The Voluntary Sector Survey 2017

We carried out a survey of the voluntary and community sector in Swindon in 2017, as part of a wider consultation with the local sector, which included several focus group sessions. The survey was launched on 11th April 2017, and closed on 11th May. A total of 146 responses were received, representing 111 organisations. Focus group sessions were held in October-November 2016 and were attended by 49 people representing various voluntary and community sector groups.

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Executive Summary

  1. This report sets out the results of a survey of the voluntary and community sector, carried out by VAS, in April-May 2017; and several focus group sessions with voluntary and community sector organisations, carried out by VAS in October-November 2016. We obtained a total of 146 responses from people answering on behalf of 111 different organisations, and increase of 19 responses and 7 organisations compared to the previous survey. A total of 49 individuals representing various voluntary and community sector organisations attended and fed into the focus group sessions.
  2. Organisations representing the whole range of voluntary and community activity are present in responses to the survey. The majority are registered charities. Around one fifth are sports clubs, and about the same proportion are companies (charitable companies, not-for-profit companies, and Community Interest Companies). Smaller proportions include community centres, associations, trusts and social enterprises.
  3. Nearly half of all respondents are paid staff. Nearly one in ten are volunteers. Two-fifths are committee members – many of these will also be volunteers, in the case of charity boards who are usually unpaid. This differs substantially from the previous survey, where only a third were paid staff and more than a quarter represented volunteers. This could be due to organisations using fewer volunteers and more part-time paid staff compared to the 2015 results, as reported by respondents.
  4. Fewer respondents are using regular, committed volunteers compared to the 2015 survey – the proportion has dropped significantly, from 86% to 67%. Those using casual or occasional volunteers has also dropped slightly. The proportion of respondents using part-time paid staff has risen, though not dramatically. One third of respondents use no regular volunteers at all; more than half use no casual volunteers. The majority of respondents use volunteers only and do not have any paid members of staff. Apart from the drop in regular, committed volunteers, staff and volunteer numbers are largely consistent with the results from the 2015 survey. Despite the reduction in regular volunteers, reliance on volunteers was felt to be increasing by half of respondents, and to be static by nearly half. What this means is volunteers are seen as no less essential than before, but organisations are struggling to recruit or retain them, possibly due to lacking resource.
  5. Registered charities are more likely to use both volunteers and staff than respondents overall, and in greater numbers. Sports clubs are much less likely to employ anyone, and are also likely to have fewer volunteers. Organisations which are branches or members of larger organisations report having significantly more regular volunteers than organisations that are independent or local. Word of mouth is the most popular way for organisations to recruit new volunteers, which is consistent with the 2015 results. The majority of respondents feel that the volunteers they recruit are a good match for their organisation’s needs most of the time.
  6. Nearly half of respondents reported that their income has remained static over the past year; just over a quarter reported that it has increased, and a similar proportion reported that it has decreased. Donations from individuals is the most common source of income for respondents, followed by fundraising events, grants from charitable trusts and foundations, and public sector grants or contracts. Public sector income has reduced more than any other income stream over the last year.
  7. The majority of respondents reported that their expenditure has increased over the past year. Around two-fifths reported that it has stayed the same, and a very small proportion reported a decrease in expenditure. Nearly all groups with increased income also reported increased expenditure. Respondents have taken various actions to make ends meet – the most common being reviewing spending on small items, followed by recruiting more volunteers to cover services, and investing in fundraising, marketing or business development. Cutting services or making staff redundant were much less common methods of making ends meet.
  8. The most common beneficiary group among respondents is children and young people, with more than two-fifths of respondents supporting this group. This is followed by older people, supported by more than one third of respondents, then by people with mental health problems, supported by three in ten. Nearly three in ten report that they supported between 201 and 500 beneficiaries in the last year. One fifth reported supporting over 2,000 people. Almost half of all respondents report that they are supporting about the same number of beneficiaries as they were a year ago, but more than two-fifths report that they have seen an increase in beneficiary numbers. In total, respondents reported that they have supported 342,963 people in the last twelve months, although this result should be interpreted with caution as one respondent had reported supporting 200,000 people – roughly the population of the Borough of Swindon. It seems unlikely that this respondent was referring to direct beneficiaries of their work.
  9. Respondents are considerably more familiar with VAS than with other infrastructure organisations (i.e. organisations supporting frontline work, across the public, private, and voluntary and community sectors). Awareness of public sector bodies such as One Swindon and My Care My Support is low, while awareness of voluntary sector organisations such as the Volunteer Centre and Sanford House is relatively high. Awareness of Healthwatch Swindon is also relatively high, and has risen considerably since the 2015 survey. Close to three-fifths of respondents work with Swindon Borough Council, but confidence in their effectiveness is relatively low. More than half of respondents work with VAS, which scored the highest for effectiveness as a partner organisation.
  10. Respondents feel more engaged with voluntary and community sector networks than other networks and infrastructure bodies, although Swindon Borough Council and local media also score relatively high in engagement. Charitable funders, local businesses, and public sector bodies score relatively low, indicating respondents do not feel engaged with them. Respondents feel they would benefit most from greater engagement with local businesses and charitable funders.
  11. Respondents see their main training and development needs as fundraising and volunteer recruitment. Awareness raising (including marketing, media, advertising and PR) also scores high. Raising income to provide services is identified as respondents’ primary challenge. Other challenges include recruiting new trustees, engaging with the wider public, replacing lost income streams, meeting core costs, and recruiting new volunteers.
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