Findings from a third sector research project are providing crucial insights into how Scotland’s charities, social enterprises and voluntary groups were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Run by independent research company DJS Research on behalf of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO), the Scottish Government, the William Grant Foundation, and the National Lottery Community Fund; the Scottish Third Sector Tracker is a research community made up of representatives from almost 600 organisations based across Scotland who share their experiences, views, and concerns in a quarterly survey.

The key findings from the first phase have now been announced,and highlight just how disruptive the pandemic has been for third sector organisations in Scotland.

Nearly all organisations surveyed faced challenges since the start of the pandemic, with 57% stating that demand for their services had increased despite almost half facing financial issues. The vast majority of those surveyed also saw emerging needs like mental and physical health from their services users and communities, and 9% of organisations had to make staff redundancies to cope with the impact of the pandemic.

However there were also a lot of positive outcomes in response to these hardships, with 71% of organisations meeting most or all increased demand, 90% adapting or even increasing certain existing services and 37% even taking on new staff in the last year.

Anna Fowlie, Chief Executive of SCVO, said: “By setting up the Scottish Third Sector Tracker, we wanted to give Scottish charities, social enterprises and community groups the opportunity to contribute to a high-profile survey that will be a valuable source of evidence for decision-makers across the country. This first set of findings shows a really mixed picture of the immediate impact of the pandemic on the sector and highlights not just how significantly voluntary organisations have been affected, but also how resilient and innovative the sector can be. The findings will be shared widely to help policy-makers and funders shape their own policies and support for the sector, and we look forward to learning more from the Tracker about how the sector deals with the longer-term aftermath of the crisis.”

Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison said: “This tracker gives us all a valuable insight into how third sector organisations have responded to the Covid 19 pandemic. It shows that whilst there has undoubtedly been a level of disruption, and many third sector organisations have had to flex to meet new and increased demands for their services, they have continued to provide their services.

“That the vast majority met these challenges head on is testament to the professionalism, flexibility and resilience of the third sector in Scotland. The Scottish Government will continue to work in partnership with the sector to learn from and build on their experiences of the pandemic to ensure they can be an integral part of Scotland’s recovery and renewal.”

Nick Addington, William Grant Foundation said: “For all the surveys that have been conducted since the pandemic began, there’s been a dearth of robust, consistent data and a need for more nuanced insight into how third sector organisations are actually faring than some of the headlines they’ve generated. We believe this large-scale long-term study will fill that gap as it tracks the sector on a regular basis, providing information funders and anyone with an interest in the sector can act on. We’re delighted to be supporting such a critical piece of open research and are grateful to all the organisations who have signed up to participate.”

View the full report from Phase One.

Watch our webinar with DJS Research which features a discussion about the findings: