How Small is Small ?

A recent newsletter from the Small Charities Coalition asked the interesting questions “How small is small?   ....can {SCC members} think of other names to describe smaller charities?"

"Small" is a comparative adjective.
Smaller than what?
If you said of a person, or a car, or a box of chocolates, or anything - that they were "small", what would that mean?
In everyday speech that would mean that they were smaller than the norm, the typical, the average, ie: they were smaller than expected for that kind of thing.   And "micro" would mean "even more so".

Tallest man 1If the vast majority (more than 82% according to the Charity Commission's latest figures) of charities have incomes less than £100K then charities with an income less than £100K are NOT small - they are just "ordinary" - they are the norm.
So they should NOT be called "small charities" at all - they are just "charities" - the normal every-day standard-sized charity.

A person who is 5'10" (1.78m) isn't "small" just because there are a few people who are taller than 7' (2.13m)

If it is necessary to distinguish charities on the basis of their size (ie: in terms of their annual incomes) the comparators should be reserved for the minority which have significantly higher incomes than the majority of "ordinary" charities - eg: there could be "charities", "rich charities" and "wealthy charities" (which would also put a better focus on why, and the implication, they need to be identified as different from "ordinary" charities).

I was tempted to say that there could be charities, fat charities and obese charities, but that might be a step too far  .
But it does illustrate a rather more subtle, and therefore less obvious, point about the use of terms like "small" and "micro" to describe what are actually "normal" charities.

Words SmallAndLargelike "small" and "micro" tend to carry with them a pejorative implication - of being a bit "less good than...", or "inferior to...", the norm.
The classical example of that is the dispensation, granted by the Charity Commission, to allow "small" charities to use Receipts & Payments accounts rather than accruals accounts.   But R&P accounting is widely regarded (particularly by "professional" accountants) as being an inferior cut-down accounting system, not least because it is not capable of giving a "true and fair view" of the charity's financial situation (overlooking the fact that full "true and fair view" accruals accounts didn't do much to prevent the financial debacle of the collapse of the Kids Company - one of the "rich" charities).

And by the same argument:  has Small Charity Support got its name wrong?
Shouldn't we be just "Charity Support"?