Inspiring Scotland’s Specialist Volunteer Network (SVN)
For a charitable organisation, having access to a broad range of professional skills can be challenging when resources are already stretched. Whether seeking IT or marketing expertise, financial or legal advice, a trusteeship or practical help, Inspiring Scotland’s Specialist Volunteer Network (SVN) can step in. The Specialist Volunteer Network (SVN) is one of Inspiring Scotland’s unique offering to the sector – providing free support to charities across the country.
In 2021 our Specialist Volunteer Network team supported received over 583 individual requests for support which turned into more than 2000 hours of free support to around 200 charities. This support is valued at over £600,000.
SVN Executive Elaine Crichton leads the team along with SVN and External Engagements Coordinator Tommy Seymour.
With a network of over 500 Specialist Professional Volunteers, Inspiring Scotland provides a free, personalised service to match the skills of a volunteer to the support needs of the charity, creating a relationship that is fruitful for all involved. Being a bespoke, personalised service is what makes the SVN unique. “We could just be running a database,” said Elaine “But that’s how the magic happens, that’s just what we do. People will say ‘I didn’t think you could do that’ or ‘you’ve solved all my problems in one phone call.’
“Whether that’s saving you money, making you feel good, solving a problem that’s been giving you sleepless nights – it’s all of that and more.”
In 2021 the SVN team also launched its second corporate partnership cohort with Edinburgh-based global research and consultancy group Wood Mackenzie with 21 employees signed up to support five charities. Corporate partnerships can help to connect employees with their communities as well as identify transferable skills. According to Elaine “Corporate partnerships can help to connect employees with their communities as well as identify transferable skills. You are giving back and meaningfully contributing to social change.”
One of the charities supported during the year was Comunn Eachdraidh Nis based on the Isle of Lewis. Through SVN, Wood Mackenzie Professional Volunteers supported the organisation to review their business plan taking into consideration the impact of the pandemic and results of a community consultation.
Malcolm Dickson, Research Director with Wood Mackenzie, said:
“Working for these charities has been genuinely inspiring. The dedication of the teams and the scope of what they deliver is incredible.” Another organisation who have received a wide range of Specialist Volunteer support is PEEK, which supports children and young people in the East End of Glasgow. Support provided has been in a wide range of areas such as board governance and training, strategy development, IT training, digital and communications strategies and HR support for pay benchmarking”
Michaela Collins, CEO of PEEK said SVN had given the charity “amazing support”.
“Every request for pro bono support via SVN has been met and exceeded our expectations,PEEK would not be the same charity without unwavering support.”
Looking to the future, Elaine and Tommy want to expand the reach of the network in order to help even more charities to save time and vital funds. They are eager to spread the word about how the SVN can make a difference and see it as being a vital resources in the current cost of living crisis.
Tommy explains: “We have over 500 volunteers on our books and, last year we worked with just over 200 organisations, so immediately there’s more volunteers than support requests.
“Our long term goal is to have every volunteer deployed at some point in the year and, ideally, to be at a stage where we have no volunteers free, and be taking on more volunteers.”
Elaine adds that it is as straightforward as possible for charities to put in service requests:
“It’s as simple as send us an email or give us a call. There’s no form filling.”
There are over 25,000 registered in Scotland, and every one can make a request for assistance. Accessing this professional support can save charities time and money, allowing them to concentrate on frontline services.”
Charities and Volunteers join forces to improve youth employability
The third sector forms the backbone of our communities and spends the majority of its money and time delivering essential services. While this is critically important, it means organisations are often left with precious little resources to dedicate to the core business functions that enable them to streamline, scale and innovate.
Skills-based volunteering offers charities a transformative resource: external expertise that strengthens their capacity to serve their communities.
Charities within Inspiring Scotland’s Building Brighter Future Fund all work to support disadvantaged young people into employment. Specialist Volunteer lead Elaine convened a meeting asking all charities in the BBFF portfolio if they would like to participate in a charity forum discussing how Wood Mackenzie executives could assist with projects they were working on. They then began a collaboration with Senior Leaders at business management company Wood Mackenzie that would have great and lasting results.
Each charity initially had a specific issue they were looking to resolve. The Usual Place needed help professionalising a business plan proposal. FARE was at stalemate with the Council over indemnities and wanted to resolve a commercial asset acquisition problem. Aberdeen Foyer were experiencing change management issues, and Move On wanted support with injecting more commercialism into one of their business ventures.
Addressing the problem-solving needs of charities on a shoestring budget can be quite different to the normal day-to-day work of a corporate employee. Excited to do something meaningful and new, a group of senior executives at Wood Mackenzie, led by Martin Kelly and Malcolm Dickson, worked closely with the charities. Through a series of meetings with individuals at each organisation, the executives developed an understanding of each charity’s unique context and needs. This enabled them to truly understand what each organisation was trying to achieve and why.
Working directly with different stakeholders helped both sides appreciate the value of bringing together different points of view to help solve tough challenges.
Malcolm Dickson, who worked with SSF and Aberdeen Foyer, said:
“Working for these charities has been genuinely inspiring. The dedication of the teams – and the scope of what they deliver – is incredible. Feeling like I have made even a small difference to their organisations is a great feeling. As well as sharing some of my knowledge and time, I have learned a lot from the teams themselves. As well as being charities, these are serious businesses with excellent management – so the opportunities for a mutually beneficial relationship are plentiful.”
Janet Johnston, who worked with The Usual Place, said:
“Working with The Usual Place was a fantastic opportunity to understand more of the essential work they do with young people in Dumfries and Galloway. Supporting Heather and Craig to draft a new business plan was a great collaboration. The focus was on bringing the document up to date, as part of their work to attract future funding. It’s a privilege to support their work.”
Craig McEwen, CFO The Usual Place, remarked:
“All at Woodmac have been fanatically supportive of us and our mission and have left us with a working document that is so much stronger than when we first began. I can’t thank everyone involved enough. Your time and commitment to supporting our work with our young people is greatly appreciated. “
Rhodri Thomas worked with Move On, and said:
“It’s been great working with John at Move On, and in particular, exploring the intersection of the financial and operational components of the charity versus its mission to deliver such valuable services to the community. This has given a new perspective on balancing these elements and how best to communicate them in a coherent and inspiring way.”
CEO of Move On, John Hinton, commented:
“The work is ongoing, with Wood Mac continuing to support senior Move On staff to develop an Integrated Strategy Map, which will provide staff with an easy to engage with visual link between the business plan and day to day activity.”
Pro bono initiatives such as this uniquely complement corporate inclusion strategies. By cultivating partnerships, both sides are able to work together to determine values and drivers, and execute projects accordingly.
Could your third sector organisation could benefit from this type of support? Find out more about our Specialist Volunteer Network and get in touch with the team for more information.
Our Specialist Volunteer Network can help bridge knowledge gaps
Inspiring Scotland’s Specialist Volunteer Network is a free resource to third sector organisations, providing support wherever it is needed most. A common way to use this service is to cover gaps in an organisation’s knowledge or skills. The specialists provide valuable insights and advice from an external perspective, free of charge, ensuring organisations can access services they normally would not be able to afford. This is precisely why Speak Out Scotland reached out for support.
Speak Out Scotland (SOS) is Scotland’s only male survivors’ organisation, providing complex trauma counselling and supporting services for male survivors of childhood abuse. As part of their risk management strategy, the charity wanted to develop their own income streams and become less reliant on funding. Because many referrals came from the NHS, they knew it made sense to explore contractual arrangements where the NHS would provide financial support for therapy. But with no experience having done this before, Speak Out Scotland knew that specialist support was needed.
SOS reached out to Inspiring Scotland’s Specialist Volunteer team, who arranged a meeting with a specialist who had years’ of experience working at the NHS and other public and charitable organisations. Working together, SOS developed their approach while also gaining valuable insights, contacts and advice. For example, the specialist suggested a targeted approach by initially engaging organisations where historical childhood sexual abuse was prevalent and where there was a moral obligation to support survivors, not simply a business case for providing support. SOS are now implementing a two-pronged approach – contacting organisations where there is a moral obligation to support survivors, whilst collecting data to support future business cases for support with the NHS.
This work has also led to some exciting developments, most notably, a partnership between SOS and the Scottish Players’ Football Association, the Scottish professional footballers’ union. They share the same desire to support the survivors of historical abuse in football, while raising awareness of childhood abuse and breaking the stigma that still pervades society. With the backing of the Inspiring Scotland’s Specialist Volunteers, SOS is now moving forward with the development of educational programmes, while challenging those organisations with a moral obligation to provide much needed support for Survivors.
Speak Out Scotland would urge all charities to explore and familiarise themselves with the range of specialisms volunteering through Inspiring Scotland and to consider asking for support for their existing operations; and when engaging with new initiatives. Even charities need a helping hand now and again, and this is a key resource that can and does make a difference.
Tony Marr, Development Manager, Speak Out Scotland (SOS)
Free support to improve your charity’s digital outreach
Has your charity started using digital in new and different ways over the past year? Or perhaps you’re keen to better connect with your target audience through digital, but aren’t sure where to start? You’re not alone – over the past year a number of charities have taken on new digital approaches and one question I hear often from charity staff is what should my charity be doing digitally and how can we do it well?
As manager of Inspiring Scotland’s Specialist Volunteer Network – a network of professional volunteers keen to support charities across Scotland – I’ve seen many enquiries for website or app development support, writing digital strategies, increasing digital impact and how best to keep digital information and beneficiaries safe. There are several free resources available, but sometimes choice can be overwhelming to sift through and find best practice – so I’ve pulled together 4 key free resources that every charity in Scotland looking to enhance their digital position can benefit from.
- If you need support with digital projects: Set up in 2020, the Scottish Tech Army mobilises Scotland’s tech talent for good and they’ve already worked on a huge variety of projects. They are a great resource for charities that need digital support but don’t have in-house capacity to deliver it. If you’re interested, get in touch and explain your challenge or project – the team will assess what is required to deliver and let you know if they can help.
- If you’re designing new digital services or taking existing services online: I highly recommend reviewing Catalyst’s Guide to Digital Safeguarding. It’s an easy-to-use digital tool designed to support you to keep privacy, safety and consent in mind when evolving your digital footprint.
- If you are concerned about your organisation’s cyber security: With charities increasingly reliant on IT and technology, it is important to protect your organisation from malicious cyber activity – however it can be daunting thinking where to start if you’re not an expert in this area. The National Cyber Security Centre has prepared an easy to follow guide for charities to improve their cyber security “quickly, easily and at low cost”.
- If you’re looking to skill up with digital best practice: Maybe you’re looking for the best new digital tools, or looking to increase your impact online? The Curve, set up by Third Sector Lab with support from 5 funders including Inspiring Scotland, offers third sector organisations free digital training in 90-minute workshops on a variety of topics, from online facilitation skills to developing a digital strategy.
Elaine manages Inspiring Scotland’s Specialist Volunteer Network, a network of professional volunteers keen to support charities across Scotland. If your charity could benefit from our support, do get in touch.
Specialist Volunteers support Interfaith Glasgow’s virtual governance training
To mark small charities week 2021, we’re speaking with Philip Mendelsohn, Chair at Interfaith Glasgow about how Inspiring Scotland’s Specialist Volunteer Network has provided support.
“Having engaged with Inspiring Scotland through their management of a grant programme, we noted in the very detailed introduction pack that they offered support through the network that seemed to align with our needs. We have at times found it difficult and/or costly to get the right support.
We had been planning a virtual Away Day for board members and staff and wanted to run governance training (especially for the board members). We were delighted that Elaine Crichton, an Inspiring Scotland staff member, was happy to facilitate this as a volunteer. We were able to customise the training to our needs so as to guide our board members’ thinking.
Early days yet, but it seems to have heightened (as we hoped) board members’ recognition of their responsibilities. This has also fed in to us developing and improving our policies, which IS has also assisted with by providing examples for us to build upon.
If I could give one piece of advice to organisations considering getting support from the Specialist Volunteer Network, I would say don’t be afraid to ask – they really do have a wealth of knowledge, skills and information which it could take you years to track down. They are highly approachable.”
Philip Mendelsohn is Chair at Interfaith Glasgow, part of Inspiring Scotland’s Promoting Equality and Cohesion Fund.
The impact of specialist support on small charities
“We were drawn to the Specialist Volunteer Network because of the wide range of skills and expertise provided by Volunteers and the excellent fit with help we were looking for as a charity.”
Small charities often lack the infrastructure that larger charities have for HR, IT, Finance and Business Development. On top of this, accessing specialist advice and services, such as legal advice, comes at the cost of inevitably having to redirect funding away from the frontline services that make a real difference to children’s lives.
As the Director of a child protection agency in Edinburgh, we were drawn to Inspiring Scotland’s Specialist Volunteer Network (SVN) because of the wide range of skills and expertise offered, which has added enormous value to what we do as a small charity.
SVN provided advice and support that would have cost a great deal for us to access independently. Their support was transformative and helped us build our capacity and overcome problems. And the Inspiring Scotland staff are also a great resource because they are invested and understand our charity and our needs. That means they’ve tailored the SVN support to make sure we’re connected with the right people to really make a difference for our organisation.
Support has been timely, targeted and always on point, and I’ve been really impressed at the calibre of volunteers and their level of expertise in their specific area.
If your organisation is considering getting support from the Specialist Volunteer Network, I’d say use them! We received fantastic assistance around strategic development as well as help with legal advice and securing a new office space. Getting the right kind of support from experts has ensured we are freed up to do what we do best – working to protect children from harm.
Contract Dispute Support for Youth Scotland
Youth Scotland had run into issues with a company delivering a significant IT project and it was clear we were at risk of the situation becoming a stand-off which could cost us a lot of money. We knew that we needed to obtain advice to understand what our options were but also that obtaining this advice could itself be very expensive. Having worked with Inspiring Scotland for many years as part of the CashBack for Communities portfolio we contacted our Performance Advisor to see if there was any support they could offer in this situation. Within a few hours I was put in touch with Elaine. I explained the issues we were facing and very quickly thereafter I was put in touch with lawyers at CMS Cameron McKenna Nabarro Olswang LLP who specialise in commercial contract disputes.
My experience with the lawyers was great. Although they normally deal with massive commercial contract disputes that run into several figures and more, they were generous with their time and understood that while the value of the contract we were dealing with was much less, it was still a substantial sum of money to our charity and the dispute could have significant issues for us if we couldn’t find a way to resolve it – preferably amicably. They listened to the details of the issue, had already reviewed the paperwork which we had shared, and asked me what it was were looking to achieve. I explained that we wanted to resolve this as quickly and easily as we could, avoiding a legal process if at all possible but that we did not want to take any steps that would jeopardise our ability to pursue this as an option if necessary. They explained the steps that we should take and shared their views on the pros and cons of any potential legal process. This gave us the confidence to address the matter with our contractor and led to the issue being resolved without the need for a formal legal dispute.
Overall, our experience of Inspiring Scotland’s Specialist Volunteer Network was great and knowing this type of support is available – which would be prohibitively expensive – to charities and voluntary groups is fantastic.
Mark McGeachie, Head of Partnerships & Sustainability, Youth Scotland
Scottish Tech Army: free digital help & advice during COVID-19
Entrepreneur Peter Jaco, co-founder of the Scottish Tech Army explains how his volunteer force of technologist can help charities and public sector organisations with any coronavirus-related challenges they might be facing – free of charge.
When Alistair Forbes and I launched the Scottish Tech Army (STA) on 28 April, we had no idea it would grow so big or so fast. We now have a rapid response army of over 700 highly skilled furloughed or out of work technologists who have volunteered their time to support charities, local authorities, and the Scottish Government. Many of these organisations are facing a number of technological problems during these challenging times, and the STA can help.
As a not for profit company, STA wanted to harness the world-class tech skills we have in Scotland to support people and organisations in the front line of fighting the coronavirus. For instance, many charities might have furloughed their technical staff or have problems accessing databases or communicating with donors and the people that benefit from their services. The STA can give these organisations the resources and skills they need now, as well as during the post-pandemic economic recovery.
So, if you are working for an organisation that needs some digital or technological help, the STA would love to hear from you. We have a very easy process: just get in touch via our website to tell us more about your project. We will then arrange for one of our business analysts to call you back for more details to see if it is an appropriate project for them. If we both agree to go ahead, STA will put together a team of technologists to help you build your project.
The STA have already got over 25 projects up and running both for Scottish charities and central Government. For instance, we are helping small businesses and charities to get online so they can keep trading during this period. We are looking at building apps that can help volunteers deliver services to the vulnerable, and we are supporting Argyll and Bute Council on a tourism project.
Another example is Get2gether, a charity that arranges safe-environment social activities for disabled people in Edinburgh and Lothians. They had problems with their website, which STA volunteers were able to sort out for them. Get2gether events co-ordinator Mojca Becaj said:
“Wow, I am impressed. These STA guys are magicians, they fixed our website overnight and offered to help with any other tech problems we might have.”
If you are a technologist reading this and want to volunteer your skills, we would welcome your help.
For many people in the STA who have offered to volunteer, these projects are giving them a sense of purpose and achievement in these challenging times. We want to help STA volunteers to keep their skills fresh while developing new ones and build a network of like-minded people across Scotland.
Our aim is to help Scottish organisations that have been hit by coronavirus technology challenges while also helping the many STA volunteers return to the workforce as soon as possible.
We know that sometimes technology can be a bit daunting, but we’re a friendly bunch and are very happy to have a chat with you. So, if you need help, get in touch with us.
To find out more about how the STA can help with your project or how to volunteer for the Tech Army, go to www.scottishtecharmy.org
The Journey to Charity Director
By Christopher Graham, Vice Chair of Stepping Stones for Families & CEO of The Marketing Department
I write this at a time of change for the Stepping Stones for Families (SSfF) board. We are preparing for our AGM in a few weeks, the final one for our outgoing chair. And my fellow board members will not be surprised to hear that at our January board meeting I will be standing for chair.
I’ve been on the board for a few years and my journey to becoming a board member of this great organisation started, I suspect, a tad unusually.
For nearly thirty years, SSfF had worked alongside children, young people and families to give them support, opportunities and a voice in tackling the effects of poverty and disadvantage in their lives. Yet, despite nearly three decades spent transforming lives, the work of the organisation was practically invisible outside of the sector. With the 30th anniversary of the charity’s founding fast approaching, the staff wanted to mark the occasion and celebrate what they and countless people they had supported had achieved.
Inspiring Scotland was working with SSfF to deliver family play programmes and wanted to help it tell its story.
As well as running a creative agency full time, I had been working with Inspiring Scotland since 2016 offering my services to charities they worked with as a Specialist Volunteer.
I met with Isobel Lawson, SSfF Chief Executive, on this basis to work on some ideas for how the organisation could improve its website and social media to better tell its story.
That conversation rapidly evolved into a complete rebrand. The reason for this is what we could see the website wasn’t fit for the mobile era, and worse still, the organisation’s visual style wasn’t fit for the digital area and caused confusion about what the charity did.
My colleagues and I at The Marketing Department worked closely with Isobel and her team to execute the rebrand over six months. It was the largest we had ever executed at that time. As part of our process to understand the work of the charity, and how this new brand had to be deployed, we visited many of the charity’s centres and childcare centres.
What struck me at every site was how dedicated everyone was. Every single person from top to bottom. I’d ever encountered such an organisation, in the private, public or third sectors. During the rebrand process, Isobel had mentioned her desire to recruit board members.
As the process was drawing to a close, I realised I wasn’t looking forward to it. The launch of the new brand, website and social media strategy would mean an end to working together.… or would it? Isobel and I had developed a strong working relationship and I had learnt so much about the work of SSfF and the Scottish third sector from her. So, I approached Isobel about the possibility of joining the board. She was happy to say that she had was going to ask me to consider joining once the rebrand was complete anyway!
I wanted to join because I enjoyed the work and I wanted to keep helping once the rebrand was finished. It’s really important that boards of charities have a diverse skill set that meets the needs of the organisation. In this case, I contribute my marketing, communications and design expertise.
Volunteering on the board of a non-profit organisation ticks an important box for me and my ethos: I feel like I’m contributing and giving something back. I feel like the time I give to the charity is worth it because when I read our board papers, I am often blown away by how effective our various services have been in assisting our service users.
In the interest of full transparency, I have to admit that it has also helped my business: The Marketing Department has executed numerous projects for other charities and non-profit organisations since I joined the board of Stepping Stones for Families, and we use the case study often when bidding for new work.
I also continue to offer my services to other organisations through Inspiring Scotland’s Specialist Volunteer Network and have supported 23 charities with more £12,000 worth of work free of charge.
Currently, SSfF is looking for new board members who can help support and develop the organisation as it moves towards its vision of all children and young people having an enjoyable life in a healthy, fair and safe environment where they are respected and supported to achieve their full potential. Applications from all sectors welcomed, especially those with a financial, childcare or HR background.
Most important is a desire to help make the lives of young people and families in Scotland better.
If you’d like to discuss joining us, don’t hesitate to get in touch:
Engaged HR support for Move On
Move On, a charity in Inspiring Scotland’s 14:19 and intandem funds, has been working with pro bono volunteer and HR expert Lynn Reid over an extended period of time to look at some ongoing staffing and organisational challenges. Lynn has been able to commit time to the project thanks to the flexible working approach and corporate social responsibility of her employer, Trig Avionics.
Lynn worked closely with John Hinton, Move On’s Executive Director, to help him establish HR procedures which reflect the charity’s compassionate and caring ethos. Lynn also helped him devise an away day for Move On’s board and staff which she was able to facilitate.
“Lynn has been a fantastic source of advice, counsel and ideas. The away day was a great success, with excellent participation from all involved and importantly a number of clear workstreams and actions arising from the event.”
Staff were encouraged to sign up to working on particular actions in working groups and there was a high take up rate. A number of HR issues remain to be addressed and Lynn is continuing to support Move On with the benefit of her experience and expertise.
“Thanks to the time and commitment I’ve had from Trig Avionics, I have been delighted to work with many progressive and amazing organisations like Move On; giving HR advice and guidance to support the great work that they do in our communities and for their clients. I am grateful to Inspiring Scotland for giving me the opportunity to work with their charities and social enterprises where my contribution has been truly valued. I have learned so much and have been inspired and humbled by the dedication and talent of people working in this sector and in organisations like Move On. “