12th Oct 2020
This year, the Community Foundation published two reports as part of its Third Sector Trends study (TST) which looks at the current state of the community and voluntary sector and the funding environment in which it operates. This is to be followed by a further report on inequalities and voluntary sector leadership, along with new Vital Issues reports focusing on key areas of inequality within the Foundation’s area of benefit.
Professor Tony Chapman of St Chad’s College, Durham University authored the two TST reports. Drawing on research involving 30 regional and national funders, The Strength of Weak Ties explores issues such as the importance of trust between funders and grantees, the challenges of place-based funding and how foundations work most effectively together. Third Sector Trends in North East England 2020 is informed by a major survey of the regional sector in which over 1,000 organisations participated. It presents a comprehensive picture of the field and its workforce, its funding and financial health, its relationships with the public and private sector, and its social impact. Although realistic about the new challenges ahead, Professor Chapman draws on the long-term trends and learning from TST since 2009 to strike a note of optimism. He says: “If I am convinced of anything, in these enormously difficult times, it is this – civil society is here to stay.”
The next TST report on equalities and leadership in the third sector will look further into the make-up of senior staff and Boards, and whether it reflects the growing diversity of the region. Meanwhile, the Vital Issues equality and diversity reports will help to inform the thinking of donors and other funding bodies by examining the experience of women, people with disabilities and members of the Black, Asian and minority ethnic, and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities in the North East. As with previous research work it has produced, the Foundation is clear that these reports are meant to start conversations, which must include the voices of the communities concerned at the front and centre. The issues raised are likely to challenge the Community Foundation to further action: it seems clear already that many people in the North East are excluded from the opportunities that many of us take for granted.
Of course, this year has been exceptional due to COVID-19. Alongside Brexit, which is accepted will bring short term economic difficulties, the pandemic will amplify the difficulties of the third sector and the communities it serves, and in particular those experiencing prejudice or discrimination. The Community Foundation has begun to map the implications of these developments in the above publications. In 2021, however, it will take full stock of the situation in an updated Vital Signs North East report.