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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

Civil society must focus on mission not money

This news post is almost 6 years old

The third sector needs to become much bolder if it is to achieve the change society needs, says the Sheila McKechnie Foundation

Too many civil society organisations are focusing on making money rather than pursing their mission, a new major peice of research has found.

The Sheila McKechnie Foundation Social Change Project has found that while these organsiations hols the key to tackling some of society’s most pressing challenges, they need to focus on creating change rather than survival.

The Social Power: How Civil Society Can Play Big and Truly Create Change studied social change and what can be done to strengthen the work of civil society.

It is based on a year-long conversation with a wide range of organisations including 38 Degrees, Save the Children and the Eden Project.

The study focuses on what could be achieved if the third sector was working to its potential, and what effect this could have on social change.

The report states: “What we saw and heard shows us that civil society is driving extraordinarily powerful social change – from society-wide changes in attitudes and cultural norms (equal marriage), to important changes in legislation (Living Wage), to genuine transformations in local communities and individual lives.

“We saw that civil society is often at the heart of the most significant social change. Indeed, it is where much of that change originates and is brought to fruition by working symbiotically with government and, increasingly, with the private sector, the media and the arts.”

However it warns that groups have become too focused on raising money, highlighting that the sector is working to commercial models and cultures that may not allow organisations to work in the ways they need to.

Sue Tibballs, chief executive of the Sheila McKechnie Foundation, said: "We urgently need the sector to embrace its inner radical and take a much bolder and braver approach to driving change, not least by putting parochial concerns aside and genuinely collaborating.

"At the same time, we need government and other funders to step up the funding and then step out of the way so civil society organisations can put that bolder, braver approach into action and unleash the sector’s full social power."

John Downie, director of public affairs for the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) said organisations should take note of the findings.

He said: “While the Scottish third sector enjoys a fairly high level of trust compared to its other UK counterparts, this shouldn’t be taken for granted and charities need to be more innovative than ever in how they work, particularly when it comes to funding applications.

“While the clear message from funders is that they want to see organisations working in partnership, we know that the process for grants and contracts can be competitive, so a bigger push from funders to encourage and accept more collaborative bids would be a positive step. However the effort must also come from the sector itself, as by bringing together the strengths and expertise of different organisations to deliver better outcomes, we know we can create real and lasting change.”