SOFII’s small char­i­ty showcase

SOFII sets out to cel­e­brate the small shop by Ken Bur­nett, SOFII’s man­ag­ing trustee

Written by
Ken Burnett
May 19, 2013

When I was starting out in fundraising, long before invention of the mobile phone, the website, downloadable apps and the Kindle, a book had just come out by a guy called Fritz Schumacher titled Small is Beautiful. This book set out a singular, people-centred slant on basic economics and so in small but massively catalytic ways it changed and is still changing the world. Small is Beautiful started the appropriate technology movement and flew in the face of the traditional concept that ‘biggest is best’. I loved everything about it. The book was subtitled A study of economics as if people matter, and it was indeed a little gem. Freshly embarked on my charity career this seminal work contained the seeds of what I believed should shape my approach to what matters most. Big isn’t always best.

So when a remarkable charity entrepreneur called Pauline Broomhead told me about her small charities initiative and Small Charity Week, I was already there.

Pauline is founder and CEO of FSI, the Foundation for Social Improvement, which among much else organises Small Charity Week in the UK, each June. Every day small charitable organisations support individuals, families and communities and positively touch the lives of millions. On a daily basis thousands of these organisations struggle to remain open and it gets ever harder to raise funds, particularly in these tough economic times. The FSI’s mission is to deliver expert knowledge, strategy and support to small charities free of charge, so their futures can be secure and their users protected.

FSI helps by sharing knowledge, expertise and experience. Upwards of 1,500 charities are helped each year, not one of them with a turnover above £1.5 million and most raising considerably less, though more than they once did, thanks to FSI. Through free training, roadshows, workshops, advice clinics, affiliations and scholarships, FSI improves skills and builds confidence and professionalism while promoting the interests and improving the effectiveness of small charities in a host of tangible ways.

Now that, to me, seems well worth doing. As a small boy growing up in Scotland I’d often hear my mother say, ‘Now Kenneth, just because you’re big, doesn’t make you best. It’s quality, content and contribution that matters, not muscles, bulk and volume.’ So too with charities. The nippy little Nissan Micra can get to places where the great gas-guzzling Chevrolet simply doesn’t reach.

We should celebrate small charities more than we do. Any encouragement, it appears, is appreciated and amply repaid. In its first few years of existence FSI has drawn praise in volumes from a wide range of happy participants.

‘99 per cent of attendees felt that the course would help them or their charity do their job better.’
From an FSI user survey.

So what will SOFII and FSI be focusing on, for the new Small Charity Showcase?

  • Drawing on FSI’s extensive experience the showcase will spotlight the challenges, difficulties and successes of fundraising for a small charity. Such as lack of resources, sharing ideas, making a little go a long way, learning from the bigger chaps, playing to your strengths and, well, lots more along the way.
  • We’ll be collating a range of new exhibits showing fundraising and campaigning initiatives specifically from small charities. See here for how you can showcase your fundraising case history on SOFII – and win £50.00!
  • We’ll try to identify and document the specific difficulties that arise when fundraising with very limited resources in people and money.
  • In addition to its focus on fundraising SOFII will also look at the policy, media, PR and communications challenges specifically faced by small shops.
  • SOFII will be seeking opinion articles, ‘how to’ and ‘top tips’ features specifically from fundraisers experienced in what works and what doesn’t for small charities.
  • Over time this will build into an archive of best fundraising practice for the small charity, free, searchable, permanently on tap.

SOFII and the FSI aim to level the playing field a bit, or even to get the ground sloping just a little in the small charity’s direction. Just a small advantage, we’ll hope to define in coming months.

‘The content, pace and delivery was spot on... Can’t wait to put it in to practice!’
Sarah Vipond, The Grand Appeal, Bristol.

‘To have found somewhere that provides the missing link for my training and development is a true hallelujah moment!’
Jennifer Hall, the Aurora Wellbeing Centre, Sheffield.

Small charities help millions, yet so often can’t keep up with the well-resourced big brand charities when it comes to sharing ideas, expertise and experiences. SOFII was set up as a source of free ideas for all fundraisers everywhere but we’re particularly eager to help those disadvantaged by size, who are denied in-house training and innovation functions and don’t usually get to the international or national fundraising conferences. SOFII aspires to help charities with big ambitions but small resources because, when it comes to sharing skills, best practice, innovation and inspiration, they tend to have to fend for themselves.

For FSI and SOFII, building a special Small Charity Showcase is very much an ongoing, long-term project. To kick-start this new relationship FSI will be running a competition for small charities to showcase ‘best practice’. Ten £50 prizes will encourage the best early entrants who’ll be featured in Small Charity Week and become the first exhibits in the SOFII/FSI Small Charity Showcase, while the others will be showcased later, from July 2013.

‘A big thank you for an awesome two days. I am feeling educated, buoyant, excited, as opposed to de-skilled and depressed! It’s great to meet others in similar situations as it’s easy to feel isolated.’
Ken Cowen, School of Hard Knocks, Preston.

All this sounds like the kind of enterprise and initiatives of which my mother would have soundly approved. But then, my mother usually knew what was what and told me many smart things. Another of these was, she said, ‘Precious things come in small parcels.’ She was right.

Pauline Broomead, Founder and CEO, FSI

About the author: Ken Burnett

Ken Burnett

Ken Burnett is author of Relationship Fundraising and other books including The Zen of Fundraising, (Jossey-Bass Inc, San Francisco, USA). The Tiny Essentials of an Effective Volunteer Board and Storytelling can change the world, both published by The White Lion Press, UK

In 2021, he wrote and published a book about campaigning fundraising, The essence of Campaigning Fundraising in 52 exhibits and 199 web links.

Ken co-founded SOFII with his late wife Marie and served as a trustee before retiring from the SOFII board in 2022.

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