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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.

Business and the voluntary sector during the pandemic and beyond

This opinion piece is about 3 years old

Author illustration
11 June 2021
by Caroline McKenna
Chief executive at Social Good Connect

Caroline McKenna accelerated the launch of her Dundee-based social enterprise Social Good Connect in response to the pandemic. The digital search and match platform connects charitable organisations to skilled volunteers from private sector businesses and went live six months early in May 2020. In the year since, 175 charities have joined the movement and are receiving volunteer help from employees in over 30 businesses in all types of sector.

Among all the challenges and new realities of the last 15 months, one thing has stood out for me: the value of kindness. I speak daily to charity leaders, business leaders and volunteers and am heartened by the good intentions and growing connection between the sectors, but, like everything in life, there is room for even better if… moments. The will is great, but sometimes the way can seem misguided.

I’m seeing willingness from management teams in all kinds of industry to step up their contribution to the communities they serve and, in my particular area of interest, to encourage their employees to volunteer their time and expertise. With their employer’s support and in a multitude of ways for every kind of charity, hundreds of skilled professionals have been helping overstretched charities and struggling communities. As Calum McPherson from Golphin put it: “if you can help your people contribute to society by helping them volunteer on work time in a supportive framework, why wouldn’t you?”

The timing feels right for quality charity-business collaboration, whatever form it takes. Charities have faced hugely accelerated demands and have urgently sought new avenues of resource, support and ways to plug finance gaps. Joining forces shouldn’t be difficult. Communities need help, and private sector employees, often furloughed, still on reduced hours or stuck working at home, crave more social interaction and a sense of purpose. 

But for all the brilliant new collaborations I’m witness to every month, I’m also seeing frustration, missed opportunities and gaps in understanding of how charities and businesses could be working together. I hear businesses say: “we offered our tools and resources, but the charities weren’t sure how to use them – we don’t have any ongoing relationship.”  Or “we receive 20 letters a month asking for money, but the charities don’t explain how we can create a partnership, how our values align with theirs or even why they have chosen to ask us.”

In my experience, the businesses giving back most effectively are the ones moving away from the historical charity of the year and annual charity days approach. It’s less them and us and more “how we can work together in a true partnership where the benefits are equal?”.

We hear from our charity contacts regularly about the value of having forged new and often lasting relationships with businesses who not only offer skilled help through providing volunteers, but who go on to support the charities and their communities in other innovative ways.

If ever there was a moment for long-term partnerships with well-matched businessed who share a charity’s particular values and aims, this is it.

A shift in approach
There would be huge benefit in charities assigning resources to seek best-match businesses with similar values. A starting point might be simply to create a list of businesses with their ideal business persona and seek to solve societal challenges that both parties care about. Before any letters are sent, charities might ask, why have we picked that particular business and what is it about their values and purpose that appeals and could work well for us?”.

And what is the ideal outcome? Is it simply money, or is it volunteers, is it recruiting people to become engaged with a cause? What is the charity’s long-term strategy? What resources and tools are needed the most, especially in this altered landscape, and how can the business sector practically support that?

Another idea might be to identify the person within the target business and consider what might a specific partnership journey look like in the long term? Might it help to identify proactive CSR or community impact managers and set up focus groups to discuss ideas, opportunities and challenges?

During the pandemic, many businesses shifted employee wellbeing, engagement, motivation and sense of purpose even higher up their agenda. Giving back is proven to help. The more I talk to leaders, the more heartened I am to witness a shift towards more kindness and meaningful community support – inside and outside the company. A partnership approach with charities is the way forward, and true partnerships and relationships built over time will flourish. 

Caroline McKenna is chief executive at Social Good Connect