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It’s good to be small

I have a ten year old boy. The love of my life. Full of curiosity about the world around him but desperate to be big enough to play Grand Theft Auto on his Xbox or buy his first Ferrari. He would forgo at the drop of a Lego brick, his ability to do a forward roll, survive on junk food and no sleep and his youthful unblemished skin to have, what he sees as the unbridled freedom of being a grown-up. To simply be able to do as he pleases. He wants to be big. So he often emulates his older sister…slams the odd door, strops like a full-blown teenager. And then maybe he’ll dupe me into thinking he really is big enough to watch Dark Knight Rises on DVD.

I work for a small, Scottish charity that funds pioneering research all over the world. Research that will deliver the cancer treatments of the future. And my son’s desperation to grow up too quickly made me think a little about the meetings I have at work these days. The ones where we talk about ‘behaving like the big boys’.

Oh to shout as loudly as those household names do about how important our work is. Because we may be small but we do something different to the big cancer charities. Not better. Different. But just as vital if we are to find the answers to cancer. But we are too small to spend £12 million on TV each year so not many people know how important it is to support the pioneering science we fund.

We sigh as we wish we could have armies of employees to write, host and cajole people into supporting our work.  We have less than fifty dedicated, hardworking staff. But they couldn’t work any harder than they do. Some of them have been with us 16 years. I’m sure if you cut them open they’d have Worldwide Cancer Research running through them like a stick of Blackpool rock.

And with all the change and uncertainty in fundraising legislation we are now facing – driven by the behaviour of the big charities – it seems like there is nothing good about being a small charity. We just want to be big.

But before I slam that door and strop off to my bedroom to sulk, are we not, just like my son, in danger of not understanding the positives of being small?

Being small means we get to meet our fundraisers. We know and we feel their personal stories of cancer. The other week we had six local fundraisers who dropped into our office in St Andrews for a coffee and a cake and hand over a cheque for £15,000. It gave all our staff – not just the fundraising team – a chance to say a personal thank you, we didn’t post out a pre-printed mailer.

And knowing the lengths our fundraisers go to, to raise every penny they can, means we have all our staff thinking twice about anything that is not spent on making the science happen. Which is a tough discipline for me and my communications team – but don’t get me started about those big budget TV campaigns…

And only having a small work force means we need to be flexible and agile. If something is not working we can stop it straight away. The management team are close to the day-to-day of the charity. We can get the right people together quickly to solve problems fast.

But most of all being small means we can facilitate trust. And with all the media focus on the big charities, big salaries and big marketing budgets, supporters need to feel they can trust their charities to do the right thing.

It’s interesting to hear large corporates talk about ‘small company mind-set’ when it comes to respecting their customers. As a small charity we respect our supporters’ money as if it was our own. And if you are supporting us you can pop in any time for coffee and a cake and we will show you the big difference a small charity can make. Now, isn’t it good to be small?

Director of Marketing and Communications at Worldwide Cancer Research

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