Sector trends

Funding support for small charities

How do charities and community groups move forward from the coronavirus crisis to continue serving local people most in need?

During the coronavirus crisis, charities of all sizes have not only lost money but the chance to help people affected by the outbreak.

“The funding landscape for Scotland’s voluntary organisations was already challenging, and the pandemic has led to a perfect storm of loss of income and fluctuating service need,” says Anna Fowlie, chief executive of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO). 

“Those at the sharp end, particularly smaller charities and community groups, have experienced an increase in demand, while others, such as arts organisations, have seen demand for their services completely diminish. The majority of organisations have experienced a significant impact on what they do and have responded creatively and swiftly.” 

Though financial support from the Scottish government and the UK government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme have been greatly appreciated within the sector, there is still a way to go to ensure that vital voluntary organisations can continue to serve those in need.

“Funders and organisations are learning the lessons from the pandemic and using them to consider how to give greater stability and sustainability to the voluntary sector which has a role in all aspects of Scottish society,” says Fowlie. “It has really come to the fore that the sector plays a vital role – from arts and culture, health and well-being to tourism. The coronavirus pandemic has shown the interdependency of what creates socially and economically healthy communities.

“Given the depth and complexity of the financial issues being faced by the sector it is clear that further support is needed. We are working with the Scottish government and funders to find the solutions,” she adds.

Fowlie believes partnerships between the private and voluntary sectors could be a game-changing part of Scotland’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. “Just as our sectors have come together during the crisis, they can continue to do so to deliver transformational change for people, communities, and organisations across the country,” she says. “This is an opportunity to focus the collective effort of the public, private and voluntary sector on rebuilding our country.”  

So for small charities and community groups in need of support, what options are there?

Access grants and loans

There are a number of funding sources for even the smallest of organisations, community clubs or societies:

Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

Via its Funding Scotland service, the SCVO helps charities track down the funding they need to make a difference in their community – from small grants to funding for big capital projects. As the coronavirus crisis develops, the SCVO’s Third Sector Coronavirus Information Hub provides constantly updated advice and guidance for the sector and lists available funding options.

Third Sector Resilience Fund

The TSRF is a £20m emergency fund for charities, community groups, social enterprises and voluntary organisations working in Scotland who have found themselves in financial difficulty as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The maximum grant amount awarded will be £75,000, and applicants must be at risk of or unable to cover essential costs within 12 weeks from the date of application.


Via Crowdfunder, organisations can set up a charity project, outlining the details of the work they do and any particularly specific funding needs. Crowdfunder then suggests funding sources specific to your project, to which you then apply for help. The platform also works with “extra funder” partners who they match with individual projects; the principle is that once you have reached a certain agreed percentage of your target, the partner will boost your total with a more significant donation.

Funders and organisations are learning the lessons from the pandemic and using them to consider how to give greater stability and sustainability to the voluntary sector which has a role in all aspects of Scottish society

Anna Fowlie
Chief executive, SCVO

UK Community Foundations

This is a national network of 46 community foundations; its USP is using local organisations on the ground to understand and meet local need. It has awarded £98m to community groups so far this year – an average £4,600 per grant. Find your local UKCF here .  

Directory for Social Change

The DSC’s FundsOnline database lists over 8,000 sources of funding with a total of £8bn to help individuals, community groups and charities. “We help you find the people who are more likely to support you – who already care about what you’re trying to do, which gives you a great start,” says DSC development director Ben Wittenberg.

Charities can also apply for government funding through the National Lottery and GrantsOnline .

All of the above organisations are worth investigating. But how else can individual organisations help themselves in these difficult and unusual times?

Other options

Hold ‘different’ fundraisers

Events are starting to open up now and it’s possible to hold socially distanced sales, music events and other fundraisers. The Great North Run, which normally raises around £25m for charity, is cancelled but is offering runners the chance to pick a charity and get a medal by competing in solo, virtual events.

Ask for donations – but be tactful

Richard Lee, director of fundraising at housing charity Crisis, says all fundraisers need to acknowledge how much donors will have been impacted. “Look at it through the supporters’ eyes,” he says. “You need to make them aware of the challenge you’re facing and how having to withdraw a service you provide will affect the local community.

“But remember when asking for help that donors are also living through this. It has never been more important to be genuinely audience focused.”

Be creative

Find fundraisers “where they are” – which means tying in fundraising initiatives with activities the public are turning to more commonly at the moment, such as online shopping, home entertainment or video messaging.

Since March, 50 of the British Heart Foundation’s furniture and homes stores have listed their sale items on Gumtree; theatre group charity Storyhouse has created digital subscriptions for theatre streaming services; Dundee Kiltwalk’s virtual fundraiser challenged participants to get active while adhering to social-distancing measures, raising £600,000 for more than 200 charities.

Look to the new normal

“We’ve all had to try new ways of doing things this year,” says Zoe Amar, a trustee at Charity Digital. “But for many charities, what was a stop-gap measure to try to survive has actually extended their reach. A great example is Soundabout [a small UK-wide charity helping profoundly learning-disabled people access music]. They’ve gone from sessions of eight people to streaming events to 12,000 people.”

Keep the public aware

It’s vital to continue highlighting local need. “Social media posts, photos, videos, press releases can all be shared to draw attention to the need that your organisation is trying to address,” says Paul Winyard, policy officer at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations. “You might want to look at your service delivery and how you can do it differently, which keeps your work going but also makes people take notice.”

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