Skip to content

Research reveals barriers to increasing diversity in voluntary organisations - despite many having plans to improve inclusivity

The impact of Covid-19 and a lack of resources has led to charities and voluntary sector organisations facing challenges in increasing diversity, despite the majority having drawn up plans to address equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) issues in their workplace, volunteers and services (79%) and 59% of these revising their EDI approach since March 2020.

Graphic of a group of people in masks
Voluntary organisations reported the challenges they faced in increasing diversity, including financial constraints and lack of knowledge

Led by Nottingham Trent University, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) and Sheffield Hallam University, the eighth Barometer (July 2021) has revealed the barriers that organisations are facing in their efforts to be more inclusive and address EDI issues. These include reports of limited financial resources (20%), staffing capacity (15%), lack of human resources skills, knowledge and capacity (12%), and lack of equality, diversity and inclusion knowledge or skills (11%).

However, when asked about the impacts of the pandemic and lockdown restrictions on the diversity of their service users, 17% of the respondents reported experiencing a more diverse range of service users, and 15% reported an increase in diversity of their volunteers. Only 9% reported an increase in the diversity of their workforce during the pandemic.

The data also reveals that charities with an annual income of less than £10,000 reported the lowest increase in diversity, with medium-sized organisations (with income between £100,000 to £1 million) reporting the highest increases in diversity among their workforce, volunteers, and service users.

Despite the barriers, 79% of organisations surveyed have drawn up plans to address equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) issues in their workplace, volunteers and services, with 59% of these having revised their EDI approach since March 2020. The most reported changes by organisations in procedures or policies to promote greater equality, inclusion and diversity since March 2020 have been staff training (16%), safeguarding (12%) and staff recruitment (13%).

Demand for services increases while financial outlook remains mixed

Respondents to this month’s survey indicated a mixed financial picture again. Compared to the previous month, 28% of respondents said their finances deteriorated, 27% saw their finances improved and 45% reported their financial stability being the same.

In the last month, 57% said they had an increase in demand for services, 29% reported demand for services stayed the same and 9% reported a fall in demand. Over the last month, the employment position in the sector is reported as relatively stable, with 47% reporting the same number of paid employees compared to previous months.

Daniel King, professor of organisational behaviour at Nottingham Business School, part of Nottingham Trent University, and project lead, said: “The past year has seen a heightened awareness of issues of equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) within the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector. Campaigns around racial justice have collided with a pandemic that has amplified inequalities that already exist. Our report shows that many organisations have been searching for ways to respond to these circumstances, leading to many conversations about diversity and inclusion.

"Many interviewees said that Covid-19 gave opportunities to reflect and challenge their assumptions, meaning they began having difficult conversations within their organisations about some of the changes they need to make. However, many interviewees recognise there is a long way to go, there are structural and systematic forms of exclusion, from the way organisations are run through to funding. Our report highlights some of these and signposts ideas for future action.”

Anya Martin, research and insight manager at NCVO, said: “As lockdown eases, it’s clear that the road to recovery will not be linear for many voluntary and charity organisations, and this has had an impact on the sector’s vital plans for EDI work. The report shows that smaller organisations in particular face challenges with limited funding and resources. However, some organisations have been able to revise their EDI plans during the pandemic.

"Despite the limitations of the funding and financial support available to charities throughout the pandemic, demand for services has remained at an upward trajectory. The rise in volunteers at the beginning of the pandemic also saw an increase in the diversity of volunteers working with some organisations. As we look to the future it is really important that charities are confident they are continuing to focus on EDI and adopting best practice both within their organisations, and in the services they deliver, to better reflect and support the communities and individuals they serve.”

  • Notes for editors

    Press enquiries please contact Helen Breese, Public Relations Manager, on telephone +44 (0)115 848 8751, or via email

    About the report
    The Covid-19 Voluntary Sector Impact Barometer is the UK’s largest temperature check on the state of the voluntary sector during the pandemic. It is part of the Respond, Recover and Reset: The Voluntary Sector and Covid-19 project led by Nottingham Trent University, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) and Sheffield Hallam University. In this eight wave of the report, 294 organisations from across the UK responded to questions about the impact of the pandemic on volunteering within their organisations.

    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.

    NTU was also the Times Higher Education University of the Year 2017, and The Times and Sunday Times Modern University of the Year 2018. These awards recognise NTU for its high levels of student satisfaction, its quality of teaching, its engagement with employers, and its overall student experience.

    The university has been rated Gold in the Government’s Teaching Excellence Framework – the highest ranking available.

    It is one of the largest UK universities. With over 37,000 students and more than 4,000 staff located across four campuses, the University injects £1.6bn into the UK economy. It has been the largest recruiter of UK undergraduates in each of the last four years. With an international student population of more than 6,000 and an NTU community representing around 160 countries, the University prides itself on its global outlook.

    The university is passionate about creating opportunities and its extensive outreach programme is designed to enable NTU to be a vehicle for social mobility. NTU is among the UK’s top five recruiters of students from disadvantaged backgrounds and was awarded University of the Year in the UK Social Mobility Awards 2019.

    About NCVO
    The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) is the largest membership organisation for the voluntary sector in England. With over 16,000 members, NCVO represents all types of organisations, from large ‘household name’ charities to small voluntary and community groups involved at the local level. It is also the lead body for volunteering in England. To find out more visit

Research reveals barriers to increasing diversity in voluntary organisations - despite many having plans to improve inclusivity

Published on 19 July 2021
  • Category: Press office; Research; Nottingham Business School

Still need help?

+44 (0)115 941 8418