Small charities must make the most of their reputation for efficiency, says John Barrett of the Small Charities Coalition

The acting head of the SCC says he was urged by one of his members to stand up and speak about the virtues of small charities because of recent bad headlines in the press that besmirched the whole sector

John Barrett
John Barrett

The acting head of the Small Charities Coalition has said that now is the time for his members to capitalise on their reputation for efficiency and transparency as public opinion of large non-profit organisations wavers.

John Barrett, acting chief executive of the SCC, which has more than 7,200 members, was speaking in the wake of recent negative coverage of charities in the national press.

He told Third Sector he had been asked by one of his members "to step up and say something" after the collapse of Kids Company because, the member said, her charity’s board and trustees were concerned about the impact the media coverage would have on their own organisation.

"My response was, yes, we could bash the large charities, but we are talking about a very small minority here that are in the press," he said. "The majority of big charities are very good at what they do.

"But there is some truth in us saying small charities are more transparent and more closely connected to their donor base and their beneficiaries.

"There is more scope for integrity among small charities and more inherent transparency because of their size – they have to do their own fundraising in-house and it is being done by people who understand the cause and are passionate about it."

The unidentified SCC member’s concerns were echoed by Stephen Elsden, an SCC trustee and chief executive of Compaid, a charity that provides transport and IT training to disabled people in Kent.

He told Third Sector: "The big boys are all pontificating about poor standards in fundraising and high chief executive salaries, but that doesn’t affect 99 per cent of charities, which exist hand-to-mouth and are focused on delivering services. They don’t get involved in multi-million pound campaigns using agencies that have lost sight of standards.

"The public are fixated on big charities and forget the plight of small ones, yet we get tarred with the same brush. Everyone thinks every charity is wealthy, but we’re not."

Barrett said he had noted disappointment that there had been no united voice to defend the charity sector and remind people that these are isolated cases.

He said: "There seems to be a running battle between the mainstream media and the charity sector at the moment, and it’s disappointing. We as a sector need to respond positively to that and make sure the public and the media are getting the right messages and the facts.

"The public need to be more aware of the size of the charity sector and the number of charities that are in it. It isn’t just the household names – there are thousands of small charities doing absolutely crucial work. It is important for people to be aware of that and to support them, either through volunteering or through funding."

Barrett said the ongoing review of fundraising regulation being led by Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, would be "hugely welcome if it means we can have some sensible conversations about how, as a sector, we prevent these things from happening".

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