How to get support as a charity

Charity support

It’s easy to think you’re on your own when you start your venture as a charity. Your cause is unique to you, so how could others understand or help you? As with all forms of business, getting charity support is a necessity for growth through the good times and stability during those more challenging moments.

We spoke with two experienced charity owners who’ve earned their stripes and understand the importance of getting charity support. Paul Sayer, the founder of Prost8 and Esther Taylor, the founder of Lady McAdden, both sat down with us to discuss the following subjects:

Partnering with other charities

Collaboration is key when you’re starting a charity. The strength of unity can take your charity far beyond solitary ventures. To grow quickly, align with like-minded charities. Not only does this leverage shared resources, but it amplifies your reach, doubles your advocacy efforts, and promotes mutual growth. Make sure you’re not stepping on each other’s toes; find charities with overlapping objectives, but distinct audiences or methods.

Paul’s experience: 

If you partner with a charity, make sure they’re compatible with your cause. However, it’s important that they’re not too similar as this could become a conflict of interest as you will be competitors.

For example, we work with Carla from The Endometriosis Foundation. We’re happy to work with her because it’s compatible as they’re a health charity too, however, we’re a charity for men and their work is for women so there’s not going to be a clash. We’re all in healthcare but remain non-competitive.

Our supporters are prepared to cross borders for a short while, but they’ll return to their original base. We’re not scared of losing our supporter base to her, and she’s not scared of losing hers to ours. But it adds strength to it.  

Esther’s experience:

Collaboration is key and definitely a good idea. A lot of funders like to see collaboration with others as it shows them that you’re not insulated.

There’s often a tendency within the charity sector for people to keep themselves to themselves. However, when we work together our impact can be greater and reach a wider audience.

I’d suggest this is down to doing your original research thoroughly. Find who already exists, how you can differentiate yourself and who you can work with. Otherwise, if you’re too similar, you’ll be competing with others.

Getting volunteers

Volunteers are the backbone of any charity, but attracting them requires a well-thought-out strategy. First, identify who would be interested in your cause and where you can reach them. Clearly articulate your cause and the impact their time can have. Publicise your work on social media platforms, schools, workplaces, and community gatherings.

Make your mission resonate with people’s values, and they’ll be eager to help. Regularly update them on your achievements to show the tangible results of their contributions. Remember to offer roles that match their skills and interests, and create an environment where their efforts are acknowledged and appreciated. Recognise and appreciate their efforts, a simple thank you goes a long way. Volunteers can be the most effective solution in getting charity support.

Paul’s experience: 

Start with people you know. Start with friends, family and relatives as they’re the easiest to target first. But be aware of who you’re asking to do what task. When you ask someone to be a volunteer, make sure they’ve got the necessary skill set.

Don’t just ask them to come and help out as you might end up with someone who doesn’t have a clue what they’re doing or that’s going to be standing in the corner staring at you all night. Try and pick somebody who’s got good people skills. This is one of the key skills needed to be a good volunteer.

If you’re doing events, the best thing is to have volunteers talk to people. Find some common ground to talk about. For example, if you’re at a fashion show, ask people about what they’re wearing. Find volunteers who’ve got people skills or have specific, relevant skills.

If you’re looking for someone to help you with the finances, choose an accountant. Don’t just ask anybody to help you do your books or whatever. Find someone who’s got a proven skill set, not someone who says, “I’ll have a go at that for you.” Try to be selective in the people you go for.

Esther’s experience:

It’s important to tell your story and how you help people. Once people see what you do, people get excited and want to get involved. Sell the benefits of volunteering for your charity. Be clear about the roles and expectations for any volunteer you employ. Get volunteers who can do what you need them to do. If you need them to do public speaking, make sure they won’t get stage fright when standing in front of a crowd.

Since Covid, the charity sector has been really hit, lots of volunteers have been lost and many have found it hard to get them back. You need to make volunteers feel seen and understand that it’s something really worth giving up their time for. To retain volunteers, they need to feel appreciated for their time and dedication.

We recently had an away day where we took all our trustees, staff and volunteers away together, to show our appreciation for all their hard work.

Making an annual report

Transparency builds trust. An annual report is a reflection of your charity’s transparency and credibility. Be clear, concise, and candid about your financial health, fundraising efforts, important accomplishments, program outcomes, and future goals. Use visual aids like graphs, charts, and infographics to make complex information digestible for everyone.

Share success stories to underscore your impact and instil donor confidence. The report proves your commitment to your cause, while also serving as a great promotional tool, showcasing the good work you’re doing. Include a thank you note for supporters, and make it accessible.

Paul’s experience: 

What you do is, you do an annual report, which is your accounts. And more generally, how has the charity done for the last year and what your plans are to go forward for the next year? It can be as brief as you like.

But most charities will give, where they planned to be this year, where they got to and what they plan to do to enhance that for the following year. They might even go as far as saying, we’re looking at hiring two new people in this department.

You need to have an annual report with the Charity Commission that says what you’ve earned, where you’ve spent it, and what you’ve got left, you have to declare any salaries over £65,000. You have to give an idea, of how you got to where you are and where you plan to continue.

If you’re stuck with how to produce your report, plagiarise. If you go to any charity, on the Charity Commission, you can pull annual reports off. Pull off one that’s in a similar vein to you and use what’s relevant, as long as it’s accurate and reflects your charity.

Esther’s experience:

Depending on the type of charity you’re registered as depends on how you report.

For example, a charity that supplies school uniforms to poorer children would leave the charity with real numbers, and quantifiable data that is easy to report. Alternatively, mental health charities would have to rely upon soft outcomes such as how someone’s mental health has improved. It depends on what you do as to how you report.

Recruiting trustees

The right trustees steer your charity towards its vision. Seek individuals who are passionate about your cause with diverse backgrounds and skills that align with your charity’s needs. Potential trustees could be experts in financial management, legal affairs, marketing, or your specific cause.

Networking events, LinkedIn, and trustee recruitment agencies can be fruitful sources. Ensure they share your values, and be transparent about the responsibilities, time commitment, and non-financial rewards. A diverse, skilled, and dedicated board is worth its weight in gold and can be the difference in getting optimal charity support.

Esther’s experience:

Your trustee board is really key. We learned this the hard way as we changed our board as originally they were our friends but didn’t have the correct skillset to enable us to grow. Boards are crucial as they can either hinder or expand your growth.

Identify the areas you’re not good at yourself and recruit people who are strong in that area i.e. HR/funding/operations. Figure out the areas you need charity support in and find the right people to fill that hole.

Dealing with hardships and setbacks

Every charity faces obstacles. What matters is how you respond. In difficult times, revisit your mission. This should be your anchor, guiding all decisions. Reach out to your network for charity support and advice, and remember to communicate openly with stakeholders. Times of hardship can be opportunities for innovation, resilience, and growth.

Paul’s experience: 

Covid was our biggest setback. We were scheduled to launch our main campaign in May 2020 and obviously, that couldn’t happen. We’re an events-based charity and suddenly we had to find alternative ways to fundraise. We transferred our skills into virtual events which were successful however on a much smaller scale. We also got help with grant funding to help us raise the money we needed.

I’d suggest if you’re going through hardships and setbacks that the two best things you can do are to diversify and reach out to other people. Don’t ever be stuck to only one plan. Be flexible and don’t be afraid to change direction.

Esther’s experience:

I’m a positive person, I don’t believe there is anything wrong with failure, failure is where we learn. It’s important to realise how and what can we learn or what we can do differently next time to improve.

There are a lot of big umbrella organisations that are on hand for charities going through difficulties. There are a number of voluntary associations such as SAVS, RAVS and CAVS that are helpful. Find other local small charities. Try to get together once a month with their CEOs to build.

Dealing with hardships and setbacks as a charity is ultimately where the trustee board is key. You need a board of trustees who’ll support you through any difficulties.

Pillar of support

Reaching out in times of need is important. Whether you need guidance through those challenging times or advice during the brighter days, getting charity support is always a bright idea.

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