Stella Smith: Small savings can be vital to cash-strapped charities

The debate over the future of 1p and 2p coins got our columnist thining about how the sector can save small amounts to get by

Stella Smith
Stella Smith

I’m quite a recent convert to contactless payment and have come to regard loose change as a bit of a nuisance. When I see people rattling charity tins, it is for me less a chance to donate to a cause and more an opportunity to free my purse from the weight of random copper and silver.

I was quite surprised then by the sector’s response to the proposed scrapping of 1p and 2p coins. If my donation history is anything to go by, I would have thought charities would be glad to see the back of copper coins. It seems I had underestimated the value of these small donations. Indeed, Mandy Johnson of the Small Charities Coalition commented that "small charities get about 60 per cent of their income from individual donations and a lot of that comes from people giving their pennies". So, although my individual contributions are not going to change anything much, when combined with the donations of thousands of others they really do all add up to a substantial impact.

I suspect that as the economy tightens and there is less money around, charities will increasingly need to focus on the cumulative effect of small savings. We can easily tend to focus on big, high-profile initiatives, great gala fundraising events or campaign launches in the House of Lords. These are important, of course, and let the world know what we’re doing. However, we also need to get better at using the resources we already have, looking at the marginal gains to be had in how we use our existing money, time, skills and energy.

So where might we start? Well one of my bugbears has always been the management of meetings. If we could all cost the minutes lost in unproductive meetings it might not be much individually, but across the sector it must add up to thousands of pounds that could be put to better use.

Another area might be team-building days, which can take significant investment of time and money. Might there not be cheaper, more effective ways to strengthen team relationships? Yes, a day in the countryside might be fun, but when a colleague who has hardly acknowledged your existence all year suddenly wants to be your buddy, it can all feel rather insincere.

If we want teams to work better together, how about changing everyday habits, like making an effort to say thank you or showing interest in others’ work and plans. It wouldn’t have the big-bang impact of a day out, but it would be cheaper and, if enough people did it, would make an immense difference to organisational culture. Similarly, managers often send staff on training courses, hoping that this will initiate a flash of insight and a subsequent change in behaviour. Sometimes it works, but it can be expensive and it’s by no means a sure-fire fix. Often what’s really needed is just an open, honest feedback conversation with the person concerned.

There are undoubtedly many other small changes we could all make to save time and money and make us all more effective. They aren’t hugely glamorous and won’t make headlines, but they’re easy to make happen. And even if they seem small and inconsequential, implemented at scale they could make a massive difference.

Stella Smith is a consultant and facilitator

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