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  • Writer's pictureVic Hancock Fell

The future of infrastructure support for small charities.

Updated: Jun 12

Written by Wayne Murray (thanks Wayne x)

A mix of headlines about small charities closing

Getting the right infrastructure in place for the charity sector is hard.

It’s a broad and varied landscape. It’s one of our strengths, but makes the role of infrastructure difficult. Charities of all sizes often need bespoke support, because their service provision, the challenges they face and their internal capabilities are multi-faceted. 


Support also needs to balance both breadth and depth. Breadth in that it can cover a range of organisations and understand the bigger picture issues, and depth in that it’s deeply and closely rooted to the causes and organisations it serves. Focus too much on breadth and infrastructure becomes overstretched, diluted and disconnected. Focus too much on depth and it loses sight of systemic issues and failures at a broader level.


Current infrastructure organisations are doing their best, but there are overlaps, gaps and power imbalances. Many organisations don’t know where to go for support, are disconnected from many of the key infrastructure bodies and have limited capacity to try and figure out who to go to, how, and what to expect. Many also feel a lack of relevancy with current institutions.


What we’ve lost - a perfect storm for small charities


The small charity sector has lost its two specialist infrastructure support organisations in the last 2 years.

This came at the same time as a global pandemic and a cost of living crisis.

It created a perfect storm for small charities - they are needed more than ever and are facing one of the most challenging times in terms of service delivery, funding and team wellbeing that we’ve seen for years.


We must also remember that small charities make up 96% of the UK charity sector. This isn’t a niche issue, it’s the issue. It affects the sector as a whole. The consequences of losing many of the small charities currently in crisis would be devastating.


Now, there are various initiatives that aim to get small charity infrastructure support and small charities themselves back on track.

Power of Small

When Small Charities Coalition and The FSI closed, NCVO took on Small Charity Week and the small charity help desk, but together with their partners they identified gaps in support and recognised the increasing impact of the sector challenges, plus the need to work with the small charity sector to co-produce and test solutions.

Power of Small, an NCVO project funded by The National Lottery Foundation, seeks to explore how to best deliver joined up infrastructure support for small voluntary sector organisations that is impactful and sustainable - so small organisations can best serve their communities.

Fair Collective is really excited to be leading on this work, together with NCVO, to deliver a holistic plan for support for this critical part of our sector. To ensure we avoid duplication and ensure collaboration and partnership to make effective use of the sector's limited resources.

The goal? A long-term, sustainable programme of support for small organisations across the country.


What we know so far

We know the small charity sector has been asked what they need and want before, we need to acknowledge this and build on what we’ve already heard. 

We’ve reviewed dozens of previous conversations and pieces of research, and broadly this is what we learnt:


  • The small charity sector is unique and uniquely placed to respond to society’s challenges. 

  • Small charity infrastructure support works best when there is trust and confidence that people and organisations ‘get’ small charities. 

  • There is a wellbeing crisis among small charity workers. 

  • Funding for small charities is largely broken, with only a few funders really getting it right for small charities. 


There are many more issues facing small charities, but these 4 issues seem to be the core, foundational ones.


What do small charities need?


There has been an incredible amount of research, conversations, reports and discourse around what small charities need, with small charities in particular taking the time to speak their truth, give their time and contribute to what they collectively need for the future.

In broad brushstrokes they need:


  • A trusted representative. With a single minded focus on small charities

  • Better funding. All roads lead to funding

  • Support for wellbeing. We know small charity leaders are really struggling

  • Connecting and convening. Bringing small charities together 

  • Events and training. Affordable, accessible and relevant to small charities

  • Voices and seats at the table. To influence key decision making for the sector

  • Policy and advocacy. At local and national level 

  • A central entry point. ‘Like a lighthouse’, that either acts as a one stop shop or signposts clearly


So what’s next?


The question now is less about ‘what?’ and more about ‘how?’.


How do we build it? How do we fund it? Where does this sit in the current landscape?


This is what we will be collaborating with the small charity sector to find out - if you're keen to be involved, keep an eye out on our socials.

With thanks to the Power of Small partners - NCVO, NAVCA, Chartered Institute of Fundraising, VCS Emergencies Partnership, Association of Chairs, Charity Digital, Sister Circle, Charity Finance Group, Baby Bank Network, Pilotlight.


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