The past 18 months have seen SCVO’s policy team move our policy focus to issues impacting the voluntary sector’s operating environment. This means that much of what we do now and well into the future will be relevant to most Scottish organisations. 

It also means that we need to think differently about how we engage and involve such a huge range of organisations in our work, and we’re seriously considering how we can work with you to ensure that your reality and needs are reflected in what we do in SCVO’s policy team. 

We’ve swiftly ruled out picking up the phone to 40,000+ voluntary organisations. It’s impossible, so I won’t beat myself up about failing on that one. In fact, I don’t feel any pressure for us to ‘increase’ the number of organisations we speak to in our policy work. I’d like us to, but that’s not the indicator of success here. What we really want to do is have fairer, broader, and more representative engagement. 

We want to engage with organisations working in different areas and parts of the country that we’ve never spoken to. We want to talk to more people that don’t work in policy – business development professionals, senior leaders, and managers of small, medium, and large organisations. We want to link up more with local and thematic intermediaries, who are vital to enhancing our work. All of that takes work from us! 

Over the coming year, we will be looking at how we transform our engagement with voluntary organisations across all our policy work. But, to get to that point, we need to try different approaches to see what works and when. We’ve made a small scale start on that, and my hope is that these small actions, and what we learn from them, will lead to concrete change in how we work with our members and non-members.  

For example, we want to reach smaller and medium-sized organisations that are less known to us, often because they don’t have a policy officer or capacity. We’ve been working with a researcher to conduct 45 to 50 in-depth interviews with randomly selected organisations across Scotland based on factors such as income and location. It’s only a pilot, but it is already helping us test and develop messaging on funding and inform how we engage with these organisations beyond now. 

When asked if their organisation wanted to engage more in SCVO’s policy work, I was struck by the number of organisations that said “Yes, in theory.” The reality for many is that they simply don’t have the capacity – or the flexibility – to get more involved. It’s a small insight from a fountain of evidence, but an important one that will help us shape our expectations and approach in securing their views going forward. 

Another approach we’re focused on, and will be in the year ahead, is having much more concentrated and deeper conversations on specific issues. I recently invited CEOs and senior leaders of Scottish voluntary sector intermediaries to a 30 to 45-minute one-to-one catch-up on their experiences with public sector funding. I’m writing up my findings to share with participants and for a broader discussion on policy implications and potential partnership working with SCVO’s intermediaries network

More critical than any report or subsequent discussions have been my interactions with 14 senior leaders. These calls gave me a view into their lives leading intermediary bodies, the challenges they face, and not least the fantastic work their organisations do to support the sector. I think this, along with our other engagement work, helped me to speak more authentically at a recent evidence session with the Scottish Parliament’s Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee. 

These are just some examples of us testing new approaches to involving Scotland’s voluntary sector in our policy work. It’s less visible than a generic mail-out to everyone. Still, I think these things will strengthen our policy work, help us to truly co-develop solutions, build stronger ongoing relationships, and ultimately transform our engagement with voluntary organisations on issues that really do matter to them! 

Regardless of the above and what we have planned, you can very easily book a 30-minute catch-up with me on a Tuesday or Thursday with no set agenda. Just listening to your experiences as one of Scotland’s many thousands of voluntary organisations will improve what I do, what our team does, and how SCVO’s policy work speaks for you.