How can small charities fundraise in a world dominated by the big fish?

Individual giving is the largest source of fundraising income for charities. It is extremely important that small charities, who often have limited or non-existent budgets, can compete with larger ones for individual giving funds.
Megan Williams

Individual giving is the largest source of fundraising income for charities. It is estimated that individuals donate around £9.5 billion annually, making up 1/3 of charities income. It is therefore extremely important that small charities, who often have limited or non-existent budgets, can compete with larger ones for individual giving funds.

And the good news is that they can, the results of a nationwide survey found that over 70% of people would rather donate to a small charity then a large one. Another recent study concluded that, in general, the public are more receptive to fundraising calls from smaller charities. So why is this, and how can small charities make sure they are translating this positive reception into donations?

Emphasizing the impact of a donation

The main reason people prefer to donate to smaller charities is due to the increased relative impact of their donation, with the public citing overspending on staff salaries as a major turn off for donating to charity.

Small charities can use this to their advantage by showing donors how their money has been spent and the direct impact that it has had on the cause. Emphasizing the difference a donation can make to them - as opposed to a much larger charity serving the same cause - is a great way in which smaller charities can increase their competitiveness.

For example, Above and Beyond, a Bristol based charity that raises funds to equip local hospitals, has a page on their website showing the different equipment that they are able to buy using donations from supporters.

This has encouraged me to raise money for them in the past, as by teaming up with fellow students from my athletics club we were able to set and meet a target of £500, which we knew would pay for the replacement of children's play room equipment.

In this way a charity can reinforce to their support base just how valuable their donations are, however small they may be.


Local is lovely: showing the human face of charities

Another reason why many people prefer to donate to smaller charities is because they like to make a positive difference in their local community, where again they can see the impact of their donation.

Where small charities are locally based, it is very beneficial for them to focus on strengthening their relationship with the community, as this will likely result in more individual giving. As most small charities will have fewer staff, they can use this to their advantage by making them personally known to their supporters.

Building more personal relationships with donors means they are more likely to make a regular contribution. Part of this can be ensuring that donors are personally thanked for their contribution, be that by a letter, email or something more exciting like a video or personalised placard. (For examples on some of our favourite ways that charities have thanked donors, please see this report)

Focus on your audience and talk to them personally  

All charities, from a local library to an international aid charity, compete for our attention in the same environment. What kind of people will respond to your cause?

Getting the answer right can make a huge difference for a small charity. Yet the expensive mass marketing techniques used by bigger charities to target a large cross section of the general public are often not so applicable or effective for smaller charities.

The majority of small charities work on a more specific, local scale and often work on tackling a very specific problem. Finding the right people can take a while, but here the size of your charity is your biggest competitive advantage. Be more dynamic: test-drive your fundraising ideas, avoid bureaucracy and long negotiations, switch from one idea to another and quickly assess what works better.

Avoiding annoying and faceless fundraising techniques

Research shows that the public’s perception of large charities is generally less positive than small ones, and this can again be used to your advantage.

Bigger charities are criticized for using intrusive strategies such as cold calling and guilt based fundraising, therefore this is something that small charities should avoid to maintain a more positive reputation with the general public. This can also help small charities to minimise their fundraising costs.

Results of a survey we conducted show that online advertising techniques annoyed the general public significantly less than face-to-face or telephone fundraising methods, therefore small charities with limited resources should focus on advertising themselves online.

Using social media to provide human-to- human connections

Whilst it is important for charities of all sizes, small charities can make particular use of technology and social media to increase their brand awareness.

In addition, by regularly updating their webpage and social media sites, the charity can easily keep people informed on how their donations are being used. For example, Child’s i - a small children's charity that does work in Uganda - has managed to keep 60% of their supporters since 2009, by using Facebook and Twitter to share success stories of children who have been fostered.

By using social media sites to directly answer questions, charities can increase transparency between themselves and their supporters, which can in turn lead to more individual giving. Having a strong presence on social media can be particularly beneficial for small charities that are not locally based, as it allows them to show their human side and connect with supporters across a variety of locations.

So overall, smaller charities should emphasize the positive qualities that are part and parcel of being a small charity, rather than mimicking the fundraising strategies of larger charities. By playing on strengths, like their ability to be flexible and to create more personal relationship with donors, they can more than sufficiently compete with larger charities to maximise their fundraising potential. In summary: Be real. Be personal, be human. Show impact. Show who benefits. Know your donors. Nurture them.


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