Survival of the “small” in 2016

This week's blog is from P Martin Broad, who has over 30 years experience of working in the wider Community and Voluntary Sector. Martin is a Vice Chair of Bournemouth Council for Voluntary Services, Trustee of

This week's blog is from P Martin Broad, who has over 30 years experience of working in the wider Community and Voluntary Sector. Martin is a Vice Chair of Bournemouth Council for Voluntary Services, Trustee of Bournemouth 2026, a Development and Community Land Trust, and Chief Executive of the Boscombe Independent Advice Centre. He is also a Manager of the Bourne Spring Trust

 

I’m no real fan of karaoke, but sometimes after a few pints I can be up there with the rest of them and occasionally the good old Gloria Gaynor hit “I will survive” resounds round the place.

“Long as I know how to love, I know I’ll stay alive. I will survive.”

Survival it seems is an integral part of life in a charity at the moment. Survival of the fittest? Survival of the biggest? Survival of the loudest? Survival, or should I say “sustainability” and with that “demonstrating positive impact” on a high number of stakeholders?

I am privileged to be the CEO of two, yes TWO small (and I mean small) charities. One is an independent advice centre with two paid staff and twenty volunteers. The other a very local community trust with two paid staff and six volunteers. Each bring their own challenges and naturally their daily affirmations.

They are though both “small” and it has struck me recently more than ever before in my over 20 year career in the wider Community and Voluntary Sector, that survival for the “small” is getting increasingly difficult.

When I have time to ponder and look ahead to 2016 and beyond (and you may wonder how I can ever ponder with two jobs in our sector) I worry. I worry for many different reasons.

I am a realist. I am no ostrich (although singing “I will survive at karaoke, I have been called various types of bird!). I find it hard to see how “small” can cope with all that is going on.

Let me be clear. Our sector cannot just stand still. It needs constantly to be challenged and revitalised. External forces drive change; that message is the same for the very small and the very large. Within all that though there needs to be a recognition of whom we are and why we are what we are. “Small” is not always able to cope in all that happens.

As I look around, I see those who should be seen as friends working in such a way that “small” is under threat. Let’s reflect:

  • Greater powers of regulatory control to the Charity Commission
  • Increased bureaucracy within the commissioning process
  • Tighter budget controls
  • Not as much money to go around
  • So called “large” charities equipped and resourced to go for contracts
  • Jargon about support for the sector which is aimed at much bigger organisations and which seems meaningless to the “small”
  • A critical press

Was it ever so? I don’t think so. So at the moment “small” struggles, feels demotivated and tired. The impact on “small” is that those working can feel dominated by large monolithic public sector bodies and overwhelmed by larger, better funded and better resourced charities.

The risk is that coping with this will lead (and I suggest is leading) to “small” simply not coping and not surviving.

So, back to good old Gloria. Is it a case of “feeling sorry for myself how I cried”?

Maybe not. I think that although for me it seems the sector faces perhaps the biggest challenges for many years, there is a way in which survival will be more than sitting feeling sorry for ourselves and weeping into the coffee.

And it’s this. What drives the “small” into standing up to all that it faces, all it hears and all it fears is that which has always driven our sector; a real passion and concern not simply for due process and profit (in themselves of course not wrong or evil by any means) but the beneficiaries, the mission, the zeal. Call it what you want. It’s not “do-gooding” for “do-gooding” sake, it is rather an ardent desire to bring about enriched and enhanced lives and communities.

I don’t think that the private and public sector are callous in their objectives and indeed at times in their ignorance of small charities. I do believe, however, that in our current age, they are driven by a different type of passion which, although not selfish, could be seen as survival by profit and gain, and by policy.

There needs to be an increasing awareness from “large” that the overwhelming number of their colleagues in the sector are small and indeed struggling. Greater understanding and support from folk who perhaps know better is needed.

So yes 2016 and beyond ain’t gonna be easy at all. But

“do you think I’d crumble? Do you think I’d lay down and die? We will survive.”

Martin Broad
 

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