ACRE is pleased to support Small Charity Week because many of the rural charities that the ACRE Network supports, such as village halls and community transport schemes etc. are small. They face different challenges to those of large charities. They are more likely to rely entirely on volunteers, having no paid staff. Discussions about professional fundraisers, accounting standards and use of personal data have little resonance for them, especially for older trustees who don’t “do” Email, let alone social media. I doubt many people realise that some still keep accounts or minutes by hand. The free downloadable resources covering a mass of bureaucracy, available online will pass them by.
Small charities have been impacted by austerity in a way large charities have not: Many small charities rely heavily on their national or county associations for guidance, mentoring and strategic planning because they don’t have this in house, as the ACRE Network provides for village and community halls. However, national associations have seen their financial support severely reduced or wiped out at the same time as the Charity Commission’s advisory services have reduced in favour of web- based guidance, monitoring and compliance. Higher subscription charges, the need to apply for grants first in order to pay for advice that was formerly free and charity closures have resulted.
Small charities needing large amounts of capital have found it much more difficult and time consuming to improve or replace buildings, vehicles or equipment. Many more grant applications have to be made, on longer forms, with more detail. As a result charities are taking longer to complete projects. Funtington in Sussex has just put the rebuilding of their village hall on ice after ten years of fundraising because costs have risen, larger funding pots dried up and new volunteers are not forthcoming in the face of such an uphill struggle. The cost of design, planning, legal fees and all that voluntary effort wasted.
The National Village and Community Halls Network has highlighted the need for continued funding for the ACRE Network of Village Hall Advisers and for capital support for rebuilding projects, as effective and historic funding partnerships have collapsed. Small or short term funds (which open and close within weeks) or social investment loans are not the answer for small charities like these with the low income streams generated by providing charitable services to small, rural communities.
Volunteers are often busy people. The time they give free is precious and easily lost. To get the best of this resource small charities need access to tailored advice in response to a specific circumstance, not a general online publication designed for a multitude of situations which suggests precious funds are spent taking professional advice. Their national associations need resourcing and enhanced access to Charity Commission and other Government departments so that problems and issues can be quickly resolved.
The excellent House of Lords report “Stronger Charities for a Stronger Society” highlights the differing situations affecting small charities, which is too easily overlooked in legislative consultations and charity research because they do not have the resources to engage.
Chancellor Philip Hammond has recognised that some austerity measures may need to be adjusted. My plea is that support for small charities is top of the agenda so that the can continue to provide maximum benefit throughout the country, with fiscal measures and grant funding appropriate to them.