news & Things

What Happens Once the Small Charities Coalition Closes Its Doors For Good?

10th Jan 2022

A breakdown of what the closure of the membership body means for the more than 16,000 organisations it serves, and what the sector needs to consider following its impact.

Small Charities Coalition announced in December that lack of funds has meant it will close in spring.

 

[We have] exhausted all possibilities to secure funding that would have put the charity on a secure, sustainable financial footing

Statement made by Small Charities Coalition

 

The umbrella body was founded in 2008 by Directory of Social Change chief executive Debra Allcock Tyler.

 

There was nowhere for small charities to go, no one place that was just for them – up until that point, I think all of us genuinely cared about small charities and most organisations offered services for them, but it wasn’t dedicated

Debra Allcock Tyler, Chief Executive at Directory of Social Change

 

The SCC was small but mighty, much like the many charities it spent the last 14 years representing, and it will close with just three members of staff and more than 16,000 members on its books.

The work that the SCC has done, the support it has provided and the representation it has given, will leave a lasting imprint on the charity sector as a whole.

 

I think the SCC can certainly leave with its heads held high. It’s done two things: provided a service, particularly for smaller, volunteer-led charities, but more generally it has shone a spotlight on small charities.

A few years ago, the bigger infrastructure bodies didn’t really know what a small charity was and didn’t really have much interest in them, whereas now the infrastructure bodies all have much better understanding and are making sure they’re speaking up for them rather than defaulting to talking about large charities.

Duncan Shrubsole, Director of Policy, Communications and Research at the Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales

 

Small charities are on the agenda in a way they weren’t before and I don’t think you can undo that

Debra Allcock Tyler, Chief Executive at Directory of Social Change

 

She also goes on to say that a dedicated voice to amplify the message of small charities to the government and sector is necessary, and the SCC will be sorely missed.

Despite being an avenue for small charities to get funding where it cannot get it elsewhere, the SCC was no exception to financial pressures.

In order to serve some of the most hard-pressed organisations in the sector, the SCC kept its membership free of charge, as Shrubsole points out – membership fees are one of the key sources of funding that umbrella bodies can use in order to gain financial stability.

 

Trustees have taken the responsible decision when they look at the financial situation going forward, and should be praised for their foresight. It means that they can do an orderly wind-up, which is always to the good, rather than things coming to a head and then having to suddenly shut the doors, which has happened in the charity sector in the past.

Duncan Shrubsole, Director of Policy, Communications and Research at the Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales

 

So, what happens now? Once the SCC closes its doors, what will happen with the void it leaves behind?

The SCC, and other infrastructure bodies like the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, LBFEW, the DSC and others have been ruminating the very same question.

 

The organisation is starting work on a comprehensive evaluation and learning process.

In time we look forward to sharing what we’ve learned about supporting small charities since 2008 and working with other infrastructure groups, funders and civil society to support them to embed this learning and secure a thriving future for small charities for decades to come

SCC Spokesman

 

The vital work that the SCC did was practical support through its helpline, on hand when charities needed them most – starting out, expanding or closing down.

 

Practically, it was a really important set of activities, support and resources they were building and were custodian of,” she says. “That work will need to be picked up elsewhere.

We’re thinking about how we can understand more who the SCC have been working with, and think about how we step into that space, what capacity and resources will be needed to do that.

There are many that will fall to Navca members because they’re the obvious point of call. But for some it will be the national bodies who can also step in and pick some of that up.

Maddy Desforges, Chief Executive of Navca

 

Following SCC’s closure, Shrubsole poses the question about why smaller organisations were looking to SCC for support.

 

Some of this is about content of help and some of it is about tone and culture

Some people from small charities are ringing SCC because they feel ‘They understand us – the clue’s in the name’, but is the help they are getting similar to what they could get from somewhere else?

It could be that some of the bigger organisations need to think about how to tailor their existing services to small charities, or simply make more of an effort to promote themselves to that market, so smaller organisations are more aware of them as a source of support

Duncan Shrubsole, Director of Policy, Communications and Research at the Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales

 

Regulatory organisations such as the Charity Commission may have a role in picking up some of the pieces that will be left behind.

 

So if people who are doing accounts are being told to call the SCC even though it’s the Charity Commission’s own rules and guidance that they need help with, there’s certainly something that needs pursuing about what the commission’s role and responsibility is,” Shrubsole says – although he adds that it’s not yet clear how prevalent this issue is.

It will be a few more weeks before the complete picture emerges and it becomes clear whether there are any gaps that cannot be filled

Duncan Shrubsole, Director of Policy, Communications and Research at the Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales

 

And, while the coronavirus may have forced the decision to close due to surmounting the financial pressures, like a double-edged sword it may have also created the best possible outcome for its closure.

The network between infrastructure bodies have been opened and strengthened to an unprecedented degree, and both Desforges and Shrubsole state that important conversations about the legacy of SCC have happened far more quickly and easily than they would have done pre-Covid.

But, as Shrubsole says, finding funding for infrastructure bodies is no easy feat and as such, those involved are nervous about taking on SCC’s full workload, on limited resources, without giving it a proper think.

 

There’s always pushback about how many infrastructure bodies we really need, but I think there is also a strength in the specialisms of those we have – they were set up for a reason, they have specific purposes and meet specific needs

We all need to step back and recognise the value of infrastructure support. It is the catalyst that allows other organisations to have their impact. If we lose these bodies, the impact won’t be immediate, it won’t be this month or the month after, but it will be incremental and it will be significant.

Maddy Desforges, Chief Executive of Navca

 

She also goes on to say that this coming financial year is key for the NonProfit sector as it needs to come up with a longer-term plan for recovery from the pandemic, which has been brutalising charity organisations for almost two years.

 

For infrastructure bodies, particularly, we need to think about what’s our plan, what’s our strategy – not as individuals, but as a sector

It’s about the [part] an organisation plays in society – you can’t call on civil society in a pandemic if it’s not there in the first place, so [you] can’t just fund it in a pandemic, you have to do it long term

Maddy Desforges, Chief Executive of Navca

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