Why good data matters: Covid-19 and the voluntary sector

This blog was jointly written by Daniel King and Véronique Jochum.

Up-to-date research on the pandemic’s impact on voluntary organisations is critical if we’re to understand how best to support the sector.

We know the covid-19 pandemic is impacting many voluntary organisations, community groups and social enterprises.

With income down, demand up and services having to be transformed to be covid-secure, the pandemic presents unique challenges for the voluntary sector. 

Although we know some of the impacts on the sector as a whole, we know less about the effects on different types of organisations or what the lessons are for future crises that might hit.

Our new research project aims to provide these insights. The monthly covid-19 Voluntary Sector Impact Barometer provides real-time data about the impacts on organisations in the sector. It will be supplemented by a quarterly panel tracking a representative group of voluntary organisations over time, and 300 interviews providing in-depth understanding of how organisations are being impacted and how they are responding.

The project is a partnership between Nottingham Trent University, NCVO and Sheffield Hallam University and is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

What’s the latest data telling us? 

The second edition of the Barometer continues to show how variable the impact of the pandemic has been on the sector. While 39% of respondents report their finances are deteriorating, 22% say they are improving. Similarly, 41% say since March they have reduced their range of services and 41% say they have increased. 

Some of the other latest findings from the Barometer show that:

  • 1 in 7 (14%) voluntary organisations are anticipating closure within the next year 
  • Almost 2 in 5 (38%) expect their financial position to deteriorate over the next month
  • At the same time, over half (57%) of voluntary organisations are reporting an increase in demand for their services
  • While 2 in 5 (39%) voluntary organisations have used the Job Retention Scheme, almost half (47%) of these reported that it had a negative impact on the services they provide

These results are just a snapshot in time, but each additional wave of the Barometer increases our evidence base and gives us a better picture of what is happening.

The data is available via a user-friendly dashboard which allows you to drill-down and see how organisations of different sizes and providing different services are being impacted.

What do our results mean for voluntary organisations? 

Firstly, targeted support is vital and needs to happen without delay. 

Our results indicate that 80% of voluntary organisations expect covid-19 to have a negative impact over the coming year and about 14% anticipate closure. It is clear that practical support is required to help organisations respond to the crisis in a way that suits their needs and importantly the needs of those they serve. 

The results of the barometer demonstrate that not all organisations are facing the same challenges. While many are struggling with reduced incomes or inability to offer their services, others have been able to adapt and some have even grown. That’s why it is important to identify where there is increased demand and need for resources. 

Secondly, shifting services away from face-to-face has undeniably been challenging, but covid-19 has also forced many organisations to do things differently and unlocked different ways of working. 

Our interviews have demonstrated that some organisations have managed to transform many of their services whereas others have found it extremely difficult. The network of support around organisations to help them with such transitions is key in having a healthy and vibrant sector for the long-term.

Why good data is so critical right now

As the pandemic continues to unfold, we need robust and timely data to improve our understanding of what is occurring and to help shape the decision-making of policy-makers and practitioners. 

The rapid changes in the environment that organisations are operating in, as we face ever changing rules and regulations, and the medium and long-term possibilities to do things differently – with potential vaccines on the horizon – mean that we need to capture what is going on right now. 

But we also must follow how things evolve in the months to come, so that we can learn lessons for the future and be better prepared. 

We are keen to work with organisations that would like to understand more about this data and what it can offer.

We would love to hear from you, either to take part in the Barometer or to tell your story via an interview. Contact us at CPWOP@ntu.ac.uk to find out more.

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Avatar photo Véronique Jochum, head of research, blogs about the latest research from NCVO and other research related topics on civil society.

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