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Largest study of voluntary organisations reveals devastating financial impacts of Covid-19

The first results from the new Covid-19 Voluntary Sector Impact Barometer show that 2 in 5 (39%) charities and community groups are now reporting a deteriorating financial situation.

Hands holding a money jar
First results from the Covid-19 Voluntary Sector Impact Barometer reveal the impacts that the pandemic has had on organisations

With over half (56%) of organisations expecting demand for services to surge over the next month as the impact of local lockdowns and rising unemployment filters down to communities, many voluntary organisations are being forced to adapt the way they operate if they are to continue to meet the needs of those they support into the future.

The study also found that the vast majority of voluntary sector organisations fear Covid-19 will continue to disrupt their plans in the year ahead. 8 out of 10 organisations (80%) predicted a negative impact on delivering their planned objectives over the next 12 months, and 1 in 10 (10%) think it likely they’ll be forced to close.

60% of organisations responding said that Covid-19 related safety measures have increased their operating costs.

Researchers also found numerous examples of voluntary organisations using creativity and ingenuity to innovate in response to the new challenges that the pandemic brings, with many organisations demonstrating their ability to adapt, scale and pivot services. From moving existing face-to-face services online, to funders supplying local charities with Zoom licenses, it’s clear that Covid-19 is accelerating a digital transformation in the voluntary sector, with 92% of organisations reporting an increase in delivering their services online.

The Covid-19 Voluntary Sector Impact Barometer is a part of a major new study using real-time data to explore how voluntary organisations are being impacted by the coronavirus pandemic over the next year.

The largest research project of its kind, the Barometer surveyed almost 700 voluntary organisations over the last month through an online survey. The project is a partnership between Nottingham Trent University, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) and Sheffield Hallam University.

Karl Wilding, chief executive of NCVO said: “Not only are charities and volunteers crucial to helping people through crises such as COVID-19, but they also underpin so much of community life and bring people together. Whether through falling income from charity shops and fundraising events, or a surge in demand for services from those facing the brunt of the pandemic, charities are under pressure like never before. Earlier in the year we saw an incredible community response snap into action, with many changing how they operate or digitalising their life-saving services overnight. Now as a hard winter period looms with more stringent local lockdowns, charities again need to step up their services and support those in need.

“With charities facing an estimated £10 billion funding gap over 6 months, the charity sector is in serious trouble. Public funds are incredibly stretched and the government must think creatively about where we can find funds to support communities in need, repurposing £500m from the National Fund charity as emergency funds to support the voluntary sector or creating a longer-term £2bn endowment to support disadvantaged communities from unclaimed stocks and shares.”

Becky Jenner, CEO of Rett UK, a national charity that supports families affected by Rett syndrome, a rare neurological disorder said: “At the start of lockdown we saw our event-based fundraising income wiped out almost overnight. Seven months on we are in a better financial position, thanks to an emergency appeal, some emergency grant funding and drastically reducing our expenditure. And by cancelling events and moving services online we have made savings. But as the emergency funds dry up, we remain concerned for the medium to long-term financial sustainability of the charity – and even more worried about the impact on the mental health and wellbeing of the very vulnerable families we support.”

Real-time data from the Barometer is being made available via an interactive online dashboard, allowing practitioners, policymakers and researchers to drill-down to explore impacts in different regions, such as those under different local Covid-19 alert levels.

The Barometer is one part of a major new research project – Respond, Recover, Reset: The Voluntary Sector and Covid-19 – led by Nottingham Trent University, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) and Sheffield Hallam University. As well as the monthly Barometer survey, over the next 14 months researchers will also carry out in-depth interviews with over 300 voluntary organisations and produce regular insight reports to inform policymakers and practitioners.

Daniel King, Professor of Organisation Studies at Nottingham Trent University and project lead said: “Our research is confirming what many working in the voluntary sector already knew: charities and community organisations are facing the biggest challenge in a generation, and sadly some will be forced to close their doors. But against this backdrop, there are encouraging signs of resilience, creativity and innovation as charities transform their approach. The voluntary sector includes thousands of passionate volunteers, staff and organisations, and we hope our research will continue to provide examples of best practice for others to follow.”

The next Covid-19 Voluntary Sector Impact Barometer survey is currently open to responses, with findings expected in mid-November.

The research is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) as part of the UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) rapid response to Covid-19.

Find out more about the Covid-19 Voluntary Sector Impact Barometer.

  • Notes for editors

    Contact: For an embargoed copy of the report, case studies and images, or to request an interview with the project team contact:

    Chloe Stables: or 07507 558 897

    Sarah Nelson: or 07812 152044

    Notes to Editors:

    About Nottingham Trent University

    Nottingham Trent University (NTU) was named University of the Year 2019 in the Guardian University Awards. The award was based on performance and improvement in the Guardian University Guide, retention of students from low-participation areas and attainment of BME students. It is one of the largest UK universities. With nearly 32,000 students and more than 4,000 staff located across four campuses, the University contributes £900m to the UK economy every year.

    About NCVO

    NCVO is the largest network for charities and volunteering. With over 15,000 members, we're the biggest source of support for charities, community groups and social enterprises. We’re constantly working to give them the support they need and pushing for a better environment for charities and volunteering.

    Key Findings from Covid-19 Voluntary Sector Impact Barometer


    ●      2 in 5 (39%) voluntary organisations report that their financial position had deteriorated in the last month.

    ●      More than one third (34%) expect their financial position to deteriorate over the next month.

    ●      The costs of transforming workplaces and community venues into COVID-secure spaces for staff, volunteers and clients have hit voluntary organisations hard. 3 in 5 (60%) reported an increase in operating costs as a result of implementing safety measures, including extra hygiene, PPE and social distancing.


    ●      More than half (56%) of respondents expect demand for their services to increase over the next month.

    ●      8 out of 10 (80%) anticipate Covid-19 to negatively impact their work over the next 12 months.

    ●      1 in 10 (10%) organisations expect they are likely to have stopped operating by this time next year.

    Staff and volunteers:

    ●      The size of the paid workforce so far remains broadly stable (of those organisations that employed staff, 16% reported an increase in staff, while 15% reported a decrease).

    ●      The number of volunteers is declining, with more than a quarter (27%) of those organisations that rely on volunteers reporting that numbers are falling.


    ●      697 organisations responded to an online survey from 21 September – 5 October 2020, and were asked about their experience in the previous month.

    ● From small organisations run by volunteers through to larger charities relying on public donations or grants, respondents are from a diverse range of voluntary organisations, including social enterprises (24%), BAME organisations (13%), disabled people’s organisations (11%), women’s groups (11%) and LGBTIQ+ organisations (5%).

    ●      Organisations reported a range of activities including health, hospitals and nursing homes (19%), culture and the arts (14%), education (13%) and community and economic development (10%).

    ●      New surveys will be issued to respondents each month exploring the same questions and adding new research topics too.

    ●      By following the same group of organisations over the next 14 months, researchers will be able to understand how the pandemic’s impacts are changing over time.

    Find out more

    ●      Visit theCovid-19 Voluntary Sector Impact Barometer website.

    ●      Read the full report on the September/October 2020 results.

    ●      Researchers are keen to hear from voluntary organisations who wish to take part in the survey. Please email to find out more.

Largest study of voluntary organisations reveals devastating financial impacts of Covid-19

Published on 26 October 2020
  • Category: Press office; Research

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