Saving threatened habitats worldwide

Charities and size: Is small beautiful?

14 April, 2010 - 13:57 -- John Burton

This week's Third Sector magazine has an interesting report on how the public perceive the differences between large and small charities. Large charities are seen to be significantly more 'professional', but also much more wasteful of funds, while small charities are seen to be much more amateurish in their approach than the large ones, and significantly more 'trustworthy'.

Quite how the World Land Trust would fit I am not sure, as we are on the cusp between large and small charities. For the first 20 years of existence we were certainly within the 'small' classification, and perceived as less wasteful etc., but now we are rapidly approaching the size of a 'large charity'. I sincerely hope that because of the way we have grown and developed, we can get the economies of scale only available to a large charity, but hang on to the ethos of a small charity, for example by remaining prudent in how much printed material we distribute and rejecting the use of direct mail or street fundraising - activities associated with larger charities.

Small is certainly beautiful in many ways, but my experience has been that contrary to what many of the public think, below a certain size, many charities are actually relatively inefficient. For example, I often wonder how on earth a small charity complies with all the laws, rules, and guidelines these day. In fact I strongly suspect that many do not. There is such a plethora of rules that I would argue that with a staff of less than about 10 people (so that at least one person works part time on health & safety, data protection and related rules, and someone else looks after all the fiscal rules) it is impossible.

The growth of the WLT over the last few years has been possible thanks to the broad supporter base the Trust has always had - which encourages donations from corporates, who want to see that the charity is attracting support from the public. Whilst donations from individuals buying acres and supporting our appeals are used for just that; land purchase and protection, corporate support enables the Trust to also invest in developing the infrastructure of the organisation itself.

We now have staff who dedicate some of their time to making sure the Trust follows the relevant charity laws and guidelines, freeing up time for other staff to focus on what they do best: Developing and administering the projects the Trust supports, liaising with corporate and individual supporters and communicating project achievements and needs. There is no doubt that our operations are significantly more efficient with this staff structure than a few years ago when the WLT consisted of less than 10 full time employees.

Every new WLT supporter who donates (whether a single donation or a regular direct debit donation) encourages more corporate support and therefore directly ensures that the Trust's operations remain cost-effective.

What are your views on large and small charities? Does size matter?

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