FSI Small Charity Skills Gap 2018-19 research launched: government, funders and trustees urged to invest in capacity building and skills development.

Government relations, legacy fundraising and HR identified as areas of major skills gaps in small charities in a report covering two years of political uncertainty, continued funding challenges, and high-profile charity news stories.

Last month at our 2019 Small Charity Skills Conference, we launched our biennial report into the skills challenges facing small charities in the UK. The report looks at the self-identified upskilling needs of small charity respondents and makes a number of recommendations to meet them.

Key findings from the report include:

The recent focus on digital in the sector seems well placed, particularly at leadership and strategic level, with 33% of respondents requiring upskilling in specialist IT skills and 39% reporting needing upskilling in social media skills.

The last two years have seen a number of high profile news stories on HR and people management scandals in the sector, and this may be reflected in a 17% increase in respondents saying they need upskilling in HR laws and practices since the 2016-17 survey.

Notably, business planning was identified as the area of charity management requiring most upskilling for the third survey in a row – with ongoing funding challenges and economic uncertainty, it’s more difficult but also more important than ever that small charities are planning and working strategically.

Consistent with previous findings, fundraising is a major area of challenge and focus for small charities – over 50% of respondents did not feel suitably skilled in at least 9 of the 13 fundraising streams identified. Among these, legacy fundraising came out top in terms of skills gaps, followed by online fundraising, major donors, and corporate relationships.

These findings will go on to shape the FSI’s learning and conference programmes over the coming two years – including the launch of the FSI’s new e-learning course in Developing Legacy Fundraising, available from mid-April 2019 (bursaries for small charities under £50,000 turnover are available now).

Relatedly, fundraiser roles were identified as particularly hard to recruit for, alongside skilled volunteering roles that require regular commitment such as trustee positions. Alongside this, charities identified significant skills gaps on their boards in terms of financial, business and legal skills – as well as a lack of involvement in fundraising.

Causes and impacts of identified skills gaps:

It is no surprise that these skills gaps result in increased workloads and a lack of efficiency in small charities. At a time when resources are already stretched and demand for services continues to grow, it’s essential that small charities are able to take up new opportunities in order to keep meeting beneficiary needs.

The cost of training is a major barrier to addressing significant skills gaps for 64% of small charities, as well as a lack of time to attend training (51%) and lack of support available locally (25%). The FSI is addressing these with subsidised training (up to £25) across the UK and online, including webinars and new e-learning courses, and also makes the following recommendations.


1. Government and other public funders to take the lead by demonstrating long-term commitment to affordable skills development and capacity building.
2. Infrastructure organisations to come together to work collaboratively to ensure that the support they offer is connected, easily identified and accessible, and tailored to meet the diverse needs of smaller organisations. The FSI’s strategic partnership with NCVO announced in October 2018 marks their joint commitment to working in this way, and their openness to other partner conversations.
3. Trustees of smaller charities to make a commitment to the organisational and personal development of both staff and volunteers within their charities, by making budget and time available for this.

Pauline Broomhead, CEO of the FSI says:
“It has been proven time and time again that smaller charities and community groups are a clear route to accessing and supporting the needs of the most vulnerable in our society. These skills gaps identified by small charities themselves are hindering their ability to deliver their services most effectively and to best support those who need it most. We ask Government and private funders, and trustees of small charities themselves, to invest in developing the skills of smaller charities to ensure their future, and urge other infrastructure organisations to work more collaboratively and connectedly to best support the sector.”

Read the full report now.

Lindsay Harrod is Senior Project Manager for the Special Projects & Fund Development team at the FSI.