The NCVO UK Civil Society Almanac for 2022 was published in October, shedding light on some key trends in the voluntary sector. The Almanac revealed interesting figures on the growth of the sector in recent years, as well as some of the challenges for the sector to anticipate in the coming years.
The growth of the voluntary sector is a major highlight of the findings. Since 2011 the voluntary workforce has grown by 27%, with over 16 million people volunteering in some way during the year. The paid workforce has also grown substantially, with 950,000 people now working in the sector, representing around 3% of the total UK workforce. Overall, the sector provided 1% of the UK’s GDP (£20bn). This growth of the sector, mobilising both volunteers and paid staff, is especially significant when compared with the workforce growth of the public and private sectors, which grew by 10% and 12% respectively in the same period.
The rise of informal volunteering linked with the start of the Covid-19 pandemic is encouraging. However, it should be noted that NCVO’s methodology states that the data used is relevant to no time beyond the financial year ending 2020. While the number of charity closures was lower than expected, the latest version of the Almanac does not yet give a full image of the pandemic’s impact on the sector.
For example, NCVO acknowledges that funding in the form of furlough payments and Covid-19 support are yet to fully come through in the available data. According to data from a major study during the pandemic by Nottingham Trent University and NCVO, the earlier months were devastating for VSCEs. Of the 700 organisations surveyed, 40% reported a decline in their financial position, with 14% doubting their organisations would survive another year.
Nevertheless, as the pandemic progressed, the sector showed great resilience and by the end of 2021, 95% of those surveyed believed their organisations had recovered. The true impact of government support packages and spikes in volunteering by the public is yet to be seen.
One trend to keep an eye on in future research will be the impact on medium-sized charities. The Almanac data shows that since 2000, the number of large, major and super major organisations has grown significantly, now receiving 48% of the sector’s income. Simultaneously, the income and spending of medium-sized organisations has stayed relatively consistent, but in slight decline. How exactly these medium-sized organisations were impacted is not yet clear, but the lack of growth in previous years especially relative to larger organisations is a concerning result from the Almanac.
The main takeaway for most from the Almanac has been the decline in government financial support for the sector, with the majority of support coming from the public for the first time in 20 years. While the workforce may have grown, smaller organisations have suffered from a lack of government funding. The data indicates that this reduction is down to local government spending on the sector, which has fallen from £9.4bn in 2007/08 to £6.9bn in 2018/19.
The importance of this £2.5bn drop cannot be overstated; huge cuts to local government budgets especially since 2010 have very likely been detrimental to those local and regional charities that rely at least in part on local authority grants or contracts. To put this in context, £2.5bn is comparable to the total amount that foundations give in the UK each year (depending on the year in question).
Therein lies the challenge facing the voluntary sector. As the Almanac points out, government support for the voluntary sector is in decline, at a time when the work carried out by those in the sector is vital and the cost-of-living crisis is driving demand for many basic services. A greater reliance on public giving may have benefits for the sector’s independence but it also may create risks, especially if public fundraising is increasingly dominated by larger charities.
Smaller charities don’t have the same fundraising capacity but that doesn’t mean their activities are less important, and they may face greater insecurity. As the country experiences instability and a cost of living crisis, the need for funding is especially strong for smaller charities, which are less likely to receive it from the government. The work that these charities carry out has always been indispensable and will prove even more so in the coming months.
In this environment finding support from grant-makers can be even more important, although it can at times be a labyrinth; with so many options it is difficult to know where or who to look for. That’s why DSC works to provide charities with the guidance and information they need in their search. For example, the Guide to Major Trusts 2023/24 contains a list of all major trusts that can help charities find a footing in the world of fundraising. Equally, the DSC Funds Online database contains information about over 8,000 funding opportunities for charities.