Small charities were doing brilliant and important work in 2019, but 2020 has shown us that small charities are more than a “nice to have” for communities.
Small charities, like The Kids Network, provide the infrastructure needed for healthy, happy and connected communities. And when the chips are down, we need them more than ever. The Kids Network does this by providing a volunteer mentor, a young professional from the local community for children at who are preparing to leave primary school and entering secondary school, a daunting and vulnerable moment for any child.
What small charities lack in revenue and flashy reports, they make up for in depth of work delivered for individual communities. They are bespoke, specialist and deeply knowledgeable. The Kids Network has long-standing relationships with schools and it’s a small enough charity to be able to design programmes around the needs of those schools and children.
The ambitions of The Kids Network, to increase resilience and wellbeing of children through mentoring, are hard, if it was easy to deliver this on mass, then I hope government would be doing it. But it’s not easy and The Kids network are navigating the shifting and varying needs of children by doing anything and everything to providing translators for parents, to thorough training for new mentors. Children aren’t a homogenous group and the charities that work with them need to be bespoke.
All communities have their differences, be that a large group of Bangladeshi families, a vibrant Summer party that no child wants to miss, parents concerns about youth safety or an unwritten rule that families feel uncomfortable in certain surrounding postcodes. These details matter, they’re the details that The Kids Network knows inside out and back to front and navigate in how they design support for children.
And whilst I especially love The Kids Network, most small charities work like this, designing services around their communities, not aiming for scale and cheap services.
To most people, 2020 will not be the year that as saved by an app. Unless of course you are a mentee at The Kids Network, whose relationship with their mentor was maintained thanks to the super speedy and secure development of an app that has kept children and their mentors connected this year.
Small charities have minimal red tap, a deep commitment to their mission and energy to bounce when there’s a bump in the road. We need small charities to respond to emergencies, not just the covid emergency, but the urgent need to tackle London’s racism and the inevitable health and economic emergencies that loom.
And in emergencies we all turn to people and organisations we trust, it’s well documented that trust is in decline, especially trust of government and institutions. The good news is that trust in charities has continued to rise this year (Source: CAF UK Giving and Covid-19 Report).
A Bit of Small Charity Geekery
There are around 167,000 voluntary organisations in the UK (Source: NVCO Almanac 2020), of those, 96% have an annual income below £1million each. Many are much smaller still, The Kids Network makes their own particular magic happen with about £200,000 a year. So those good news is that there are a lot of these small, agile and bespoke organisations. Good news because there are a lot of people whose lives are made better in some way by small charities.
The bad news is that even before covid, the income of small charities was reducing, whilst the giant charities (the household names), continues to grow. Charities with an income below £1million a year the (96% of all UK charities), share amongst them just 14% of the income that comes in to the charitable sector. A study by Pro Bono Economics estimated that 1 in 10 UK charities will close, smaller local organisations will be hardest hit. A further study by Ubele, estimate that 9 in 10 charities specialising in supporting BAME communities will close.
The support of generous communities has meant that The Kids Network is continuing to support children in London to meet fabulous mentors, but we know there are more crisis ahead and we don’t have an easy path to tread.
What can we do?
Talk about small charities like The Kids Network, get to know them, sign up to The Kids Network mailing list then tell everyone about the work they do and how great small charities are.
If you can, become a regular donor and help make sure that The Kids Network can keep delivering specialist mentoring support to children in London.
Natasha Friend is a Trustee of The Kids Network and a small charity groupie.