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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.

Collaboration is the lifeblood of charities

This opinion piece is over 6 years old

Martin Baker believes Scottish charities are better at collaboration than other parts of the UK but we could all do more to learn from our peers

I was at the Fundraising Scotland conference recently and was struck by something very unique and special about the Scottish charity sector. In my work as a chief executive of both the Clear Lessons Foundation and the Charity Learning Consortium I travel all over the UK talking to charities doing amazing work. Whenever I’m north of the border however I’m struck by the commitment to true collaboration.

Don’t get me wrong – there are charities working closely in England and Wales. Yet there is a strong sense of community in Scotland which makes doing what charities do that bit easier. Similarly, people are very helpful about making introductions and opening doors. It’s an ideal climate within which digital can flourish. Witness the excellent work done by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations as part of the One Digital programme.

Charities face mounting pressure to reach ambitious targets whilst budgets are sliced. Noone can go it alone anymore, nor should they. I’d like to see the charity sector in every country following Scotland’s lead. Charities should identify potential partners with similar goals, then work closely with each other to reach more people, fundraise more effectively or get a common cause on the map. Sometimes this will involve collaborating with organisations who aren’t charities, as the British Heart Foundation did with Justgiving this year, leading to a 14 per cent increase in donations.

Martin Baker
Martin Baker

This collaborative approach must extend to our learning. Charities are often staffed by experts in their field, yet how often do we learn from each other?

Here’s four tips for how we could do this better:

Learn from your peers

What’s the one thing your charity could learn to unlock its potential? Perhaps there’s a charity who are winning at digital fundraising who you’d love to talk to. Pick up the phone and ask if they’d share what they’ve learned over a coffee

Seek out peer learning platforms

You can learn from your peers anywhere through your smartphone. I love reading charity leaders’ insights on Medium (I’m a fan of Jo Wolfe) or LinkedIn (Stephen Robertson from Big Issue Foundation’s writes great blogs). It’s also why I set up Clear Lessons Foundation, a free video learning platform to help charities learn from each other.

Create an action learning set

It’s lonely at the top and charity leaders can provide vital support and guidance to each other. Getting together with peers to work through a particular issue that you’re facing is invaluable. As well as learning lots, you’ll find that others are facing similar challenges. Bond have a useful guide to getting more from action learning sets.

Connect with influencers

Follow other charity leaders and influencers such as bloggers eg Beth Kanter. Not only will you learn from them but by talking to them online you might be able to grow a productive relationship.

Charities need to take a different approach to learning. Just imagine what the sector could do if we all came together and pooled our knowledge. Scotland might just be the place where that happens.

Martin Baker is chief executive of Clear Lessons Foundation, a free video learning platform for charities.