The consultation, ‘Your voice, our vision’, is a timely and welcome development to seek a broader input into the future strategic framework of the Big Lottery Fund.

Spending £4billion between 2015-2021, roughly equivalent to £400m in Scotland, is a considerable investment in good causes.

However, much more important than the quantity available, is the unique nature of BIG. It is not statutory in the same way as government funding as it doesn’t distribute taxpayer money, yet is overseen as a non-departmental public body and therefore aligned with government priorities. Devolution of BIG in Scotland has also played an important role in adapting to the policy and funding environment in Scotland compared to other parts of the UK.

This gives BIG a number of strengths in the funding landscape for community and voluntary organisations. It is an important strategic resource for our sector in a way which can complement or help lever in funding from other sources. However, we have some concerns with the way BIG is currently developing, and have highlighted some challenges within the current operating environment for voluntary organisations where we believe BIG could play a useful role. Finally, we reflect on the four themes BIG have proposed to guide their future strategy.

Strengths to build on

BIG has a unique place in the funding landscape which allows it to do things other funders can’t or won’t. The Fund is drawn from lottery ticket sales and is therefore not tied to spending priorities or specific conditions that come with taxpayer-based State funding. On the other hand, it is overseen as a public body by the UK Government Cabinet Office but takes policy directions from the Scottish Government for the devolved portion of the Fund in Scotland.

This unique combination gives BIG a number of strengths in comparison to other funding programmes:

  • As it doesn’t need to prove short-term success, it can aim to fund longer-term outcomes, beyond immediate policy objectives tied to specific Government departments
  • As it is arms-length from ministerial portfolios, it can form more open, creative and responsive programmes which allow an investment in new unanticipated solutions to addressing social problems. This is a much valued legacy of the Community Fund model which was one of BIG’s predecessor Funds
  • BIG is more agile than government departments and their associated bureaucracy. It can move faster to respond to changes in the operating environment of the organisations it funds
  • Due to its size of operation, BIG can properly staff and resource small grants programmes, such as Awards for All, on behalf of the lottery funders. These small grants programmes are invaluable for many community and voluntary organisations. In Scotland for example, over 80% of the estimated 45,000 voluntary organisations turnover less than £25,000 income per year
  • As a major funder but with a degree of government oversight of its governance, BIG can also play a facilitative role and has the leverage and gravitas to bring together statutory and non-statutory partners. This can prove invaluable when for example a local third sector intermediary is struggling to seek visibility with a disengaged local authority
  • BIG’s independent board (and committee structure in Scotland) gives it the freedom to take risks and invest in ideas for ‘proof of concept’ so they can be tested. This can short circuit the chicken and egg situation with more conventional statutory funders, who seek evidence before trying out new approaches. Recent examples include the Investment in Ideas programme, and for example BIG’s investment in the Social Impact Bond model for Peterborough Prison

Challenges and opportunities

BIG is operating in a fast moving policy landscape. Since the beginning of its current strategic review period (since 2009):

  • The recession and public sector austerity has driven up demand and reduced resources for community and voluntary organisations
  • The ‘third sector’ both in Scotland and across the UK has moved up the public policy agenda as its role has become more important to meet demand during austerity. This has also created ambitious expectations for the sector’s capacity to take on more work
  • Scotland has launched into a constitutional debate with a prospect of either independence or substantially more devolution. This has created opportunities and uncertainties for the operating environment for community and voluntary organisations
  • There has been a shift in policy emphasis, towards preventative spend and early intervention. In Scotland, there has been a further emphasis on so-called asset-based approaches and spending to mitigate negative consequences of UK policy interventions on welfare reform, and a major programme to better integrate health and social care
  • There has been a renewed interest in sports and creative activities alongside major hosted events such as the Olympics and Commonwealth Games
  • There has been the emergence of the Open Data and Big Data movements
  • We have seen the widening of the digital divide between those who have access and the ability to access online information and those that don’t, while at the same time a government policy emphasis on ‘Digital by Default’

BIG needs to think how it can use its unique position to help the community and voluntary sector step up to its role to meet the challenges and opportunities presented above. We would suggest the following:

  • Be flexible to adapt to changing social needs, and fund associated new developments. For example, austerity and welfare reform has drawn many voluntary organisations to diversify into food banks and crisis support. How can BIG move quickly when required to support organisations to build their capacity, infrastructure and processes to adapt to this?
  • However, at the same time it is essential that BIG primarily focuses on supporting preventative outcomes, through ‘upstream’ interventions. This is one of the most important contributions to society that community and voluntary organisations already make. BIG can help resource community and voluntary organisations to both consolidate as well as communicate their central role in prevention to statutory partners and policy makers
  • Many of the challenges and opportunities above require a more pro-active funder approach as organisations struggle to catch up with their changing operating environment. How can BIG develop specific strategic funding strands, to invest in third sector improvement and adaptation?
  • There is an important opportunity for BIG to help increase digital participation. All applicants for BIG funding should be supported (financially) to enable access, develop skills and motivate the people they work with to overcome the digital divide. Evidence has shown that people who do not have basic online skills need significant amounts of support to get online and that the most effective way is through the support of trusted individuals who know what the hooks or motivations are for an individual. Community and voluntary organisations already providing support for their clients are in the perfect position to make this happen
  • Finally, in Scotland the prospects for independence or further devolution has raised specific questions around how BIG operates in a devolved environment. BIG needs to engage with this, from the allocation of devolved funding, to greater collaboration between BIG and funded projects between the devolved jurisdictions. There needs to be more lateral connectivity here, not just top-down direction from the UK Board to the constituent structures of BIG. One option could be to work with SCVO and other partners to facilitate a series of cross-border engagements between the jurisdictions. This should involve both statutory and third sector partners, including successfully funded initiatives, to share strategic developments, learning and what works between the UK nations

Some concerns

We would like to outline our concerns about the current form of BIG and the direction in which some aspects of BIG have been going:

  • There have been some occasions where BIG has tried to take on a development role to lead and drive the sector towards a specific model or thematic focus. We do not think this is helpful or appropriate. BIG should always work through the sector infrastructure, playing a facilitative role. Do ‘with’ the sector, not ‘to’ it
  • We remain concerned that the Fund can provide resources to local government and statutory bodies, and continue to believe that the public would expect all BIG good cause money to go through community or voluntary organisations
  • We have noticed some pressure on BIG at times to fund initiatives that government sees as helpful but is unwilling to fund directly. BIG needs to resist this and stay focused on resourcing experimental and new ground
  • We have a particular concern in Scotland that direct knowledge and experience of the third sector has been diluted by the recent change in membership of BIG’s Scotland Committee. This is a worry when the vast majority of good cause funding goes through community and voluntary organisations. On reflection, a more sustainable way to address this could be to form a ‘standing’ forum for engagement with the third sector on strategy and review of impact. We would welcome further discussion on this

Our comment on BIG’s proposed themes

BIG has proposed the following four future themes as a starting point for its strategic planning. We welcome all of the four proposed themes of activity and offer the following comments:

Theme 1: “Vibrant Communities:How can we grow social capital and help communities to make the most of their strengths and talents?”

  • The emphasis on social capital is timely and reflects our view that we need to support people and their communities build on the human, social and physical assets they already have
  • In Scotland, there is a renewed interest in supporting community run and owned investments. Reflecting successful community-run initiatives in rural Scotland, there is now an interest in applying this philosophy to urban areas. Legislation in the Scottish Parliament around Land Reform and Community Empowerment will provide a conducive environment for BIG support in this area

Theme 2: “Addressing Disadvantage:What can we do to support people living in poverty to achieve a better quality of life? How do we address increasing demand for help in difficult times?”

  • We urge BIG to go bold on this agenda. Poverty, austerity and welfare are closely linked in the current UK context
  • We suggest a focus on tackling inequalities: health, social and economic. This should underpin a proactive strategy to get resources to where they will make a difference. In particular, BIG should work with the third sector to support and help spread community-led approaches to tackling inequalities

Theme 3: “Working Together:Tell us how we can best work with others to make a difference. How can we share our information, learning and resources for the benefit of others?”

  • BIG needs to make better use of the evidence and learning generated by previously funded projects and programmes. How can BIG build and share the data they already hold from this to inform new initiatives?
  • Reflecting the opportunity to engage and share data, BIG should also build on the excellent ‘Realising Ambition’ programme to provide more open learning on what works with the voluntary sector, government and others
  • As a bridge between statutory and non-statutory sectors, BIG is well positioned to offer a lead facilitator role with other funding bodies from public and third sectors. Playing a leadership role in forums such as the Funders Forum in Scotland, BIG should influence mainstream funding practice by changing the behaviour of other funders, especially in government and local government
  • In Scotland, there is an opportunity here for BIG to link up with the new What Works Scotland initiative which aims to develop a platform for what works in public service reform
  • Alongside an open approach to the data and learning it holds, BIG should also begin to offer and facilitate more public commentary and analysis on the evidence, learning and data that projects it funds generate. Learn from the Joseph Rowntree Fund here

Theme 4: “Stronger Sector:How can we best support the development of a stronger voluntary, community and social enterprise sector?”

  • We very much welcome BIG’s recognition of the importance of supporting a stronger sector. This requires investment in the sector’s infrastructure i.e. the networks, umbrella bodies and support bodies that link up and energise the community and voluntary sector
  • Driving BIG’s approach here should be support for collaboration in our sector, at a time when many other resources provided through grants or contracts encourage competition and division within our sector
  • BIG is also well placed to provide support for research, specifically much-needed research to help improve the impact of the sector’s own networks and infrastructure. BIG should work with SCVO and other sector networks to achieve this

Conclusion – What kind of funder should BIG be?

BIG is well positioned to be an ‘avant-garde’ funder. This could mean providing funding for initiatives which others are not able or are unwilling to fund. This includes:

  • Capacity and adaptation funding for the sector’s networks and its infrastructure
  • Proof of concept funding, and breaking new ground
  • Helping the sector spread data, evidence and ideas on what works

By building on its strengths, embracing the opportunities and addressing the concerns and challenges outlined above, we believe the BIG will be indispensable in supporting our sector to support the people and communities it works with.


Big Lottery Fund Consultation:


Ruchir Shah, Policy manager
Tel: 0131 556 3882

Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations,
Mansfield Traquair Centre,
15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh EH3 6BB

About us

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is the national body representing the third sector.There are over 45,000 voluntary organisations in Scotland involving around 137,000 paid staff and approximately 1.2 million volunteers. The sector manages an income of £4.4 billion.

SCVO works in partnership with the third sector in Scotland to advance our shared values and interests. We have over 1300 members who range from individuals and grassroots groups, to Scotland-wide organisations and intermediary bodies.

As the only inclusive representative umbrella organisation for the sector SCVO:

  • has the largest Scotland-wide membership from the sector – our 1300 members include charities, community groups, social enterprises and voluntary organisations of all shapes and sizes
  • our governance and membership structures are democratic and accountable – with an elected board and policy committee from the sector, we are managed by the sector, for the sector
  • brings together organisations and networks connecting across the whole of Scotland

SCVO works to support people to take voluntary action to help themselves and others, and to bring about social change. Our policy is determined by a policy committee elected by our members.[1]

Further details about SCVO can be found at

[1] SCVO’s Policy Committee has 24 members elected by SCVO’s member organisations who then co-opt up to eight more members primarily to reflect fields of interest which are not otherwise represented. It also includes two ex officio members, the SCVO Convener and Vice Convener.