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Small is Beautiful

Small is Beautiful

Bad news for big charities – some donors really don’t like you!

In separate meetings with potential donors recently, I have come across strong prejudice against larger charities, in favour of small organisations, on the basis that larger charities are “inefficient” and “just waste donors’ money”. So where is all this coming from and what does it mean for bigger charities?

The first meeting was a focus group I was running for a housing association that wants to get into fundraising. Here, two men with business backgrounds both expressed vehement opposition to giving money to large charities, one claiming that only 20% of donations actually had an impact at the sharp end! The other felt that, unlike businesses, large charities were just inefficient and wasteful.

In another meeting, I was talking to a philanthropist who only gives to very small charities through his own charitable trust. He has very clear ideas about the type of organisation he wants to support and will not give to any with overheads above 10% or more than 1 paid staff member. Again, he felt that large charities (and clearly even very modest ones) were wasteful and undeserving of support.

So where does this attitude come from? My impression is that it reflects a fundamental ignorance about the sector (all three were from the private sector), probably “informed” by reading the tabloid press. In some cases, the “wasteful charities” attitude can just be an excuse not to give, but in the case of the philanthropist, this was certainly not true (he had after all invested £6.5 million of his own money in his trust) and one of the others was giving through his company.

What then can larger charities do to overcome this prejudice? While ultimately, any scrutiny of their accounts will give away their size immediately and some people will always be immovable in their views, there may still be things which larger charities can do to address the problem. For example:

• In their communications, they should stress small scale examples of their work
• They should probably avoid being too “corporate” in how they portray themselves
• It will help to stress the direct impact of funds on real people, the environment etc
• Value for money has got to be part of the message, so stress how much is achieved on a small budget
• As always, using real human stories, with testimonials and case studies may overcome some of the negative media messages
• Use every opportunity to show how funds are spent

There is no easy answer to this and it may be a good thing that some people only want to support smaller charities, but it seems to me that, with careful messaging, it may be possible to overcome some of the negative attitudes out there.

Simon George is a Director of Wootton George Consulting and a Fellow of the Institute of Fundraising. He has worked in fundraising since 1987 and was the founder of the IoF’s Trusts Special Interest Group. Today he chairs the IoF’s West Midlands region and works with a wide range of charities in a consultancy capacity. Tel 01785 663600.

Simon George, BSc (hons) FInstF (dip) FRSA is a Director of Wootton George Consulting and has been fundraising since 1987. He has special interests in fundraising strategy, legacies and charitable trusts. A longstanding member of the Institute of Fundraising, he founded its Trusts and Statutory Special Interest Group in 1999 and was also the first Chair of the IoF’s West Midlands region. He has written two e-books on legacies and grant fundraising, published by SPMFundessentials and has achieved the Diploma in Fundraising Management. In 2010 he was made a Fellow of the Institute of Fundraising. Today he manages a team of 20 fundraising consultants around the UK.

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