How small charities punch above their weight

Mar 18, 2016

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Neil Cleeveley, Chief Executive of NAVCA, describes the enduring positive impact of small local charities

When Mark Howland from Charity Bank got in touch about the #CharityIs campaign, he told me it was inspired by the fact that when you Google ‘Charity is’, the first suggestion was ‘charity is bad’. Surely, I thought, Mark was over-exaggerating to grab my attention. I did what any self-respecting sceptic would do and Googled it myself. It was a lot worse; up came ‘charity is bad’, ‘charity is big business’ and ‘charity is a waste of time’.

I’m not naïve, but I really was surprised. Charities have been under attack recently, but such antipathy just doesn’t square with my own experiences.

Take my day today. It started off with colleagues, discussing a forthcoming meeting with the Big Lottery Fund. Our members help BLF support thousands of small local charities and community groups. The majority have an annual income below £10,000 – hardly big business. Yet their impact is immense. Millions of people every year get involved through such groups. Volunteering is good for the community and for the volunteers themselves.

“Tackling the problems that blight people’s lives and cost society a lot of money sounds like good work all round to me.”

Neil Cleeveley

Next, I met a group of NAVCA members who had come to our Sheffield office for a workshop on social prescribing. The aim is to help improve wellbeing through community-based support rather than medical interventions. It is proven to work and provides great value for money. One of our members quoted someone they had helped; “Your help and support through all this has been immeasurable. Without the hope that this gave me I would have been making my fifth suicide attempt, so you quite literally saved my life”. When you hear this, charities don’t seem bad to me.

Then came a conference call with Seb Elsworth at Access Foundation, to discuss opening up social investment to smaller charities. We talked about the potential for investing in prevention and early intervention (something smaller charities do really well), focusing on the needs of the person, not the system. It’s what motivates so many people involved in charities – staff, volunteers and supporters. Tackling the problems that blight people’s lives and cost society a lot of money sounds like good work all round to me.

My day ended with at a look at potential new offices for NAVCA (our existing offices are to be turned into student flats). We are a small, dedicated team that punch well above our weight. As Chief Executive of a small charity I get involved in everything, just like so many of my peers across the country. It keeps us grounded – it also means we have to be extremely resourceful, efficient and innovative. We are prepared to roll our sleeves up and deal with whatever faces us. It’s what makes charities so special and why people care about them.

I hope people get behind the #CharityIs campaign. Charities may not be perfect – but they make our lives a lot better.

Charity is channelling the potential in all of us to make the world a better place.

This blog is part of the #CharityIs campaign to champion the charity sector. Join us as we use the power of social media to highlight how charities improve our daily lives.