What is the study about?
Third Sector Trends began in 2008 and is the longest running study of the voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector in the UK. The study, which takes place every three years, covers England and Wales – receiving over 4,000 responses in 2019.
We received 6,070 responses in 2022, 1,263 of which arrived with the help of many local CVSs and charitable trusts and foundations across England and Wales. The national survey closed on Saturday 1st October 2022 but we’ll be back in 2025 to repeat the study for the seventh time.
We’ll produce some ‘headline’ findings in the second week of October to accompany the launch of the latest report from our qualitative study of 50 organisations in North East and Cumbria which has been running for nearly fifteen years. And then there will be a series of in-depth reports over the next six months on a wide range of topics.
The findings from the study will complement Charity Commission, NCVO Civil Society Almanac and 360Giving data to produce robust estimates on employment, volunteering, sector finance and assets. The study then looks at how the ‘energy’ the sector has at its disposal is applied to local causes.
Even though this is a large-scale study, its purpose is to study the structure, dynamics and impact of the ‘local’ VCSE sector. Only by looking at several areas, is it possible to understand individual localities properly.
How did we do in Wales and English regions?
The graph below shows response levels by region. As the dotted lines show, we hoped to get over 500 responses in most regions of England and at least 400 in all areas – that ambition has been achieved.
The response rates when compared with sample frame distribution (n=110,000) show a different story with much stronger responses in North East England where we have been working the longest (since 2010) and in Yorkshire & Humber (since 2013) and North West England (since 2016, but Cumbria since 2010). Elsewhere the responses against the sample frame matched quite well. The exceptions are South East England and especially London which produced fewer responses proportionally to the population of charities in those areas – which is puzzling.
We got responses by sending direct invitations using all the available email addresses from the Charity Commission Register and by working with local VCSE sector infrastructure bodies in Wales and selected English regions (North East, North West, Yorkshire & Humber, South West and West Midlands). This is how it has worked. As you can see, they’ve done a great job in the regions we work closely with.
Who funds the study?
Over the years, the study has been supported by a range of funders including Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland, Power to Change, Barrow Cadbury Trust, Millfield House Foundation, Garfield Weston Foundation, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Charity Bank, Cumbria Community Foundation, Northern Rock Foundation, Economic and Social Research Council, Sport England together with several local authorities, combined authorities and NHSEngland .
Third Sector Trends is independent and impartial. As such it aims to provide objective interpretation of rigorously collected data to serve the interests of the voluntary sector, local public and health sector, the Lottery, charitable trusts and foundations and businesses.
What evidence does the study collect?
The survey has a core set of questions which never change to ensure comparability. But in each round of the research, there is space to explore contemporary issues. The 2022 survey has, for example, specific focus on the following issues:
- The extent to which the Covid pandemic has reshaped and refocused VCSE sector activity.
- The positive role the VCSE sector can play in ‘levelling up’, ‘localism’ and ‘community wealth building’ agendas.
- The contribution the VCSE sector can make to public health and, specifically, healthy life expectancy.
- How the VCSE helps to secure economic and social wellbeing in localities.
How are the findings used?
The study is widely used by local authorities, combined authorities, NHS partnerships and VCSE infrastructure organisations in their strategic work and policy formulation. For an example of the full set of findings from the 2019 study at a regional level, see this report:
Data are also used for more in-depth work, for example, recent work in Yorkshire & Humber to show how much energy the sector has, where it focuses its activities and how much impact it achieved.
The difference the third sector makes – St Chad’s College Durham (stchads.ac.uk) and The contribution of the VCSE sector to health and wellbeing in Humber, Coast and Vale – St Chad’s College Durham (stchads.ac.uk),
Data have also been used in Cornwall and Isles of Scilly to assess the strengths of the VCSE sector to support the development of strategies to align sector activity with NHS England priorities for Integrated Care Systems. The first of a series of reports can be found here:
It has also been possible to do in-depth work on aspects of sector structure and activity which has previously been neglected. Including, for example, issues associated with diversity in sector leadership:
and how the VCSE sector works with the private sector:
The analytical approaches underpinning the study have recently been revised in preparation for the exploration of 2022 survey data. The latest version of the report can be located here: https://www.stchads.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/Third-Sector-Trends-Structure-and-Dynamics-of-the-Third-Sector-in-England-and-Wales-December-2020-Revised-June-2022.pdf
To get access to all the study’s reports, visit this website: Third sector trends research | Community Foundation
For further information, please contact Professor Tony Chapman, Director of Policy&Practice, St Chad’s College, Durham University, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.