Generic NPC banner

Small charities: The unsung heroes of Remembrance

By Andrew Weston 11 November 2015

The generosity of the public was clearly on show in the build-up to Remembrance Sunday. You couldn’t walk down the street, turn on the BBC or enter many shops without seeing people wearing a poppy, both to demonstrate their respect but also to show they have given money to a good cause. This makes it a fine time to reflect on how best to channel your giving during the remembrance period.

Late last year, the Directory of Social Change published UK Armed Forces Charities: An overview and analysis. This guide provides a fascinating snapshot of the sector. It shows just how much public support Armed Forces charities enjoy—even as many in the charity sector saw income decline between 2008 and 2010, they enjoyed a 25% increase.

Looking at the Royal British Legion as a benchmark, this is part of a trend of increased growth that has extended from 2008 to 2014, albeit with a moderate dip in 2012 to 2013.

But this success hides other, important information. While support for, and awareness of, large Armed Forces charities like the Royal British Legion and Help for Heroes is relatively high, the same isn’t true for the substantial number of small Armed Forces charities which make up the majority of the sector.

This highlights a key question for potential funders. Does it make sense to support the larger organisations, who can exploit strong brands and economies of scale to help the impact of your donation? Or should you instead target smaller charities, who may have need greater funding just to survive—who may have much more effective local community links, but lack the level of time and expertise?

Charities don’t only vary in size, of course, but also in the different approaches they take to support and help people. This is just as clear in charities associated with Remembrance Day.

Some bigger organisations work with current and former members of the Armed Forces and their families. They provide essential support, from helping former soldiers find employment to dealing with the physical or mental scars of war. They can even simply provide a place of companionship and community.

At the same time there exists another stream of organisations for whom the best way to remember the fallen is by making sure that no future generation suffers the same traumas. These have almost as strong a pedigree as the charities more closely associated with Remembrance Day. The first white poppies, one of the most visible signs of this movement, were distributed by the Cooperative Women’s Guild in 1933, only twelve years after the first red poppies. Taken from still another angle, a charity like Article 36 is dedicated to work preventing unintended, unnecessary or unacceptable harm caused by the weapons of war, ranging from autonomous drones to landmines.

There is no right answer when considering what sort of impact you want to make in these cases. However, it is essential that you understand where your money is going, what sort of help it is providing, and how this fits into your wider vision for how you’d like to change the world.

A version of this blog was first published by Spears Magazine as part of our philanthropy series.