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  • 11 Jun 2018
    Alex Swallow is Director of Communications at Ethical Angel which seeks to transform the relationship between the private and non-profit sectors. He has a long history of working at and for charities including as the Founder of Young Charity Trustees. I wanted to add my thoughts to Localgiving’s excellent Local Charity and Community Group Sustainability Report 2018- specifically with reference to volunteering and how working with businesses might be able to help. I have three key points to make and will reference the research with respect to each. They are: Volunteering is always going to be a key part of the charity sector; charity staff at local charities are being forced to be ‘jacks of all trades’; and many local charities currently miss out on the ‘accumulator effect’ of learning new skills. Volunteering is key ‘Local charities and community groups are largely led by volunteers and reliant on their skills, time and passion. 59% of Chief Executives in the sector are volunteers, as are 65% of fundraising staff and 63% of finance staff. We estimate that the financial value of volunteers in the local voluntary sector lies between £7.5 and £10.5 billion per year.... 82% of groups with an annual income under 10k are run entirely by volunteers’ The Report, as many other pieces of research have before it, provides incontrovertible evidence that volunteers make a fundamental difference to the life of the charity sector in this country. The smallest charities rely entirely on them, the biggest charities couldn’t do without them either. Despite the fact that so many people volunteer for charities, there are still so many others who don’t think of it as an option. One way to empower such people is through employee volunteering- where their employer encourages their volunteering effort through time off work and other support. Jacks of all trades ‘Paid staff in the sector are often asked to juggle multiple roles from project management to marketing to admin’ I know from my own time working at a small charity how many things you can sometimes be expected to juggle. In my very first role, for example, I could legitimately answer a phone request for ‘the Fundraising/Development/Communications Departments’ with the honest answer ‘You are speaking to him’. By necessity and through hard work, many paid people who work for small charities do find ways to be jacks of all trades and masters of at least some. However, it can be tiring, demoralizing and plain inefficient for people to have to cope on their own with so many competing areas. This is where skilled volunteers come in. As well as helping with specific areas, thus freeing up the paid staff to do other things, they can train and familiarize the staff with new skills so that previously daunting areas of their work hold less fear for them. Which brings me to my next point... The accumulator effect ‘Year on year, local charities have cited skills gaps as a major barrier to engaging with new technologies and opportunities. As addressed in the Fundraising and Marketing chapter, 71% of groups feel they lack the skills to run a successful marketing campaign’ By the accumulator effect I mean that if you are able to take advantage of certain areas - for example new technologies- then your growth and your impact can be exponential. Conversely if you engage with such technologies later than your peers (in this case, other charities, competing for attention and resources) you are more likely to be left behind. This is a key area in which private businesses- who have the money to invest in the latest equipment and training, have a lot to offer. In many cases businesses are very keen to engage with and support good causes- there are many benefits to them doing so- as we have outlined here - and their customers are becoming ever more demanding about their social engagement with the wider world. If we can match these businesses up with good causes that need their skills it will have a real impact. So, what does this all mean? It is clear that local charities are facing enormous pressures and that something needs to be done. As the report says: ‘Fewer than half of the local organisations surveyed are confident that they will survive beyond 5 years’ Employee volunteering can provide a key way to help with this. Recommendation 8 of the report is that Inter and intra-sector collaboration should be encouraged: ‘Collaborations not only help local groups financially (resource pooling etc.) but can also open doors to wider networks, strategic alliances and help amplify their voice’ Let’s make that happen! To learn how Ethical Angel can help you get more business volunteers, take a look at our site here. 
    6294 Posted by Alex Swallow
Tips & guides 26,824 views Aug 31, 2016
Punching Above Your Weight As A Small Charity

Alex Swallow is The Influence Expert, helping you to grow your influence to increase the impact that you have on the world. He is also the Founder of Young Charity Trustees and the owner of the Social Good Six interview series. He is the previous Chief Executive of the Small Charities Coalition and maintains a keen interest in the work of small charities.

Having only worked in the charity sector at small charities and having been the Chief Executive of a support organisation for small charities, I know the pressure that you are under.

Pressure to gain supporters behind your cause, get in enough money and cope in a challenging environment.

There are three things that I’d recommend: Don’t fight alone, value your work and grow your influence.


Don’t fight alone

I hope that you are already getting help from other people. This post that I wrote for Small Charity Week last year explains some of the help that you can get. You need to get all the support that you can, including bringing in new Trustees and other volunteers if you feel that you need new skills, experience or ideas. Trustees’ Week is coming up in November and is an ideal time to recruit.

Value your work

I hope that you are proud of the work that you do. However, it is likely that you don’t get enough recognition for it. Many small charities are not in the public spotlight despite doing amazing things for parts of society where no-one else really helps. I’m a supporter of Good News Shared- you can send them your stories if you would like to get a bit of attention! However you do it, you need to find a way to make sure that you are proud of your work because then you will be able to engage other people in what you are doing. Plus, being proud will be good motivation for you in those lonely hours when you are slogging away trying to make the world a better place. Also, this talk that I gave for The Media Trust shows why small charities should be excited about some of the opportunities that the online world now provides. Remember, among all the challenges there are lots of possibilities to take advantage of too.

Grow your influence

This article gives a comprehensive discussion of what I mean by influence. As a small charity you might not always be able to compete with the big boys all the time, but you can certainly punch above your weight. To have the impact that you want you need to find the appropriate ways to influence the world around you.

In this speech that I gave earlier this year at an international charity conference, I outline some of those ways. Using a model called the LEAPS Model, featured in the video, I show how you can grow your influence as an individual, or apply the same concepts to an organisation.

If you can effectively grow your influence you have the chance to achieve all of the things that you need to make sure that your charity not only survives, but thrives.

I thank you for your important work and hope that the three principles I have outlined help you get to where you want to be.

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