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Tips & guides 3,878 views Oct 08, 2019
David & Goliath: How smaller charities can survive and thrive

Let me set the scene: We are in Israel, around 3,000 years ago, and a fight is about to go down between the Philistine’s mightiest warrior, Goliath and an unknown shepherd named David. Standing at 9 feet and 6 inches tall, covered head to toe in heavy bronze plates and carrying a sword the size of his opponent, Goliath is a thing of nightmares. In comparison, David is small and slight, wears no armour and is carrying just a few pebbles and a slingshot. The Israelite bookies aren’t anticipating an upset here, and the crowd are clamouring in the heat. 

For the 80% of UK charities who generate under £100,000 in revenue each year, the charity landscape is beginning to feel as dangerous as that dusty battlefield. Weakened by decreasing funds, increased demand for services, volatile public trust and growing competition, these organisations have their work cut out. More than one in four Chief Executives of smaller charities feel strongly that they are ‘struggling to survive’. Despite making up 80% of the charity sector, these organisations bring in just 3% of total income. Let’s call these guys David’s. You can see where I’m going with this…

On to the competition. Who are our metaphorical David’s up against? Well, they aren’t mighty in numbers - the charity sector’s Goliath is made up of a mere 1% of a total 168,000 registered UK charities. However, just like the Philistine warrior himself, they are enormous. That 1% generates a whopping 72% of total income to the sector.

As you likely know, the fight does provide the Israeli crowds with an upset. David; the crowd behind him, more agile, and armed with different tactics, fells his opponent. So how can smaller charities learn from David’s success and continue to survive in an arena of Goliaths?

Get your ‘crowd’ involved

More than half of small charities income comes from individual donations. This means our David’s have a strong connection with their donor-base and can communicate with a personal touch. Goliath’s can find this trust very difficult to replicate. In one poll nearly half of the respondents said they trusted small community-based charities, whereas just 29% said they trusted national charities. This directly correlates with giving. The same proportion of people who trusted smaller charities were likely to donate to them, however only 17% said they were likely to donate to national organisations.

Use your agility to your advantage

David is small and nimble. Goliath, weighed down by his heavy armour and his size, moves as if coated in molasses. How can this same agility serve a charity’s mission? Well, put simply, a smaller charity equals a smaller team, and therefore a flatter hierarchy. Use this to your advantage, take bold, creative decisions to your board of trustees. In a world in which technology is fuelling growth, promise and incredible opportunity, the pace of organisational change is vital.

Introduce new tactics

Ultimately, David won the battle because he stunned Goliath with a new method of combat: his slingshot. The new method of combat for smaller charities? Technology.

Technology has levelled the playing field across all sectors, and the charity world is no different. In fact, Goliath’s are more likely to cite ‘new technology’ as one of their top challenges in comparison to David’s.

New tools on social media such as the donate sticker on Instagram is making it easier than ever before for charities to reach individual supporters. Plus, free services are available from other industry Goliaths, such as Google For Non-Profits.

Contactless charity donation boxes allow charities to maximise their fundraising on the ground by tapping into a whole new donor base who just don’t carry cash anymore. Through this methodology, my very own ‘David’ TAP London, has raised over £100,000 from over 35,000 Londoners.

So, to all the David’s out there. Don’t lose faith. Be personal, agile and most importantly – embrace new technologies.

Polly Gilbert is the Marketing Director at GoodBox, a tech-for-good company which helps charities of all sizes better connect donors with charitable causes. She is also the co-founder of TAP London, a ‘David’ raising vital funds for London’s homeless.