put this into action with local organisations, as well as asking more local authorities to commit to Keep it Local. 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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