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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.

Time to deliver on diversity

This opinion piece is about 2 years old

When I think of the sector, I am often reminded of Oliver Twist “Please sir, can I have some more?”  Charities change and shape our lives, our environment and our society.  Despite their importance, some charities have their existence in constant jeopardy due to precarious funding.

For others, it is not front of mind at all. 

The top 300 charities registered in Scotland are on a much bigger scale.  They represent only 1% of charities in Scotland but control 73% of the total annual income.

At £13.17bn annual income, Scotland’s charity sector is not just bake sales and sponsored events, but is immense and complex, even if not everyone realises it.

New research from the David Hume Institute analysed the leaders of the top 300 Scottish registered charities by income.  The research found that despite the efforts of campaigns like #CharitySoWhite and Young Trustee, there is still a long way to go before the sector benefits from more diversity of thought in its leadership.

In a sector where the majority of the workforce is female, only 1 in 3 of the top leaders is female and only 1 in 50 were ethnic minorities.

Like other sectors, charities are in the spotlight for diversity of staff and boards. Many boards are now actively considering the organisational risks. A survey of the sector found that 1 in 3 charities identified lack of diversity as a risk in the next 12 months.

Given its size and influence, all charity leaders must now set an example for diversity and champion change.

The Institute also found that 1 in 25 of the leaders (4%) hold a top leadership position in another organisation within the top 300 charities. Individuals holding multiple board memberships is something that many will recognise no matter what scale their charity operates in. It can bring perspectives from across the sector, but it can also exacerbate group think and create conflicts of interest. It also contributes to narrowing the number of leaders who influence significant parts of Scottish life.

Diversity of thought is not simple but there are many benefits.

The evidence shows diversity of thought helps organisations be more responsive to customer needs, operate better services, and improves risk management. Charities are no different.

Many charities recognise the threat of a lack of diversity on their board. Increasingly, advertisements for charity trustee recruitment are prioritising different skills and experience including lived experience to help increase diversity of thought at board level. This needs to become standard practice if we are to benefit from diversity and inclusion.

Charities in Scotland touch every aspect of our lives. They exist for public benefit. Its leaders shape our society. By better reflecting the communities they serve, charities will be stronger. Every leader and decision maker should be working to improve the diversity of thought in their senior teams and whole organisation.  It’s time not not just to champion change but to deliver on it! 

The David Hume Institute will host an online event discussing this research with panelists Theresa Shearer (Enable Scotland) and Manish Joshi (Strathclyde Student Union) with David Hume Institute director, Susan Murray on Wednesday 9th February at 12.30. To register visit

Lucy Higginson is policy and research officer at the David Hume Institute