Crunch time for small charities

It's hard to see charities close because of lack of funding; but perhaps the ones that fail were never necessary in the first place, writes John O'Brien

John O'Brien
John O'Brien

You hear a fair bit about an economic recovery at the moment, but in the world of grant-funded small charities it’s not so rosy. I know of many charities where the grants have gone, the contracts are smaller or have been taken by the big boys, and now even the rainy day reserves are drying out.

It’s not all doom and gloom. There are many new initiatives and enterprising folks out there, and we are certainly snowed under with demand (hence the lack of recent blogs by me), but many small charities face tough times. Is this a problem, or a healthy weeding out of the unnecessary or the unfit? Maybe what these organisations provide was never really needed, or maybe they were just not very good.

One group I know works with people who can’t pay for the service they provide. These people are not particularly cute or cuddly, so fundraising is tough, and the funders have greater priorities. The group could change and do something else, I suppose (start a payday loan service perhaps), but fundamentally, it can’t really do what it is set up to do; it can’t achieve its charitable objective. I suspect it will close soon.

At my charity CA Plus, we face an uncertain future as well. We use public subsidy to cover the costs of our support for smaller or emerging organisations. If the funding goes, should we stop working with these and only work with larger charities who might be able to pay £45 an hour, or maybe work for commercial outfits trying to make a profit to subsidise other work? I don’t think those in the commercial sector are that daft, to be honest, and if we can’t support small organisations, then it might be time to pack up. We shouldn’t drift away from our fundamental raison d’etre.

Of course, in tough times, you also get an increase in competition within the sector, less trust, less openness - a temptation to put your own organisation’s survival above the job serving your beneficiaries. As far as I know, the greater glory of CA Plus is not a charitable objective. I hope I never forget that.

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