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4. Building Sustainable Income for Small Charities: Individual Donations and Legacies

Small charities often face the challenge of developing sustainable income streams. While contracts and grants can provide significant short-term funding, diversifying income sources is crucial for long-term stability. This fourth blog in a special series for Small Charity Week 2024 explores the importance of individual donations and legacies. I offer practical steps to cultivate these streams, and include case studies to illustrate successful strategies. Hope it inspires you!

Colourful abstract banner with the headline, 'Small Charity Week 2024: 24-28 June

Why Legacies and Donations Matter

Legacies and donations are essential for sustainable funding because they:

  • Provide Unrestricted Funds: Unlike many grants and contracts, legacies and donations often come without strict spending requirements, offering charities greater flexibility.

  • Build Financial Stability: A diverse funding base can protect your small charity from income fluctuations, ensuring continuity even during lean times.

  • Foster Community Engagement: Encouraging donations and legacies strengthens relationships with your supporters, deepening their commitment to the charity's mission.

The Case for Small Charities

Every charity, regardless of size, can develop legacy and donation income streams. Small charities, in particular, have unique advantages:

  • Personal Connections: Smaller organisations often have closer relationships with their supporters, making it easier to build trust and loyalty.

  • Local Impact: Donors are often motivated by the tangible impact of their contributions. Small charities working in local communities can clearly demonstrate how donations make a difference.

  • Agility: Smaller charities can quickly adapt and personalise their approaches to donor engagement, creating a more intimate and responsive experience.

Understanding Legacies

A legacy is a donation left to a charity in a person's will. This can take the form of a specific sum of money, a percentage of the estate, or even property and other assets. Encouraging supporters to consider leaving a legacy can provide a significant and enduring source of funding.

Case Study: Local Young Carers Charity

This small community-based organisation successfully integrated legacies into their funding strategy. By highlighting their local impact and personal connections, they secured several substantial bequests.

How They Did It:

  • Integration in Regular Communications: The charity made sure every newsletter had a section about legacy giving. They featured real-life stories of past legacies and their impact on the community.

  • Community Events: At every event, from fundraisers to volunteer gatherings, there was a brief talk about the importance of legacies, sometimes with testimonials from families of legacy donors.

  • Will-Writing Workshops: Partnering with local solicitors, they offered free workshops. These workshops not only educated supporters about the benefits of making a will but also naturally introduced the idea of including a charitable legacy.

Building a Strong Donation Base

While legacies are important, regular donations are the lifeblood of many charities. Developing a strong base of regular donors can provide a steady income stream and foster a community of engaged supporters.

Case Study: Local Charity for the Homeless

This small charity providing services for homeless individuals transformed their donation strategy by focusing on relationship-building and community engagement.

How They Did It:

  • Monthly Giving Program: They launched a campaign highlighting the benefits of monthly giving, such as providing consistent support. They used social media, email newsletters, and their website to promote this programme. They also offered small incentives, like exclusive updates or a thank-you gift for new monthly donors.

  • Donor Recognition: They created a tiered recognition programme, where donors were thanked in various ways depending on their giving level. For instance, donors giving £10 a month received handwritten thank-you notes, while those giving £50 a month were invited to special events.

  • Engagement Opportunities: They held open house days where donors could see the shelter's work first-hand. They also organised special events like "Volunteer for a Day" where donors could work alongside staff and clients, providing a deeper connection to the cause.

Practical Steps to Develop Legacies and Donations

Developing legacies and donations requires a thoughtful and strategic approach. Here are some practical steps to get started:

  1. Develop a Clear Case for Support: Articulate why your charity needs donations and legacies, and how these funds will be used. Be transparent about your financial needs and the impact donations can make.

  2. Integrate Legacy Giving into Your Communications: Make legacy giving a regular part of your communications strategy. Include information in newsletters, on your website, and in conversations with supporters.

  3. Offer Professional Advice: Partner with local solicitors to provide will-writing services or advice sessions. This not only helps your supporters but also ensures legacies are properly documented.

  4. Create a Donor Recognition Program: Acknowledge and thank your donors regularly. This can include public recognition, personal thank-you notes, and exclusive events.

  5. Engage and Involve Your Donors: Offer opportunities for donors to see your work first-hand. This could include tours, volunteer opportunities, or special events.

  6. Leverage Digital Tools: Use digital platforms to reach a wider audience. Online donation portals, social media campaigns, and email marketing can help you connect with potential donors and keep current supporters engaged.

Nurturing Relationships

Building and maintaining relationships with donors and legacy pledgers is crucial for long-term success. Here follows some tips to nurture these important connections:

  1. Regular Communication: Keep donors informed about how their contributions are being used. Regular updates, newsletters, and impact reports can help maintain their interest and commitment.

  2. Personal Touch: Where possible, personalise your interactions. This could be as simple as a handwritten thank-you note or a phone call to update them on a project they supported.

  3. Feedback and Involvement: Encourage donors to provide feedback and get involved in your work. This could be through surveys, focus groups, or volunteer opportunities.

  4. Celebrate Milestones: Recognise and celebrate important milestones with your donors. This could be the anniversary of their first donation, achieving a fundraising target, or completing a project they supported.

  5. Build a Community: Foster a sense of community among your donors. Create opportunities for them to meet and interact with each other, such as donor events or online forums.

Additional Case Study: Local Conservation Charity

This small charity focused on local environmental conservation successfully enhanced their donation strategy by leveraging their unique strengths.

How They Did It:

  • Local Business Partnerships: The charity organised events such as "Dine for a Cause" nights where local restaurants donated a portion of their sales to the charity. They also partnered with local shops for "round-up" campaigns, where customers could round up their purchase amount as a donation.

  • Crowdfunding Campaigns: They used platforms like JustGiving to run specific campaigns for projects, such as planting a community garden. They promoted these campaigns through social media, local press, and community bulletin boards, ensuring a wide reach.

  • Educational Workshops: By offering free or low-cost workshops on conservation topics, they attracted a new audience. These workshops often concluded with a brief talk about how attendees could support GreenFields, leading to new donations and volunteers.


Developing sustainable income streams through legacies and donations is not only possible for small charities but essential for your long-term viability. By focusing on building strong, personal relationships with supporters and effectively communicating the impact of their contributions, your small charity can create a reliable and enduring funding base.

Whether you are just starting to explore these income streams or looking to refine your existing strategies, remember that the key to success lies in genuine engagement and transparent communication. Every small charity has the potential to build a legacy of support that will sustain your vital work for years to come.

Head and shoulders shot of blog writer, female with shoulder-length brown hair, distinctive glasses and a broad smile for the camera

Hello! I'm Jenny Hopkins, a charity consultant, creator of The Boiling Frog and 'Tools for Charities'. After an early career in publishing, I moved to the charity sector as CEO of a regional frontline charity. Over a period of ten years, I was able to transform it into an award-winning organisation and trusted partner of local health and social care statutory bodies. I stepped back a few years ago to undertake a part-time PhD research study on - yes, you guessed it! - charities, alongside my work mentoring leaders of small charities. My ‘Tools for Charities’ is a unique resource aimed at saving you time and stress associated with some of the regular and not-so-regular tasks associated with charity leadership and governance.

I use The Boiling Frog blog as a way to reflect and challenge my own experience and perceptions about the role of charities in society today. I am a director of Penleaf, a B-Corp accredited business consultancy. I also volunteer as a trustee of two local charities.


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