Laura Treneer

Jun 23, 2024, 8:00 AM

Small charities need a louder voice

By Clare McIntosh and Laura TreneerChange-in-small-charity-income.jpg

“Underfunded and overlooked”. This is how grassroots charities are described in the May 2024 report by the Centre for Social Justice.

It is a deeply concerning read. Here’s one stand-out statistic:
Since the pandemic, funding for grassroots charities has fallen by £4.6bn, while larger charities have seen an increase of £4.5bn. That means 85% of all charitable income is going to just 4% of the UK’s registered charities. So how can the smalls fight back?


Closed-charities.jpgSmall charities are disadvantaged by not having the resources – staffing, fundraising expertise, contacts and time – to succeed with funding bids. Since the pandemic, they have seen costs go up by 12% and income by only 3%. Almost all the charities that close (97%) are small and medium sized.

All too often, very large charities are preferred in procurement processes. In consultations, the Government just reaches out to the large charities. Yet small charities are described as “the unsung heroes” by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, and “the glue that bridges the gaps and binds government, business and communities together” by Sir Keir Starmer.

A vital role in the charity ecosystem

Sunak and Starmer are right: a thriving charitable sector needs the small grassroots initiatives as well as the ‘big boys’ with a national and international overview. It needs groups of all sizes in all areas, with new ideas to serve our communities and transform lives.

In the reality of the charity ecosystem, the big charities help the small in all kinds of ways, including practical and financial. Conversely, the smallest are often those with their ears to the ground, able to reach places others can’t reach.

Perhaps not surprisingly, three quarters of us say that small, grassroots charities know their communities better than large, national charities. They make high-impact, sustainable change, usually with very low overheads. So how can they command the attention and support they deserve?

Fundraising strategies

The report offers some initial suggestions which are mainly actions for the Government, but at Action Planning we have some strategies we would recommend. Fundraising is inextricable from communications and marketing: you cannot be successful in fundraising without thinking first about what you’re trying to say and who you’re saying it to.

Here are some strategies that we recommend:

  1. Tell your stories well.  As a small charity you are much closer to the beneficiary. You can create amazing case studies that really empathise with the challenges and resonate with funders. You can provide ongoing updates. Use this greater intimacy to your advantage.
  2. Don’t forget your volunteer and staff stories. In a small charity both staff and volunteers are giving so much more because of their passion for the cause. Both are regularly making additional sacrifices. If you want a funder to feel passionate about a charity, then tell them why you are so passionate about it. How and when did you first become aware? Why did it stand out to you?  These stories can be as compelling as those of the end beneficiary.
  3. Compete on recency and frequently. A project update in a large organisation will no doubt have gone through countless sign-off processes and adjustments. The update will reflect the most recent site visit, which may have been years in the past. But in a small charity, you interact with your beneficiaries all the time, so use social media to let your donors know what happened in your centre this morning, or how a news event is already impacting you. Through social media you can bring your charity alive, and this installs much more passion than overly curated updates.
  4. Leverage your assets. If you have a local property, or a local group where services are provided, invite the funder along to see the work first hand. Even if they can’t attend, the invitation alone will speak volumes and help to build the relationship.
  5. Seek small quantities of proven expertise as needed. By using consultants you can turn the resource on or off with demand, and you avoid a risky recruitment process by going to proven experts. A small charity may not be able to afford employing specialist fundraisers, but a brief, high impact, focused boost could provide great returns. Action Planning has experts in all areas of charity fundraising and management. We’d be delighted to talk about how we can help you get competitive advantage.

Affordable help for small charities

New funding opportunities open all the time. A head in the sand approach cannot last for long. We have learned how to bring these strategies together and make them accessible, even for those with a really limited budget.

Our Small Charity Service, which provides a package of tailored support for less than £350, has already borne witness to the difference that small charities can make in their communities. For example, we have recently helped:

-  Rebuild East Midlands, which transforms the lives of survivors of modern slavery (read the case study)

-  Bexley Mencap, a local charity supporting people with learning disabilities in Kent

-  Heart of the City, a London charity that helps SMEs to be a force for good in their community

Action Planning is committed to offering affordable and accessible support designed to help small charities face the many challenges which can destabilise growth, enabling you to operate with energy, flexibility, and respond quickly to the evolving needs of the communities you serve. Visit our Small Charity page to find out more.



Laura Treneer

Laura Treneer is a communications strategy consultant. She started her career as a brand manager in educational publishing, developed networks for The Prince’s Trust and is the former CEO of communications charity CPO, where she published a series of books on church communications for BRF. Recently Laura has provided research, strategy insight and training for a wide range of charities in the Christian sector.


Clare McIntosh

Clare McIntosh is a strategic consultant and freelancer with over 25 years of experience driving transformational change and growth in the charity and corporate sectors. She started her career as a strategic management consultant at Edgar Dunn & Company before moving into various senior leadership roles at British Gas and O2. As CEO of St Francis Leprosy Guild, Clare tripled the charity's income through strategic initiatives. Recently, Clare has provided strategy, marketing, fundraising, innovation and management support to a wide range of charities, including those focused on disability, poverty, hospice care, homelessness, faith and the elderly.