Mid-sized charities need to ensure survival in 2017


A sad start to 2017 as we read of yet another mid-sized charity having to close in the new year.

Blaming cuts to government funding for its decision to fold in March, Age UK Runnymede and Spelthorne is now hoping that current clients can be accommodated within other local services. They are deeply concerned that social care and health services are unable to cope with demand and that the public sector can no longer rely on charities year-on-year to fill the void.

In December alone, many more UK charities expressed fears over closure in the next 12 months. These include Benjamin Foundation, which provides accommodation for hundreds of young homeless people across Norfolk, and HIV charity The Sussex Beacon – despite the fact its service was rated ‘outstanding’ by the Care Quality Commission in September.

It’s not surprising then that the Guardian’s sector outlook for 2017 identifies funding as a key concern for charities this year, along with mounting financial pressures on the NHS.

While these aren’t new problems facing the sector, many small and mid-sized charities still seem unprepared for the challenges that they face in order to be sustainable. We have been working with The Foundation for Social Improvement (FSI) to identify some of the core areas where smaller charitable organisations need to focus in order to ensure future sustainability

Develop a strategy

When many organisations are still relying on grants and donations to operate, it’s hard to plan a long term organisational strategy. But this is key to survival. Having a forward strategy enables organisations to articulate their plans and vision for the future and to engage others in their work.

Improve impact reporting

Impact data gathering can change depending on funders and what they are asking the organisation to demonstrate. Consequently, data can be hard to gather and analyse effectively if it changes from project to project. Being able to measure and evidence the difference an organisation makes will help to develop deeper relationships with a range of stakeholders – including funders, staff, volunteers and beneficiaries.

Skill up on fundraising and marketing

The Localgiving Local Charity and Community Group Sustainability Report 2016 concluded that the small charity sector has “major fundraising and marketing skills shortages” with over three quarters of respondents saying they did not have the skills to run a successful fundraising campaign. Marketing and fundraising are key to self-sustainability.

Increase public visibility

Many small and medium-sized charities fall into the trap of believing that ‘everyone’ knows about their services and are fully supportive of their work. This often isn’t the case: recent market research for a CVS in Yorkshire revealed that only 24% of the town’s citizens had even heard of it and that only 15% knew what services it provided. Understanding the media, identifying PR opportunities and maximising social media such as Facebook and Twitter is an inexpensive way to raise an organisation’s profile both with the public and with key stakeholders.

Understand the risks

Charities are under far greater scrutiny than before – governance, conduct, costs and administration are all under the microscope and there are countless media stories which name and shame charitable organisations for what is deemed to be mismanagement of funds. If an organisation can identify its key strengths, as well as any challenges/weaknesses and threats on the horizon, it is in a stronger position to react to criticism and avert a potential crisis.

Slack Communications and the FSI are coming together to create consultancy packages which focus on supporting small to mid-sized charitable organisations in each of these core areas. To find out more, go to www.slackcommunications.co.uk or email becky@makedevelopment.co.uk