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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.

Scene setting

Precarious funding risks the voluntary sector’s contribution to Scotland’s economy and society. We need reliable funding, and SCVO is committed to championing solutions that will help maintain and enhance the voluntary sector’s presence and role in Scottish society. Research and engagement underpin these efforts.

SCVO is carrying out a range of engagement and research initiatives connected to funding. Examples include our in-depth interviews with randomly selected organisations based on factors such as income and location, and our partnership work with stakeholders to build a Scotland-focused research community called the Scottish Third Sector Tracker.

On top of broad representative activities such as these, we also want to dig deeper into the funding experiences of specific groups. This has a dual aim of working with those groups to improve their situation and to extract learning and solutions that might be applied elsewhere or support findings of other research and engagement around funding.

One of these groups is voluntary sector intermediaries. These organisations experience considerable challenges in their funding just like many other voluntary organisations. Those challenges are not always unique and can offer a snapshot of the many barriers that most, if not all, voluntary organisations face.

Focusing on intermediaries provides a pre-defined group of organisations to work with and who share similar roles in providing assets, systems, services, and networks upon which the wider voluntary sector relies. An Intermediaries Network already exists from which gather intelligence and to work together to find solutions.   

Our approach

We invited SCVO's Intermediaries Network members to book a 30-minute meeting with our Policy & Public Affairs Manager. These one-to-one conversations aimed to help SCVO listen to and learn from the experiences of intermediaries that receive Scottish Government funding, to inform our policy and influencing now and in the future.

SCVO spoke to senior leaders from 13 intermediaries between June and July 2021. Combined, these intermediaries covered eight distinct policy areas. Questions unearthed the issues and challenges with Scottish Government funding faced by intermediaries. They probed the impact on organisations and sought solutions that could reduce this.

We spoke to organisations that receive various restricted and unrestricted sources of income from several Scottish Government departments and via organisations who disseminate funds for the Scottish Government. Funding amounts varied between £50,000 and £1.5 million. Nearly all organisations received core funding from the Scottish Government, comprising anywhere between 30% and 90% of an organisation's total income.

Funding from the Scottish Government was often the largest single lump sum received. Most of the organisations we spoke to rely heavily on core funding from the Scottish Government. Some say that if they lost core funding, they would either close their doors or seriously scale back their operations.

This paper does not disclose the identity of any of the organisations SCVO interviewed. SCVO has sought further feedback from those organisations that kindly took part in the conversations, as well as from the broader membership of SCVO’s Intermediaries Network at a meeting in February 2022.

About voluntary sector intermediaries

What intermediaries do

Intermediaries are voluntary sector organisations whose members are primarily other voluntary sector organisations that share a common interest or purpose. Intermediaries are also called umbrella bodies, membership bodies or network bodies, and their main role is to support and represent their members.

There are over 60 national intermediaries represent organisations working in the same field, such as youth work, arts, health, or heritage. There are also 32 Third Sector Interfaces (TSIs) in Scotland, one for each local authority area. Each TSI is embedded within the community it serves and has a deep, localised knowledge of the voluntary sector in their area.

Scotland’s intermediaries directly reach thousands of member organisations, and indirectly support many thousand more organisations and individuals across Scotland. There are over 40,000 voluntary sector organisations in Scotland. These organisations are supported by a strong network of Intermediaries that inform members about current policy issues, communicate the views of their members to policy makers, and provide a range of vital services. 

Intermediaries provide communication channels and facilitate networking between members. They also provide a range of practical support services, from general information and signposting to direct services such as members’ helplines, payroll, finance, HR, and IT. Many intermediaries provide organisational and staff development support, including support with business planning, funding, and tailored training for staff. They also help develop the evidence base for policy and practice and facilitate the sharing of good practice.

Some intermediaries support hundreds of groups. Others provide tailored support to a small number of organisations. But all intermediaries indirectly reach beyond their direct members to thousands of local communities and individuals across Scotland.

Why intermediaries are important

When we talk about a high-performing economy, we recognise the need for there to be reliable infrastructure that connects all the different parts and enables goods and services to flow. Just as the economy relies on solid infrastructure, so to do individual sectors such as Scotland’s voluntary sector. Infrastructure makes up the systems that are the backbone of the sector, needed to help organisations achieve more than they could on their own and to boost the sector’s potential. 

Voluntary organisations – particularly those that are small, local, or specialist – need support from intermediaries that know their geographical areas or policy issues and can support frontline organisations with securing funding, maintaining good governance, staying informed, and keeping costs down by offering shared core services that any organisation needs to operate. Intermediaries provide a valuable entry point to accessing the information, knowledge, and skills that they need.

That entry point is also crucial for government, parliament, and the wider public sector. It provides an interface between the voluntary sector and public bodies to involve citizens and civil society organisations in the design, delivery, and scrutiny of policy, projects, and services. Intermediaries’ understanding of their areas means they are often well placed to manage government funding for their sector, and they can be a bridge into the Scottish Government and Parliament for organisations less able to speak openly about big issues. Not only this, but intermediaries also connect civil servants and politicians with beneficiaries who they otherwise would have no access to; those furthest from the mainstream of society and who tend to view official communications with distrust.

The pandemic has highlighted the importance of fostering the sector’s infrastructure. The Scottish Government worked closely with intermediaries at a national and local level to identify needs and get money to people and communities. Funds were designed and managed in partnership with these bodies, who were recognised for their vital contribution as community anchors and trusted to disseminate funds. The pandemic revealed the importance of solid voluntary sector infrastructure not only to the preparedness and resilience of Scotland’s voluntary sector but also of the public sector.

Last modified on 26 January 2023
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