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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.

The private sector needs a thriving charitable sector

This opinion piece is about 2 years old

Author illustration
10 November 2020
by Sandy MacDonald
Global Head of Corporate Sustainability at Standard Life Aberdeen Plc

Standard Life Aberdeen recognises that recovery from Coronavirus will mean everyone stepping up to support #NeverMoreNeeded community services

As someone who works closely with charities through my corporate role, and also as a serial volunteer and trustee, I’ve been following the #NeverMoreNeeded hashtag since May.  I’ve also been privileged to witness the importance of the charity response to help some of the communities hardest hit during the Covid-19 pandemic, through my work as an Edinburgh Poverty Commissioner.

I feel strongly that it shouldn’t be left to the not-for-profit sector to make its own case, and that it’s important for others to speak out too. Especially since I’ve seen some unexpected  takes recently on what the charity sector needs to do to build trust, which suggest the sector should be more humble and essentially, I guess, be grateful for any charity it receives... I find this concept outdated and wanted to take a little time to explain my support for #NeverMoreNeeded.

I’ve led our company’s charitable engagement for over seven years. Over that time, the trend has been consistently away from arms-length philanthropic donations to ever more integrated strategic partnership working across sectors. There are a number of clear examples of how and why we rely on effective partnership with charities and social enterprises to achieve our corporate aim:

  • reaching more diverse pools of talent and providing supported, inclusive recruitment pathways to make diverse recruitment more successful
  • supporting diversity and inclusion more generally – we work with charities to improve our insight on what works, to collaborate with our employee networks and make us a more inclusive organisation  
  • policy insight – we deliver better outcomes for all of our stakeholders because of insight and research undertaken by think tanks and activist organisations on issues such as fair work, environmental impact, financial inclusion and more
  • health and wellbeing – we work with charities to support our employees with their physical and mental wellbeing, and beyond supporting individuals, to achieve the cultural shift required in our workplace

There’s still a role for some traditional community impact and employee engagement too. On a recent day off, spent out and about in Edinburgh visiting a museum and a local park, I was reminded how much of our cultural heritage and the wellbeing of our communities is delivered via not-for-profit organisations, supported by public and private sector collaboration. Our people too, know how important arts, sport, environmental organisations and more are in their lives and those of their families. They use their volunteer leave to coach football teams, run scout troops, help with after-school clubs, to mentor people and to take on trustee roles. We give them leave to support these activities not as an act of charity, but because we benefit too.

But for me, the hashtag isn’t only about making the case for the current benefits, it’s about understanding why we now need to emphasise it even more and build even stronger partnerships. Why #NeverMoreNeeded and why now?

And my answer is – firstly because of how starkly the pandemic has emphasised, and exacerbated the inequalities and the social and environmental challenges we all face, and secondly because it’s clear we’re at a pivotal moment in time where we have an opportunity to reflect on how we move forward.

This year it’s been more evident than ever that charities are not soft – they are doing vital, life-saving work in the heart of communities. They’ve also shown what most of us already knew – that private businesses have no monopoly on innovation. In the UK, during my lifetime, we have outsourced a lot of vital services to the third sector that in other countries around the world remain owned by government. This shift began because of a conscious recognition that there are many areas where charities are more trusted by communities and are more effective at delivering those services and the required outcomes. Unfortunately, over time the level of funding, and the security and predictability of it, has not been sustained.

If we’re to deliver the type of fair, inclusive and sustainable recovery that all sectors appear to agree on the need for, then we need to have an honest conversation about how you better enable the right outcomes and the role that all sectors can play. My feeling is we cannot continue with this pattern of ever decreasing circles of funding, as if the only gain to be found is one of cost efficiency. 

I also believe it’s vital that charities who represent some of the most vulnerable in our society should be able to challenge those in power robustly, without fear or favour. We will not get the honest, helpful input we need if charities are expected to stand back and meekly accept hand-outs. (And there’s a world of difference between rare breaches of fundraising standards, which we should obviously address, and charities being able to communicate passionately and robustly on behalf of the people they support. I’m tired of the two being conflated.)

Speaking as a representative of the private sector, I believe we need to lean in to our partnerships and cross-sectoral collaboration – the diversity of thought and perspective that comes from different sectors working together is what will help us to find the best approaches. And like funders from within the charity sector – Robertson Trust, Corra Foundation and more – have shown, look at how we can provide a more sustainable and robust approach to enable charities to plan for the long-term, make changes they need and focus confidently on their charitable outcomes.

When I think about what I feel we need to do as a society, or even for our company, over the next year or two to achieve the recovery we need, we simply won’t achieve the right outcomes without the partnership and provocation we receive from our friends in the not-for-profit sector. Thank you, you are #NeverMoreNeeded.

Does your business want to do more to support the community and voluntary sector in your area? Check out SCVO's top tips on easy ways to do that.  



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Rosie Nicol
about 2 years ago

I will not be humble, I will boast with pride about the contribution made by our volunteers. We are not running a covid specific project, but we have been making our community a good place to be for many years and will go on doing so, but only if we get the recognition we deserve instead of getting taken for granted! Local authority budgets will be cut. We have been told that the community needs to do more, we are already doing loads, and should not be expected to take on more without support.