Small Charity Building the Right Foundations for Growth


“The support we received from Action Planning is some of the best we’ve had. You have to experience this to understand the value you get from the Small Charity Service. The monthly subscription is a game changer – the price is very doable, knowing the broad expertise you would get access to for two hours a month. The service and process is really aligned with a growth mindset – supporting small charities to learn and grow. Genuinely, it has been a brilliant experience.”

Lesley Gladwell, CEO, Rebuild

Small charities face many challenges which can destabilise them as they grow and navigate the delicate balance between sustainable income generation and the capacity to meet the demand for services, with limited time and resources to support an increasing workload.

96% of the UK's 163,000 charities are small*and we understand that training and consultancy solutions are often based upon principles designed to meet the needs of larger organisations, who operate in an entirely different way.

To maximise the effectiveness, impact and value we can deliver, Action Planning worked with a range of small charities and a team of experienced Associate Consultants to develop a new service designed specifically to meet the needs of smaller charities.

It was important to test the new service before taking it to market, so we went out to the sector with support from our partnership with ACEVO and asked the question: Are you a small charity looking to grow?

Lesley Gladwell – CEO of Rebuild, a small charity based in the East Midlands, responded to the call for small charities who might be interested in piloting the new service in the ACEVO newsletter, which she received as an ACEVO member.

Rebuild provide long-term support to survivors of Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery and were exploring a number of areas for growth. With limited funds available, Lesley was interested in the opportunity to ensure they have the right foundations in place. Action Planning offered the charity a funded place on the pilot scheme and Rebuild became the first small charity to use the service.

“I felt we were getting something from people who would understand what it was like to be a small charity. We’ve had pro bono work before that we felt hadn’t really understood the small charity challenges,” said Lesley.

One: Small Charity Analysis Tool (scAn)

The first step of the pilot was for Lesley to use our scAn diagnostic tool and feed back with her impressions. The tool asks a series of multiple-choice questions designed to explore competency, performance and prioritisation in three core areas of growth: Income Generation, Organisational Governance and Audience Engagement.

Lesley completed the scAn tool in around 40 minutes, taking the time to go through the questions thoughtfully, and described it as “generally very easy to use and straightforward. The questions in themselves caused me to think of some aspects of our organisational health in new ways, which was helpful.”

As part of the pilot, we asked Lesley for feedback at each stage and she offered some suggestions for the analysis tool, which helped us to improve it for future users.

Two: Report and Recommendations

The scAn findings form the foundations of the report and recommendations, highlighting key findings relating to the three key challenges of income generation, governance and audience engagement.

“That was massively helpful,” said Lesley, “because there were a bunch of things that we had already started to implement that were raised in the report. So that was encouraging – we were on the right track. I was also able to use the report in planning with the Trustees for future development and prioritise what we need to do now and what we could address in the longer term.”

The report provides an objective reflection of performance priorities and skills for your charity which can help to inform strategy, share a clear understanding of what’s important, provide reassurance regarding the direction for change and inform a case for support or funding application.

On behalf of Rebuild, Lesley identified Audience Engagement as the priority focus for the initial consultancy input, as it was an area where they had been unable to spend enough time or resource but knew it was a key area for development going forward.

Three: Targeted Consultancy Support

The aim of the small charity pilot was to deliver a service that is tailored to meet the needs of a smaller organisation. To achieve this we identify the right expertise and experience from our network of over 160 Associates – in this case Laura Treneer – to deliver a short session of high-value consultancy support in a style that is focused, relevant and applicable to the needs of the charity, enabling them to take immediate action.

“I was a little bit sceptical at what we could get in four hours of support,” said Lesley. “I thought it wouldn’t even touch the sides, but it was just not like that at all. The way that those four hours went and Laura’s ability to utilise small pieces of time perceptively was a game changer. We got loads done. There is a real buzz of excitement about comms, which is really exciting for me because I don’t think we have really had that before!” 

To create momentum for growth and build on the consultancy support, the new Small Charity Service offers an affordable monthly subscription providing access to the extensive knowledge and experience of the Action Planning network, consisting of over 160 Associates with expertise in Strategy, Governance, Fundraising, Marketing, People and Performance.

Following the pilot process, we offered Rebuild a continuation package of support, which they took up with enthusiasm.

“What we’ve been able to action out of that has been transformational,” said Lesley.

Consultant’s insight
In the first call we concentrated on Lesley’s assessment of their current needs, and I took her through a diagrammatic tool I use as a framework for the conversation, which worked well. Having a visual aid helped keep it focused.

The second call was with Lesley and two of her team. We used a Zoom whiteboard rather than Miro, because it was easier and quicker to set up. We worked through a ‘communications loop’ tool on screen using post-it exercises, targeted questions and headings. The process generated so many ideas that note-taking wasn’t enough, so I started transcribing on Otter with their permission.

After the call I sent them their whiteboard work as a PDF with some suggestions on how they could develop it, along with the highlighted transcription so that all the ideas and plans were clearly and comprehensively captured.

Personally, I enjoyed facilitating in such a focused small-group way. It was really fun. They’re an excellent charity and are so deep in it, being founder led, that they enjoyed someone coming at it with a completely fresh perspective.

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