How can small charities compete with the big household names?
by Alex Blake
We work with lots of small charities who face funding pressures for multiple reasons and people often ask how they can compete with the big charities, in terms of commissioning for contracts/services, securing corporate partnerships and fundraising from individuals.
Firstly, it is important to know who your ‘competitors’ are and what they offer the audience you want to target i.e. the commissioning body, grant-maker, company or individuals.

For commissioning, you’ll be looking at others providing the same services and trying to find out what you can about their service and pricing. For fundraising, you’ll be looking at the big successful fundraising charities (e.g. Cancer Research UK, British Heart Foundation and so on) and those in your own area that are known for successful fundraising programmes. Find out what benefits they offer to corporate partners and how they encourage, support and thank individual supporters.

With this information you can start to identify areas where competitors outperform your charity, and why funders/supporters may be persuaded by their bids/appeals over yours.

Now that you know what the competition is offering, identify the competitive advantages you have and how you can build on them to grow your fundraising income.

What could your competitive advantages be?
Does your charity serve a specific geographic area like a single local authority or region; or a specific demographic like age; or a particular issue/disadvantage whether that be a disability, health condition, discrimination and so on.

If you are focussed on a particular area/issue, then your specific expertise in this niche is a competitive advantage. Many of the larger organisations are spread much more thinly, for example they cover all cancers or all children’s issues and are national with most staff in London. They cannot be an expert in everything and cannot offer a personal service to everyone. So for the people in your area, affected by the issue you are experts in, what can you offer that the big brands cannot?
There are lots of reasons why people would rather donate to or fundraise for a small charity, for example, if you lose someone you love to a rare form of cancer, you might want your donation to find a cure for that particular cancer. If you call Cancer Research UK’s fundraising team, the person answering the phone probably won’t know anything about osteosarcoma, but at the Bone Cancer Research Trust they will do, and that can make a huge difference to the supporter.

Seeing the difference donations make is another big reason – so work on how you demonstrate the impact of your work in a tangible way. This doesn’t need to involve complex impact measurement frameworks; most people respond best to real life stories about how you have made a difference in their community.

Locality can be a powerful advantage– people often want to support their local charities. These days it's become 'cool' to buy from smaller, local, boutique-style stores, and this extends to the charity sector, particularly with perceptions about big charities and their fundraising practice following negative press for the last couple of years. That the Daily Mail, Telegraph and other fundraiser/charity bashers don’t know the first thing about running a charity or fundraising doesn’t change the fact that trust in charities is at a low point and that is focussed on the big charities where admittedly there has been and is some poor practice. So, if you’re a small charity delivering great work on a tight budget, why wouldn’t people in your community rather donate to and fundraise for you?
One reason that people donate to / fundraise in aid of the big charities is that they make it so easy to do so. The big fundraising charities have websites that make it very clear how to donate (usually a button on the home page) and have a wide range of ways to fundraise with the required resources, forms, advice etc easily accessible.

Small charities on the other hand often have terrible websites, with clunky donate functions and a lack of ways for people to fundraise. As a minimum, you need to have the basics in place: a donate button (even if it uses an external platform like PayPal), fundraising web pages with content on why and how to fundraise in aid of the charity with Gift Aid forms and a Just Giving page. If someone wants to donate or fundraise for you, don’t lose out because you haven’t put the basics in place.
Then instead of trying to automate like the big charities do by systemising everything into an online process, invite your supporters to get in touch so you can give them a warm and personalised experience.

Make people feel great about supporting you!
People donate based on emotion. Make people feel good about their decision to donate to you rather than the big charities. Demonstrate to your supporters why they should donate to you over the bigger names.

One huge advantage of being a small charity is the ability to interact with supporters directly, removing the bottlenecks and bureaucracy of larger organisations and creating space to deliver better experiences and exceed expectations.

Your ability to meet people face to face, respond to inquiries, send handwritten “thank you” notes and solve problems can result in amazing experiences which yield long-term support and more supporters through word of mouth marketing, online reviews and social media channels.
Better supporter experiences and relationships should be a top priority for any small charity looking to succeed in a competitive fundraising environment.

Shout about it!
Fundraising is all about effective storytelling. Your story will include elements such as the need your charity meets and the difference you make, and it must also include your competitive advantages such as your expertise in a particular niche, your amazing supporter experiences or how you are rooted in your local community.

You need to tell this story through all of your communication channels, in person, in newsletters, on your website, through social media. Be sure to back up your assertions with data and stories in multiple formats.
This article was written by Alex Blake in March 2019. If you would like to discuss or comment on the content please feel free to get in touch at or