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A bigger offer for smaller charities

14 June 2016

It’s Small Charities Week, when the work, achievements and impact of small charities across the UK are celebrated. It seems a good moment to share the thinking we’ve been doing at CharityComms about how we support the small charities among our membership and beyond. 

Last year, we conducted a survey of small charity communicators which revealed some interesting results and is now helping us shape our offer to this important part of our membership.

‘Small’ is a relative term

Our survey, specifically aimed at small charities, was completed by 110 respondents: while the majority (64%) were from charities with income between £100k and £1m, 24% were at charities with over £1m turnover; and 7% were from charities with over £5m turnover.  

The NCVO’s Almanac classes ‘small’ charities as having income between £10k to £100k, with ‘medium’ charities from £100k to £1m and anything over £1m as ‘large’. Here at CharityComms, we think we can best provide support to charities with incomes over £100k, and which crucially have at least part of a role specifically dedicated to communications. So our ‘small’ charity category encompasses incomes from £100k to £2m. 

However, we’re less fixated on income levels and more on resource – so we reckon any charity of any size with just one person (either full or part-time) doing all the comms work also fits the bill. Charities under the £100k mark can still benefit from all our free articles, reports and advice, but may find more specific help from the Small Charities Coalition.

Training budgets are often the stuff of dreams

Two-thirds of our survey respondents depend completely on free support. A quarter had attended no learning outside the office in the last year, and 30 respondents (27%) had attended no training, events or networking at all. This included charities in all size categories, including over £1m. One in three said they learn via networking with peers. 

When they do attend events, either on- or off-line, there are mixed views on the value of learning from bigger organisations.

Paid for conferences and events often only provide case studies or information supplied by big charities with enormous comms budgets. All very well but not terribly helpful when there's no way you have the budget for additional spend.

I find it really useful to learn from larger organisations who have the chance to specialise.

Skills are missing across PR and digital – and time is always short

The most frequently mentioned skills gaps were press and media relations, digital and social media skills and communications strategy. Also mentioned were the challenges of getting internal support, and of course, lack of time and resource. Typical comments included:

PR is probably our weakest area. I don’t have much experience and it takes a bit of courage.

I think specialist technical knowledge is the biggest gap, and keeping up with new channels like Instagram or Tumblr – should we be getting in there, or focusing our energy more tightly?

How can one person make the most of PR, the company website, Facebook and Twitter accounts if they only have about 10 hours a week?

We’re getting some things right

Many respondents said very nice things about the events and other services CharityComms already offers small charities:

The most useful resources are the CharityComms guides – I can’t believe they’re free! I used the annual reports one as I was preparing ours last year – very useful.

I use CharityComms materials a lot – the guides often seem to arrive just as I’m thinking that I need to look at an issue. My mentor has also been very useful.

I'm a big fan of CharityComms. I always take something away from the events I attend. For example, our CEO is tweeting as a direct result of Deborah Alsina's session at the PR in the digital age conference. Our online media section was also created as a direct result of what I learned at that event.

How are we responding?

We’ve put all the survey comments and responses into the mix and come up with a number of initiatives aimed at meeting the challenges faced by small charities.

  • We know small charities outside London find it difficult to fund travel costs, even to attend free events. So we’ve introduced free livestreaming of our seminars to members via Periscope. Here’s how you can get involved.
  • We’re working hard to feature more case studies and speakers from small charities in our existing events. We’re also taking care to clearly signpost sessions with relevant content for smaller organisations or lower budget.
  • Effective Media Relations for Charities – CharityComms supported the publication of this book by Becky Slack; we also sent out free copies to all our small charity members.

What’s coming up?

We’re delighted to announce the launch of our first dedicated small charities conference on 23 September. This will enable communicators from smaller organisations to connect with peers and access advice and shared experience on how to deliver comms impact with very limited resources. We’ve kept the cost as low as possible to make it accessible – just £80+vat for the full day for CharityComms members, £100+vat for non-members and £160+vat for corporate partners. 

What’s on the drawing board

  • Free media training for small charities: we’ve just heard good news that we’ve been awarded funding to provide free media training to small charities. More info on this in due course as we take this initiative forward.
  • Developing an online directory signposting good quality free or low-cost online resources and training opportunities.

Small charities play a vital role in our society. We hope these initiatives will help comms professionals within in them to put effective and inspiring communications at the heart of their work for a better world.

Vicky Browning


Vicky became CEO of ACEVO, the charity and social leaders’ network, in January 2017, helping to empower our inspiring sector leaders to make the biggest difference they can to their beneficiaries, their organisation and to society. Vicky was previously CharityComms’ director for nearly seven years.