Watch out for the hare..

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By Muneezay Jaffery, Co-Founder of Development Three

My friend told me a little incident recently, and it got me thinking. Should the third-sector be competitive? Competition keeps us on our toes, some say it is healthy, but it also means the small nonprofits get chewed up and spat out by larger ones.

Dog eat dog? More like elephant eat hare…Small nonprofits are quick and effective like hares. They are adept at providing immediate solutions on shoestring budgets. Adversely bigger nonprofits are like elephants, large and prideful they have a wealth of experience and plentiful support – But enough animal analogies. We (I) must accept that competition exists in every sector.

My friend, who works for a small overseas charity, has been on the phone calling Trusts and Foundations (T&Fs) to find support for one of their programs. Many of the foundations are without a website to their name, leaving my friend trawling through the UK Charity Commission’s website and annual reports looking for potential contributors. Some of them come back with seemingly positive responses regarding applications, trustee meetings and deadlines. However, one of them quite bluntly reveals:

“We gave all of our money to XYZ, there isn’t any left for this year”.

XYZ happens to be a fairly large aid organisation, one that has big budget TV advertisements, persistent appeals through the post, representatives with buckets outside the tube and even hordes of marathon runners every year!

Do they really need a contribution so large that a grant-maker says “that’s it we’re done”?

The grant-maker’s strategy is, we hope, based on credibility. The assurance associated with contributing to XYZ suggests the money will be utilised effectively- and to that I say, will it? Bigger, more established nonprofits, are low risk- are they?

An ideal scenario would be: if grant makers are more proactive in their decision-making, the big nonprofits stick to their massive appeals and celebrity endorsements and the little ones have a somewhat equal opportunity to get grant funding.

While we wait for that to happen, we can try to encourage grant makers to become better informed, conduct background checks, question where the money is going -perhaps it’s going towards another TV advertisement. The smaller nonprofits are the underdogs, they are more innovative, and are flexible in their approach. They might be resource constrained but a grantmaker can develop a better relationship and get regular (customised) feedback on spending

I personally think big nonprofits have always been aware of smaller nonprofits having a comparative edge. Hence pursuing the “we work in collaboration with small local partners” pitch. This ultimately means grantmakers can put their feet up and say “well, the money is going to the beneficiaries on the ground/ the grassroot organisation”. But in this age of social media, Skype and global connectivity, I would say, have faith in the smaller organisations- support and encourage best practices and watch them grow.

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