Carnegie UK Trust have created a step-by-step guide to ensuring your board understands what it needs to do in relation to the independence referendum
With less than two months to go, how far are charities preparing for possible constitutional change? At recent Carnegie UK Trust seminars, run in partnership with the Association of Chief Officers of Scottish Voluntary Organisations, some charities said they had taken the issue to the board room. In the hope of helping others, Carnegie has developed a ten step guide.
1) Read the guidance
Many of us don’t have experience of working on referendums and the guidance from the Electoral Commission and OSCR should be our first point of reference.
2) Ask for support
Intermediary bodies can provide resources for guidance and support, partner small charities with larger charities to ensure that they are kept informed and organise events on common themes, concerns, or by groups of beneficiaries.
3) Engage your trustees
Trustees should debate what potential constitutional change could mean for the organisation before taking action. Would putting the referendum on your risk register help to focus the minds of trustees as an issue to take account of?
4) Think through whether your structures are fit for purpose
The referendum is an opportunity for charities to make changes to brand, identity and strategy and to test new ways of working which may prove more effective in meeting beneficiaries’ needs.
5) Think about your funding model
Concerned about the impact of constitutional change on your funding? Ask your funders to confirm their area of benefit and whether they think their approach might change.
6) Speak to your staff and volunteers
Give staff and volunteers the opportunity to air any concerns about the organisation’s approach to the referendum. Even a simple statement of neutrality minimises the risk of staff and volunteers discussing the referendum without knowing the charity’s position.
7) Focus on your beneficiaries
The referendum is an opportunity to improve the citizenship of your beneficiaries and to get service users’ views into the mainstream debate.
8) Brief colleagues in the rest of the UK
The impact of constitutional change does not stop at the border; it may also be felt by organisations based in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. So, involve UK counterparts in planning for potential constitutional change.
9) There is no correct response but there is an opportunity
There is an opportunity to ask both campaigns about their vision for the future of Scotland’s third sector while maintaining a neutral, policy-focused position.
10) Review post-September 2014 and report back to the board
Trustees should set aside time after the vote to explore whether the outcome has any direct effect on their activities or governance.
Overall, it is important to note that even in the event of a no vote, the political landscape will shift with different priorities in the run up to the Westminster and Scottish Parliament elections. While navigating the political landscape, trustees have a duty to keep their charity’s objectives and beneficiaries at their core.