New report: Third Sector Trends in England and Wales 2022: employees, volunteers, diversity and investment in people

Third Sector Trends has been surveying the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector every three years since 2010. In 2022, 6,071 responses were received across England and Wales (an average of ~600 responses in each region).

This is the only fully representative longitudinal survey which can produce robust and detailed comparative analysis at a regional and national level.

This is the second of five reports from Third Sector Trends England and Wales 2022.

Employee retention and recruitment

There are about 200,000 Third Sector organisations (TSOs), about 40% of them are employers. The sector has a paid workforce of about 1.1 million people.

Over the last two years, 20 per cent of Third Sector employers have found it harder to retain staff and 43 per cent have experienced recruitment problems.

Problems with recruitment are widespread across England and Wales – but it is most intense in North East England (54%), North West England (48%) and in Wales (46%).

Recruitment problems are most severe in the largest organisations: 79 per cent of TSOs with income between £1million and £25million are experiencing recruitment problems compared with just 31 per cent of the smallest employers (with income between £50,000-£100,000).

Difficulties surrounding employee retention compound the challenging staffing situation many organisations face. Again, this is most serious in North East England (25%). Retention problems are most severe in the biggest organisations (53%) but affect organisations of all sizes.

Those organisations which deliver public services under contract for government departments or local authorities are finding retention problems the most challenging (27%), while TSOs which do not deliver contracts are less affected (15%).

Reliance on regular volunteers

There are about 4.3 million regular volunteers working in the Third Sector. In workload terms, this is equivalent to 190,000 full-time equivalent employees.

Many organisations are facing challenges in sustaining the energy produced by volunteers. Over a quarter of organisations (26%) have been losing volunteers who joined them during the Coronavirus pandemic.  41 per cent of the biggest organisations (income £1million – £25million) are losing these volunteers compared with 18 per cent of the smallest TSOs (income below £10,000).

The composition of the volunteer workforce has been changing in the last two years.

Sustaining support from trustees is vital for organisations: but 17 per cent of organisations report that the number of trustees has fallen over the last two years. Trustee numbers have fallen most in North East England, East of England, South West England and in Wales (all with net losses of trustees between 3-5%).

Regular volunteers produce about one fifth of the ‘energy’ that the Third Sector injects into its work. And in micro and small organisations, volunteers put in all or most of that energy.

Diversity in sector leadership

In recent years, concerns have been widely expressed about equal access to leadership opportunities in the Third Sector for all members of the community who feel that they have a contribution to make.

Until now, debate has been hampered by a lack of reliable data on diversity and inclusion in Third Sector leadership.

There are some indications of improvement to diversity in leadership since 2019.

There has also been change in the population of chief officers of organisations.

Regional variations in the proportion of Black, Asian and other ethnic minority chief officers tend to reflect local demographics. However, London stands out from other all areas where 26 per cent of organisations have Black, Asian and other ethnic minority chief officers compared with an average of just 8 per cent across England and Wales.

Investing in people

The energy that Third Sector organisations can employ to achieve their social objectives is dependent upon the enthusiasm, skill and commitment of volunteers and employees.

Attracting and retaining people to work in organisations may be affected by the quality of the working environment and organisational commitment to training and personal development opportunities.

Overall provision of support for staff and volunteers is quite limited.

But underlying factors help to explain why overall investment in people appears to be quite low. Organisational size makes a big difference. Only 16 per cent of micro organisations (income below £10,000) hold a training budget compared with 91 per cent of the biggest (income £5million – £25million).

The extent of investment in training and personal development is strongest in organisations based in the least affluent areas – where organisations tend to be larger and are more likely to be involved in public service delivery for local authorities or national government departments or delivering major grant-funded social programmes.

During the pandemic, there was much news coverage about organisations embracing digital technologies to shift services online.

But investment in digital training is limited. Fewer than 46 per cent of medium-sized organisations (income £50,000 – £250,000) provide digital training and even amongst the biggest organisations (income £1million – £25million), only 72 per cent do so.

Reacting to the news Rob Williamson Chief Executive of the Community Foundation said:

“We have seen issues of recruitment across many sectors in the UK, the NHS perhaps being the highest profile, but it is clear it is hitting the charitable sector hard too and our communities will suffer. The last three years have seen the sector step up to support the most vulnerable in our communities, first during covid and now the cost-of-living crisis, but they are burnt out and many are leaving. With increased costs and reduced funding, organisations aren’t always able to pay high enough wages to attract staff. We and many other funders are looking at how we can support them to raise wages and cover costs. Our cost-of-living fund is supporting organisations over the winter to do that – but more needs to be done” 

The report’s author, Professor Tony Chapman, St Chad’s College, Durham University said:

“This is an especially difficult time for many Third Sector organisations with rising inflation, high energy costs and rising demand for services. About 40 per cent of Voluntary and community organisations and social enterprises are employers. Many of them are now facing serious problems associated with staff recruitment and retention. The report’s findings indicate that tackling the issue of traditionally low pay in the Third Sector is becoming an urgent priority.”

For further detail on the study please contact:

Professor Tony Chapman, Policy & Practice, St Chad’s College, Durham University,
[email protected].
07949 022 627

Adam Lopardo, Director of Community Relations, Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland,
[email protected]
0191 222 0945