Key Takeaways from our Scotland Focus Groups

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Key Takeaways from our Scotland Focus Groups

We hosted two focus groups with members of the Scottish public who were charity supporters. This week we're exploring the main lessons we learned from these conversations, and what charities can do to best reach this audience.

In the latest of our focus group series, last month saw us exploring the views and opinions of the Scottish public. Our regular polling and interviews with the people of Scotland provide vital insights to charities working both exclusively in the country, as well as UK-wide organisations looking to better understand this specific audience.

Leading our participants through a wide variety of charity-centric themes and topics, our two sessions demonstrated some strong opinions on the current state of the sector in Scotland. While some opinions were widely agreed on, others sparked more debate or brought about multiple points of view - these highlight the contentious and controversial landscape that charities are often forced to navigate. While these conflicting opinions can make it harder to interpret wider trends, we believe it’s important to share where these sticking points can arise to better emphasise the need for caution in certain areas.

So, what did we learn? This week we’re sharing our key findings, helping you to better understand how the Scottish public feel about current events, causes, and the wider charity sector.


Social Issues & Most Mentioned Causes

With a group who were largely made-up of those living in urban areas, or the Central Belt, it was unavoidable that we would end up speaking to individuals who have lived in close proximity to deprived areas. This being the case, an issue on a lot of minds was the growing use of food-banks across the nation, and the exacerbation of people’s situations following the cost-of-living crisis. One participant told us that they were used to  seeing their top issues first-hand:

“I think there's a lot of issues stem from the fact, like a lot of people are - if not destitute - very, very near to destitute, particularly where I live.”

It was widely acknowledged that there has been an increase in the need for more social care and food-banks, but whilst there was gratitude and appreciation for the works of these organisations and their volunteers, charity wasn’t seen as the solution to the underlying issues. Rather, our participants were keen to see the government step in to do more, thought charities weren’t imagined as part of the push to correct this (more on this later). 

While charities with boots on the ground in local areas were seen favourably, there was a more mixed reception to overseas charities or global appeals. While organisations such as WaterAid or Sightsavers were still seen to be doing effective work via their messaging, it was disheartening to some participants to perceive that the issues themselves had remained largely unchanged in their lifetimes. Combined with the endless global crises we’ve all experienced in the past decade – from Covid, to the cost-of-living, to Ukraine, and more recently Gaza – many felt that it’s impossible not to feel both fatigued and helpless about the chances of success of any personal involvement in charity surrounding these large-scale issues, and they would rather approach local issues, to see more of an effect. To charities operating in these regions, the question then becomes: how can we make our message and mission relevant to people who see it as such an uphill battle?


Localism & Nationalism

This topic was the primary issue that divided our participants. On the one hand, we heard again and again that money raised in Scotland should directly support Scottish causes. Meanwhile, others were more keen to simply see donations go to where they do the most good – even if that means overseas.

There was a clear affinity with local charities across the two groups. It was argued that community / grass-roots charities are run by more passionate individuals, those who volunteer themselves, and therefore may be more efficient in their spending. When discussing nationwide charities (those across Scotland and the UK) many participants in the second group had a preference of supporting charities that were ‘Scotland first, then UK’. The belief that money raised in Scotland should be spent in Scotland was also shared. One caveat brought up by those in this camp was that sometimes money spent outside Scotland can directly impact Scottish people, such as research funding for diseases that might need to be spent in England, or further afield, which was seen as acceptable.

In our other group, we heard from participants that money and services should be directed towards areas around the world, wherever the need is greatest. Overseas aid was a favoured cause with this group, so the idea of favouring charities based on locality was not so important. Organisations like Doctors Without Borders were highlighted as examples of charities that go beyond politics and geography to maximise the good that they can accomplish. The difference in opinion between these two camps suggests that charities operating in Scotland have a delicate balance to achieve in their branding. Local causes are able to appear more impactful, and personal connections are more likely. This leads to causes that are held near and dear to people’s hearts. The key for international charities is to demonstrate your impact as effectively as local causes are able to. 



We’ve spoken in the past about the difficulties that charities face when engaging politically. While some organisations like Citizen’s Advice and Shelter were lauded for taking on social issues and being critics of the government, some criticisms of government were seen less favourably. In particular, it was seen to be unfair to target government or local councils where funding was concerned, if the perception is that these authorities are themselves underfunded.

One interesting opinion arose during questions about the Crisis campaign to eliminate the Vagrancy Act. Our participant suggested that:

“They should be working with other charities so that it's a joined-up approach and others don't fold. It's kind of like no one left behind... It should be that there's a holistic approach that these charities should take, and it's not just about one aspect of it.”

The desire to see less fragmentation in campaigning, and a more unified voice, is something that charities might consider in their political and advocacy strategies in the near future. Some went further, and even suggested that charities could achieve more by merging more of their assets and efforts in order to lower costs and reach wider audiences. 

What we see in this instance is another reason to apply caution when speaking politically. Charities have a role to play in this field, and are widely regarded as forces for good in the wake of government failings. However, it’s vital to act with restraint when engaging in this sphere, in particular in Scotland where the public take a keen interest in local and national politics.


These results came from our ongoing focus group series. If your organisation is working in Scotland we would be happy to organise a chat about the full findings of the event, and we'll be sharing a full report of the findings in the near future for subscribers. If you want to know more just message or consider downloading more information below about how you can keep up to date with the Scottish public. 

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