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Research reveals smaller charities play a vital role in our society

Research involving the Centre for Voluntary Sector Leadership (CVSL) in The Open University Business School has discovered that local small and medium-sized charities (SMCs) in England and Wales are making a huge contribution to our society.

The report, The Value of Small, revealed that when tackling social issues like homelessness, domestic abuse or mental ill health, smaller charities have a distinctive impact. They also contribute to our economy and public services by spending and investing more in local areas, and add value in many ways, including socially, and through enabling volunteering and attracting more funding.

CVSL Director Dr James Rees said:

“The research found that smaller charities make a distinctive contribution through what they do and with whom, how they carry out their work, and that they occupy a distinctive position within a wider ecosystem of provision. But there are also challenges, particularly in the funding and commissioning environment, which hinders the work of smaller charities and stifles their potential contribution.”

The research findings were announced at an event on Monday 18 June at the start of Small Charities Week, and hosted by the Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales (LBFEW), who commissioned the research. The findings are being launched alongside LBFEW’s ‘Reaching Further’ strategy for 2018-2022. Research partners Sheffield Hallam University and the Institute for Voluntary Action Research (IVAR) were also at the event.

An intensive project across England and Wales

The 18-month project involved researchers immersing themselves in four local areas in England and Wales – Bassetlaw in North Nottinghamshire, Ealing, Salford and Wrexham. They carried out in-depth studies of small and medium-sized charities (those with an income of £10,000 to £1 million) tackling issues such as homelessness, unemployment and helping refugees to integrate.

More than 150 people participated in the research through a series of workshops and interviews. These included paid staff, volunteers, trustees and service users representing smaller charities, the wider voluntary sector and the public sector.

Together with a range of evidence, this revealed the contribution and value of smaller charities operating at a local level, and the challenges they face.

Dr Rees led on the research in Bassetlaw with CVSL researchers Dr Vita Terry and Dr Carol Jacklin-Jarvis.

Charities are a vital part of everyday life

This is the first time research has focused on the contribution of smaller charities rather than larger charities and organisations.

James explains:

“Those charities whose annual income falls between £10,000 and £1 million are a vital part of everyday life in communities across England and Wales. Most are based and operate at a local level and include a wide range of voluntary, community, social enterprise and civil society organisations.”

He continues:

“Previous research has provided evidence in favour of sustaining a vibrant and healthy population of local SMCs, but there is very little robust evidence about what is distinctive and valuable about them relative to larger charities and public sector bodies. Addressing that gap is important because these charities are more likely to be adversely affected by cuts to public sector budgets and approaches to commissioning and procurement that favour economies of scale over more tailored and responsive approaches.”

Find out more

Read ‘The Value of Small’- the summary report or full report

Find out more about the OU’s Centre for Voluntary Sector Leadership

About Author

Kath works in the Media Relations team within the Communications Unit at The Open University. She is a skilled communicator with more than 15 years’ experience working in both the public and private sectors. She has a BA (Hons) English and American Literature from University of Warwick and specialises in stories from the Faculty of Social Science, Faculty of Education and Language Studies, BBC programmes, and student stories. In her spare time Kath enjoys touring the country in her hand-painted camper van, Trevor.

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