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December 17, 2018

Guest blog: Risky times for small charities?

A new survey 'Under the radar: risk management in small charities' paints a picture of cash-strapped small charities struggling to recognise and manage risk. Read our guest blog by Dominique Fell-Clark, PolicyBee

Starting a new role can be stressful. Alongside the excitement of ploughing a fresh furrow, there's a big emotional investment and an uncertainty about how it's all going to turn out. So, you want to be as sure as you can be that your new job will live up to its billing. You want to know all the assurances you were given at interview will ring true.
What you don't want to discover is that the charity you've joined lacks good governance. Because if charities fall short on compliance, strategy and risk management, it can threaten not only their success but their very existence.

Our survey says.

But a new report we commissioned from the University of Suffolk should set alarm bells ringing. Under the radar: risk management in small charities paints a picture of cash-strapped small charities struggling to recognise and manage risk.

Around half (47%) of the 330 UK charity personnel we surveyed say they are only 'somewhat' or less confident in their organisation's ability to identify risk (47%). And only 54% feel they're well placed to deal with it.

Perhaps that's not surprising when risk management and governance training is so thin on the ground. 62% report they've had none at all.

The result is that one in ten small charities either don't have, or aren't sure if they have any risk management measures in place. And of those that do, the average is just one.

A word of advice

So, with training in such short supply, where do small charity personnel go for help with risk or governance issues?

Most (55%) say they rely on their board of trustees, or their peers and colleagues (46%) - which is all very well if your charity has an experienced board and workforce. But what if not?

The good news is that help is out there, and there's plenty of information on risk management and governance on the web. Plus, there are governing bodies and local support networks to turn to.

But having the time or confidence to make use of that help is another matter. That's perhaps why two-thirds say they're 'not at all' or 'not so' familiar with some of the sector's main regulators and umbrella organisations*.

The website is the most used, with 60% saying they've consulted it within the last year. But it's information provided by local voluntary networks and membership organisations that scores the highest satisfaction rate at 59%.

And that's in the face of only 39% saying they actually make use of their local voluntary networks. 30% state they 'never' use them.


It's clear society badly needs small charities. They provide essential services and help to glue our communities together. But to flourish they need a strategic approach to risk management.

For organisations struggling to find support in this area, we've built a Charity & Community Help Hub. It points people to quality online advice on essential topics like fundraising, good governance, GDPR and health and safety.

We'll be developing, updating and adding to it on a frequent basis.

Download report PDF (4.5 MB)

*The Charity Commission,, The Fundraising Regulator, The Information Commissioner's Office, National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), UK Community Foundations, Local networks (community foundation, CVS etc)

PolicyBee's Dominique Fell-Clark is also founder of The Women & Girls' Fund Suffolk, funding female-focused charity projects across the county of Suffolk.

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