Charity workers’ fears for the future laid bare

Food train volunteers in west lothian

Rising overheads, funding cuts and increased work loads are amongst the concerns that third sector staff have -  a survey has revealed

20th February 2019 by Gareth Jones 0 Comments

Charity workers in Scotland are struggling amidst ongoing economic, social and political uncertainty – a survey has shown.

A poll conducted by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) in December 2018 has revealed staff face a battle for funding but an increase in demand for their organisations' services in 2019.

A staggering 100% of those who responded to the Third Sector Forecast for 2019 said they expect overheads to increase, whilst 82% are worried about the challenges created by funding cuts.

The vast majority (81%) of those surveyed expect demand for their services to increase in 2019 (up from 72% in 2017). Three out of every four respondents also think that the financial situation for the third sector as a whole will get worse over the next year.

Despite this, most remain confident about the future of their organisations, with nearly two thirds reporting confidence levels of seven out of 10 or higher. 

The research has been released to coincide with The Gathering, the annual conference for Scotland’s third sector.

Funders need to understand the value of grants

HIV Scotland is one example of an organisation that has had to adapt to a changing funding landscape.

The future of the organisation was thrown into doubt last autumn when the charity saw its bid for annual funding rejected by the Scottish Government.

The charity eventually gained £231,000 over a five-year period to help it become financially sustainable.

HIV Scotland chief executive Nathan Sparling said the charity’s supporters had been key in helping the organisation survive.

He said: “Flexibility and agility help organisations like HIV Scotland continue in the face of funding pressures, but I think the support we have from our beneficiaries also plays a significant role.

“Hearing supporters talk about how the organisation’s work has changed their life really boosts staff morale, making working through the difficult times all the more worth it.”

Sparling said the sector delivering the same or increased services on reduced funding is not sustainable, and disagreed with suggestions in the survey that smaller organisations are better equipped to deal with funding cuts.

He said: “Smaller organisations will feel the brunt of a shift towards “value for money” procurement contracts that seems to benefit larger charities more. If we want a really diverse range of voices feeding in to policy and decision making, then funders have to understand the real value that bricks and mortar funding provides for smaller organisations to amplify some of the most marginalised in our society.”

Anna Fowlie, chief executive of The Gathering’s organisers the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO), said the research proved that the sector needs enhanced support.

She said: “We are calling on Scottish communities to take action to champion their local charities, social enterprises and voluntary groups.

“Resilient charities still feel optimistic and are willing to innovate, but they cannot overcome the challenges they face alone. Donate, volunteer, write to your local councillor or MSP if a charity you know is struggling – please get involved and show your support however you can."

To combat uncertainty, the survey shows many organisations are devising new and innovative ways to ensure they remain resilient and well-managed despite overwhelming external pressures.

Almost three quarters (73% of respondents) think their organisation will collaborate more with others, 78% plan to develop new projects and services, two thirds plan to make changes to their funding strategies and two in five hope to invest in trading and enterprise as a means of boosting their organisation’s financial security.

Facing a battle on many fronts

Charity workers’ fears for the future laid bare

Food Train provides a range of services, delivered by volunteers, to older people in Scotland including grocery shopping home deliveries, home cooked meals, household support services and befriending services.

Despite being an award winning charity, which has drawn praise for its vital work across Scotland, Food Train has faced a battle to retain the funding which allows it to support communities who are often isolated.

Michelle Carruthers MBE, chief executive of the charity, said medium-sized organisations are feeling the pinch of local authority funding reductions.

“It is certainly a very difficult time at the moment,” she said.

“There is such a squeeze on funding from the public sector. We are often being asked to look at a cut of 10 to 20% from a budget that is already severely reduced.

“We are having to get out there more and more to ask the public for support and donations, and at the same time competition for funding from trusts and foundations is higher than ever, and their criteria is getting tighter every year.”

Despite reductions in funding across the board, demand for Food Train’s services continues to increase.

“We continue to see significant increases in the demand for our services,” Carruthers added.

“In some of our branches we can have 10 to 12 referrals for support in a single week. Most of these are coming from the public sector.

“The pressure from them to us is very significant.”

The warning to those in power is clear, if funding cuts continue then services will be forced to close – such as North Ayrshire’s Food Train service which shut in March 2018 after the charity lost its £75,000 funding package from the North Ayrshire Health and Social Care Partnership’s Integration Joint Board.

Carruthers said: “Like many organisations, we have a long history of working with people in communities to help them live well; all the evidence tells us it works, improves lives and keeps people living well at home.

“But the message that we are getting is that the cuts are meaning the statutory things are now only being funded. The things that are good for people, that can help them live well, are being cut despite all the benefits of preventative services.”