In line with our purpose to support people and organisations realise their potential, so that together we can impact lives and communities for the better, Livingston James, in partnership with SCVO, held the first in a series of virtual Board Trustee Forums. With a diverse range of voluntary sector organisations participating the discussion involved a variety of subjects including; ensuring the long term financial sustainability of charities, remote versus face to face service delivery, utilisation of volunteers, and how SCVO can directly support voluntary sector trustees.

Funding and Long Term Financial Sustainability

Funding and financial sustainability are long term challenges facing the voluntary sector.  The Covid-19 pandemic has added additional pressures, with concerns raised that income would be reduced due to increased requirements for emergency funding, unpredictability of future income associated with trading income or individual donations, and affordability of services historically delivered by staff currently deemed as ‘vulnerable’. The question of access to Community Jobs Scotland employees came up. The funding for a new phase was already uncertain, and that had been exacerbated by the current situation. SCVO continues to press government for a decision.

Voluntary organisations are encouraged to proactively engage with current funders to communicate the potential impact of the pandemic on agreed outcomes.  It is likely that for many organisations, the change in delivery models will result in a change in impact, which funders should be made aware of, and encouraged to continue supporting. It was heartening to see that many funders are being flexible.

Volunteer Engagement

With the majority of organisations utilising and some directly relying on volunteers, concerns were raised around the impact of both volunteer ‘fatigue’ and the current and potential generalised shielding of perceived vulnerable groups who more often can be the life blood of the volunteer work force.

Moving forward, the importance of boards understanding their collective responsibility for volunteers was discussed in terms of future risk exposure and whether risk disclaimers were something that charities should and would need to consider if and when people at risk of catching coronavirus return to the workplace or to volunteering. Approaching the corporate sector to bolster the available pool of volunteers was a key initiative identified. Proactively targeting private businesses and encouraging furloughed employees to support local charities through day to day volunteering, supporting the senior team or board in strategic business planning, or becoming a Board Trustee was suggested.  A future virtual forum specifically focusing on engaging with private businesses will be explored.

Remote Service Delivery

With current social distancing arrangement in place, many voluntary organisations have either needed to suspend service delivery or move to remote service delivery, utilising digital technology. Concerns were raised for particular services or user groups whether the impact was/would be the same as face to face engagement and that remote delivery could have a negative impact of demand or potential uptake. Once restrictions are relaxed, some organisations may deem continued remote delivery to be both appropriate and relevant. However, in such circumstances it would be important to closely monitor impact ensuring the outcomes delivered matched or exceeded pre Covid-19.

Use of Technology

Out-with service delivery, it was acknowledged that digital technology was changing rapidly and that it was important that all voluntary organisations continued to build their internal capacity utilising new digital tools and techniques. Due to Covid 19 and social distancing, digital technology has allowed increased flexibility and encouraged new ways of thinking including virtual board meetings / AGMs.

With new working practices having been developed, collectively it was agreed that post Covid-19 organisations shouldn’t simply revert back to old ways of working.  SCVO, through its various digital services, directly supports voluntary organisations maximise the benefits associated with emerging technology, and participants were encouraged to explore these service offers from SCVO further, as appropriate.

SCVO Information Service

Only half the organisations involved in the discussion were aware or had used the SCVO Information Service, which is an online knowledge and enquiry service delivered by experts. SCVO provide information, free resources and guidance on a range of subject matters including: Good Governance; Financial & Business Management; Funding; Legislation & Regulation; Managing Staff & Volunteers and Mediation. Anna Fowlie, SCVO Chief Executive, emphasised that SCVO’s mission was to support people to take voluntary action to help themselves and others, whilst also bringing about social change and she encouraged all voluntary organisations to reach out and seek assistance when appropriate

In drawing the discussion to a close there was an acknowledgement that across the voluntary sector chief executives and chairs have strong networks and receive significant support from ACOSVO, whereas Board Trustees can often feel more isolated or even lonely. Stressing that whether individually or as boards ‘you are not alone’ Livingston James and SCVO both expressed their desire and intention to directly support this community acknowledging everyone needs support sometimes.

Should you wish to participate in future virtual board trustee forums please contact [email protected]