Paul Streets: Celebrating the life and legacy of the Small Charities Coalition

There is something about small charities that large organisations, from any sector, simply can’t replicate

Paul Streets

In the month the Small Charities Coalition closes I want to celebrate its successes, as recognised in its final report: Small and Mighty: the Life and Legacy of the SCC.

For 14 years, the SCC has championed a part of the sector that is often overlooked in the national psyche, and yet remains vital to many people and communities across the UK.

It is a truism that all charities started small – even the largest.

The common thread that starts all charities is the passion, energy and drive of a few people coming together to address something they care about.

Sometimes because it affects their loved ones. Sometimes because they see an injustice that spurs them to action.

Charities are the embodiment of what makes Britain a civil society – and a counterweight to a consumerist world that puts self before others.

The Small Charities Coalition began that way too. And it’s timely to pay tribute to Debra Allcock Tyler, its first chair, whose irrepressible energy and commitment to small charities continues in her role as chief executive of the Directory of Social Change.

As Debra said in the foreword to the SCC’s first annual report: “We work in a sector that has heart, vision and passion and at its core a sense of moral imperative – the desire to give rather than to receive. We have nothing to hide from each other and much to share and learn. That’s what the Small Charities Coalition is essentially all about.”

The SCC remained true to its vision that small charities should have access to the skills and resources they need, and that all charities should share what they know, with its mission to bring small and large charities together.

From the beginning it was proud to count among its early members some of the sector giants as allies – The British Red Cross, Cancer Research UK, Shelter, The National Trust and others.

Like many small charities it has always existed on a funding knife edge, and with the difficulty in finding a sustainable business model when those you serve have no money to pay for what you provide – even though they need it.

The closing report rightly begs questions of all funders about their approach to supporting the infrastructure the sector needs to thrive.

Its first reported income in 2009 was £186,963, its last reported income – in March 2021 – £125,756.

With that income, the title of its last report seems apt. It has punched far above its weight in influence and access.

One of its challenges has been that everyone wanted it at the table – recognising that the voice of small charities is unique and the issues they face are quite different to the charities who are household names.

The SCC brought pride to small charities, as one of those who contributed to the report said: “It’s thanks to the Small Charities Coalition that I no longer apologise for all the things that make us unique and started being proud of how much we offer both because of our size, and sometimes in spite of it.”

We would echo this at the LBF. There is something about small charities that large organisations, from any sector, simply can’t replicate.

Not least the connection and commitment to their local community and geography, which endures because it is rooted in the local people who set it up and run it. These small charities aren’t going anywhere and will stick at it for as long as it takes.

Our hope is that some of the practical support and advice the SCC has offered can continue and may ultimately be more secure in the long term in its new home with NCVO and the FSI.

But there is a risk that the closure of the SCC will leave a big gap in our collective voice.

We can all play a role in ensuring that isn’t so.

The report asks those of us who support small charities to look to four principles in supporting small charities: stand up and say so proudly; put ourselves in the shoes of ‘smalls’ and listen to them; avoid judgements drawn from our blinkered views on how large charities operate; and “think small and advocate ambitiously” for the 96 per cent of our sector which is small.

The work of the Small Charities Coalition over the past 14 years has shown us the way.

It is for those of us who care about the sector to continue to champion “smalls” and the unique role they play in communities across the UK – honouring the legacy of the small and mighty Small Charities Coalition.

Paul Streets is chief executive of Lloyds Bank Foundation

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