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Supporting Scotland's vibrant voluntary sector

Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations is the membership organisation for Scotland's charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises. Charity registered in Scotland SC003558. Registered office Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh EH3 6BB.

Photo: Lewis Houghton / Edinburgh Children's Hospital Charity, Scottish Charity Award winners 2021

Strategy for 2023-28

Ambitious for SCVO,
ambitious for the voluntary sector

Setting the scene

As we launch this new five-year strategic plan, Scotland’s voluntary sector is in turbulent times. We’re still feeling the impact of the pandemic and have now been hit by the worst economic situation in decades. The war in Ukraine shows no signs of ending and the political environment is volatile. Inequalities are growing and the climate/nature emergency looms ever larger. Charities, social enterprises and community organisations have simultaneously never been more needed and never been more under threat.

The Third Sector Tracker provides robust, longitudinal evidence of the challenges facing the sector:

“Rising costs and no increase in funding have resulted in us having to dip in to reserves to cover basic operating costs.”

“Cost of living [is] not matched by income received meaning that staff are disadvantaged, and staff retention and recruitment are seriously adversely impacted upon.”

“The importance of multi-year funding and an acknowledgement that inflationary adjustments need to be made to ensure that voluntary sector organisations are able to maintain good staff on good quality employment contracts - the turnover of staff is both exhausting and disruptive.”

“The lack of inflationary increase to our funding is the most unfair aspect of our current arrangements, we effectively suffer a cut in funding year on year.”

A vibrant voluntary sector is at the heart of a healthy society, economy and democracy. Despite the many challenges, there is cause for optimism. There’s a growing recognition of the value of our sector in supporting our social fabric and delivering essential services, as well as adding economic value and protecting the environment. Embracing digital approaches has extended the reach and effectiveness of many voluntary organisations. And collaboration within the sector and with the public and private sectors is stronger.

The environment voluntary organisations operate in doesn’t make it easy to survive, let alone thrive. SCVO is determined to address the things that make our members’ lives difficult, so they can focus on the vital work they do for people and communities. The financial resilience of the sector has been fragile for a long time and the widely accepted need for systemic change is urgent.

Whether your organisation is big or small, national or local, however it’s constituted, we’ve got your back on the issues that you might not have the time or inclination to engage in. We listen to, and advocate for, our membership and the wider sector, creating systemic change by addressing the challenges you face, delivering services to help you flourish, and celebrating your achievements.

As well as delivering excellent services and products, our ambition over the course of these next five years is that the voluntary sector is recognised and valued as a critical aspect of Scotland’s society both economically and socially as well as in relation to our national ambitions on the environment and sustainability.

SCVO swung into action at the start of the pandemic, providing support to our members and the wider sector and fighting the sector’s corner at a national level. We learned a lot from that and developed new areas of expertise that we’re taking forward to improve what we do every day. And the team has swung into action once again in response to the cost-of-living crisis, which is impacting on voluntary organisations large and small across the country, and of course impacting on the people and causes they support.

SCVO is not immune to these pressures and a focus for us in the coming years will be on our own financial resilience, our own journey to becoming a net zero organisation and championing equality, inclusion and diversity.

We hope over the course of the next five years things will have changed for the better and we’re confident SCVO will play its part in helping the sector weather the storms.

SCVO’s Convenor, Andrew Burns & Chief Executive, Anna Fowlie

The power of the voluntary sector

Our sector in all its diversity is a powerful force for positive change and a significant part of our economy.
We want to make sure that’s recognised and valued.

Voluntary organisations from village halls to campaigners are vehicles for people and communities to participate in a healthy democracy, create social justice and enhance the quality of life. Voluntary organisations are often the voice of the forgotten; the people who are most impacted but least able to act.

Voluntary organisations play a major role in ensuring a just transition to net zero and tackling the climate and nature emergencies.

Voluntary organisations bring particular strengths to addressing social needs and enhancing our lives, both through their actions and their deep insights. Our volunteers and staff bring time, skills and passion, adding social capital to addressing societal challenges.

Our sector is diverse, complex and often misunderstood and under-appreciated. We must continue to develop our capacity to address multiple entrenched social, economic and environmental problems. Working collectively will enable us to make a bigger difference.

Our sector is the glue that holds communities together. We bring innovative solutions, uphold human rights, support the most vulnerable, engage in prevention, nurture creativity and press for system change. Our diversity is our core strength.

The sector is present in every aspect of our economy from retail to tourism, the justice system to the arts. It brings massive research capacity that is changing people’s lives.

Members matter

SCVO has over 3,000 members and supporters across the whole of Scotland, and that number is growing every day. They come in all shapes and sizes from very small, local, volunteer-run organisations to large, national service providers and campaigning organisations, looking for everything from access to specific services to being part of a movement.

All SCVO members sign up to our values statement:

SCVO members believe in a thriving voluntary sector in Scotland that advances equality, tackles poverty, delivers a more inclusive, fair and cohesive society with participation and wellbeing of people and communities at its heart.

We, as an organisation, share those values and actively work towards achieving them through actions large and small, as appropriate to our aims and objectives.

Hearing from our members and the broader sector makes us a better organisation. It helps us improve our services and gives us insights to inform our policy and influencing work. The larger and more diverse our membership, the more cost-effective we can be and the more legitimate our voice is. By offering a range of member benefits and building a sense of collective activism in the sector, we will continuously grow our membership community.

Building on My SCVO, we will actively engage with our vibrant membership community to personalise our services and keep them relevant. We will enable our members to be ambitious for themselves and their communities, be more resilient and navigate the external environment. We will promote excellence in governance, digital capacity, diversity and inclusion.

“Running a small charity, you’re often just a conversation away from getting the specialist info you need, but the logistics of finding the right person to have the right conversation with at the right time are often so challenging. The service you offer is a perfect match for that need.”

“You’ve done an excellent job biting back about the real risk within the third sector of charities disappearing without longer term funding and the knock-on effect of losing good staff due to uncertain futures.”

Our vision

A thriving voluntary sector at the heart of a successful, fair and inclusive Scotland.

Our mission

We champion the role of voluntary organisations in building a flourishing society and support them to do work that has a positive impact.

Strategic aims and objectives

We will champion, and raise the profile of, the sector, its impact and challenges.

Our objectives which achieve this aim are:

  • Engage with Scottish Government, UK Government, local government and policy-makers to make sure policy and legislation is developed collaboratively and implemented in a way that best supports our sector
  • Engage with public and private sector stakeholders to ensure our sector is regarded as a respected peer and its role in national life is better supported
  • Engage proactively with the media to increase understanding of charities, community groups and social enterprises, why they exist and the difference they make
  • Campaign on issues that matter to the sector as a whole
  • Generate high-quality research and evidence to inform, provoke debate and influence public policy

Our objectives that will achieve this aim are:

  • Offer high quality, trusted information, advice and services
  • Provide comprehensive and affordable learning and development
  • Champion inclusion, equality and diversity within the sector
  • Create and join spaces to explore complex challenges, find solutions and influence change
  • Build on our strong track record and established partnerships to build digital capacity in the sector and tackle digital exclusion
  • Support the sector to address climate change and achieve a just transition, leading by example in our journey to achieve net zero
  • Support the sector to recruit, retain and develop a skilled workforce and to help those who employ staff to offer Fair Work

Our objectives that will achieve this aim are:

  • Being a good employer and valuing our staff team to fulfil our aspirations for the sector
    • improve our Investors in People status from Gold to Platinum in the coming years
    • ensure our staff are engaged and skilled
    • build on our anti-racism work to strengthen our approach to equality, diversity and inclusion
  • Becoming financially resilient to maintain and improve our support for the sector
    • grow and diversify our income
    • be affordable to our members
    • make sure our income-generation is aligned to our values and purpose
    • make sound, forward-looking decisions on our properties
  • Being a digital-savvy organisation
    • continue to grow our reputation as a sector leader on digital capacity building and digital inclusion
    • ensure SCVO has systems and process that are modern, efficient and fit for purpose
    • ensure our staff have the skills, equipment and connectivity they need to do their jobs well
  • Engaging regularly and proactively with our members and the wider voluntary sector
    • communicate with the sector in ways that suit them, with a clear purpose and mutual benefit
    • showcase and amplify our members’ stories and impact, and listen to their voices
    • celebrate success and share learning
  • Becoming a climate neutral organisation
    • make measurable progress towards fulfilling our climate neutral pledge
    • implement our environmental strategy
    • empower our staff and those of the organisations that share our buildings to take steps to reduce their carbon footprints

Photo: Maggie Lawrie. Strathmore Community Rugby Trust, Scottish Charity Award winners in 2020


The voluntary sector contributes to every national outcome in Scotland’s National Performance Framework. Every aspect of SCVO’s work is adding value to the sector’s contribution, collectively or as individual charities, social enterprises and community groups. This strategy sets out where and how we can make the most difference.

Our responsibilities are to our members and to the wider voluntary sector and the wide range of activities SCVO undertakes have the interests of the sector at heart.

SCVO is going from strength to strength. Over the timeframe of this Strategic Plan, we will grow our ambitions and deliver our promises. We believe the voluntary sector is a force for good in Scotland and will do everything we can across all our functions to secure its success.

Tell us what you think

We'd love to hear your thoughts, comments and feedback on our strategy. Your voice is so important to help us represent the voluntary sector.

Get in touch