Richard James is a director of Jolly Good Communications, a social enterprise providing a full range of communications and public relations services to charities, social enterprises and other not-for-profits. They also work with start-ups and SMEs, helping them to operate in a socially, environmentally and ethically conscious way.
For a small charity which lacks the capacity to run a full tender process, outsourcing can be a daunting prospect. Yet, as has been the case for a number of years, a shortage of skills in the sector remains one of the biggest obstacles to a small charity achieving meaningful growth.
By definition, small charities don’t have a lot of income though, so how can they obtain the skills needed to grow when recruiting a member of staff is beyond them?
Outsourcing is the obvious answer, especially when it comes to external communications and fundraising, although it’s also not always the right option for a small charity. Donors and supporters often form loyalty to small organisations because they are small, and while not overly professional or polished, there is a belief they are impacting those most in need at a grassroots level. In handing over control of your external communications, for instance, there is a risk that existing supporters might interpret it as a move away from your identity, not to mention the chance they might disagree with the use of charitable funds for promotional purposes.
Working for a small organisation means every penny counts, but outsourcing is not just about the money – it’s a real leap of faith that takes a lot of trust. Often external agencies require agreements over a duration of time that simply isn’t feasible for a not for profit organisation with a limited budget and no guaranteed – or even predictable – sources of income for the next quarter, let alone a year.
However, there are situations when outsourcing makes perfect sense as long as it’s done the right way.
While many agencies require long-term commitments, it’s not always the case. There are some who will offer short-term support for a particular activity, such as an appeal run over a defined limited period of time. Take for example the BBC’s Radio 4 and Lifeline appeals. While there is a fairly rigorous application process in order for a charity to be awarded an appeal, applications are open to all – regardless of size. It means they are a great way for a small organisation to reach a wide audience without the associated marketing budgets.
Many might be content with the appeal in and of itself, but it also presents a fantastic opportunity to make that extra leap of faith and entrust the promotion of the appeal to the experts. Not only does the appeal then provide a platform to reach new audiences, but also to trial outsourcing as a way of working.
While it may be the first time a charity has looked beyond their organisation for this kind of support, a key factor to reducing risk in the decision-making process should be identifying a digital marketing agency with a solid track record of working with charities.
Although not a packed market space, there are a small but dedicated number of agencies (like us) who can help support small organisations with their external communications. Given they specialise in the third sector, you can expect them to know all-too-well the pressures on charities, so often offer affordable pricing, too.
Furthermore, they will often have a clearer understanding of what you are trying to achieve in a way specific to your cause. For small charities outsourcing these activities, it’s often the case that they are breaking new ground, so an experienced agency will be able to work with you to define your strategy and goals without compromising your message. A degree of hand-holding may be needed at first, but it won’t be new to any reputable agency who has worked in the third sector before.
More often than not in life, taking the first step can be a scary experience and a real leap of faith. But if you make the right steps, then one small step could turn out to be the giant leap your organisation needs.