Third Sector Trends report shows confidence evaporating among leaders in Third Sector Organisations

The Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland and St Chad’s College, Durham University have released the results of a survey showing that confidence among over 400 leaders of charities and community organisations across England and Wales has evaporated with the onset of Covid-19. However, whilst pessimistic about the future, comments in the survey also reflect the resilience organisations in the third sector have shown since the banking crisis remains.   

In May this year, the Community Foundation and St Chad’s College released Third Sector Trends North East using data collected to December 2019. The reports reflected a sector growing for the first time since 2008, but recognised that attitudes about future prospects for Third Sector organisations were bound to have changed following the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and its potential impact on economy and society.  

To fill this gap, a ‘one question survey’ was conducted in June and July to gauge how attitudes had changed, and provide an opportunity for Third Sector leaders to talk about how the pandemic was affecting them now or might do so in the future. Responses highlight a concern for future income, and how to meet the needs of beneficiaries, which reflect the results of other smaller-scale studies reported in the media.

The main findings are:  
- In June 2020, 56% of Third Sector leaders believed that their income would fall over the next two years compared with just 16% in 2019.  
- Only 11% of Third Sector leaders expected that income from private sector sources would fall when asked in 2019, now 62% expect that this will be the case.
- Half of Third Sector leaders believed in June 2020 that grant income would decrease over the next two years, compared with just 19% in 2019.  
- In June 2020, 61% of Third Sector leaders thought that statutory funding would decrease, compared with 38% in 2019.  
- Expectations about support from volunteers has changed: in 2019 only 8% of Third Sector leaders thought that support would fall. By June 2020, 18% of TSOs leaders thought this would be the case. 

However, respondents’ comments also show a measured response beyond the stark figures. TSOs have faced continual challenges over the last decade, but resilience has shone through repeated Third Sector Trends reports since 2008, and some have even seen opportunity.

The report also notes, as others have, that the push to encourage more earned income will adversely affect those who have been successful at doing just that as halls are not hired, services not needed. Others noted that reduced income will affect trusts and foundations as well as the private and public sectors.

TSOs were grateful for the strong and speedy support to the pandemic by community foundations and other funders, but feared that future grant opportunities may be limited as a result.

Professor Tony Chapman, Director of Research at St Chad’s College, who authored the original reports and this follow up said: 

“At the moment, leaders of Third Sector organisations are feeling pretty nervous about the future – and with good reason. There are so many unknowns about income levels, availability of volunteers, the conditions under which organisations will be allowed to work and the change in demand for services. This report offers no answers to these questions. We are all guessing about what will happen next. Yes, it is clear that confidence but the individual comments suggest a good deal of variation in attitudes ranging from strong optimism to outright pessimism – while others present ambivalent feelings. What this report does do is provide us with a very useful baseline with which to compare when Third Sector Trends surveying resumes in mid-2022. By which time, hopefully, the situation will have stabilised to some extent – though none of us really know if that will be the case or not just now.  

Rob Williamson, Chief Executive of the Community Foundation which commissions Third Sector Trends said: 

“When we launched the 2020 edition of Third Sector Trends in May we knew that the data would need to be updated because of the pandemic. We also knew we had a large and willing community of respondents who we hoped wouldn’t mind filling in another survey. As Professor Chapman notes we can’t say whether the fears of organisations surveyed the organisations will come to pass but the data gives us a benchmark for when we come back in 2022 and find out whether this lack of confidence was misplaced.” 

For the full report and more comments from Third Sector CEOs, visit