Can you be too small to invest in the future?

I ran a training day this week for a small charity which is, warily, thinking about dipping its toes into PR and marketing for the first time.

It quickly became clear that even the simple ideas we were coming up with were beyond their limited resources and the event became an impromptu staff meeting as they looked at ways of restructuring teams to free some time to allow people to do more communications.

Now, this is all very gratifying for me – they  liked what I was suggesting and could see the value it offered.  But it raised some uncomfortable issues, too.

Where do resources go – future investment or current staff?

Like many charities they run largely on volunteer and part-time labour.  To get additional things done they’re going to have to take work away from some staff and give it to other, already over-loaded colleagues.  Or they’re going to have to stop doing some things completely.  Or they’re going to have to find a partner organisation with  resources they can share.  Or they’re going to bring in a new member of staff from outside to do the work.  To get someone who’s worth having they’re going to have to pay – not big bucks, but something.  How does the CEO explain to volunteers, some of whom have stuck loyally to their task for years, that there’s no money to pay them, but there is enough to hire someone else?

The answer is that without investment in communications the organisation’s membership won’t grow, its income will stay fixed and  there’ll never be  enough money.  But that’s easy for me to say. I’m not the one doing a full day’s work just for the love of it.

Where to go for more advice on funding?

I had a quick squint at the websites for ACEVO and NCVO – two of the biggest support/membership organisations for the third sector –  looking for advice on sharing services, diversifying income streams, or just managing staff through financial hard times.  I may just have missed it in my haste, but there’s less around than I’d expected (though the advice I listed here almost two years ago is still valid).  NCVO’s Sustainable Funding Project looked helpful for small voluntary organisations looking to widen their funding base – linked here in case it’s of use to anyone.  Other suggestions gratefully received!


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