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Supporting Scotland's vibrant voluntary sector

Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations is the membership organisation for Scotland's charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises. Charity registered in Scotland SC003558. Registered office Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh EH3 6BB.

The Scottish Third Sector Tracker


The Scottish Third Sector Tracker is a growing research community made up of representatives from third sector organisations based across the whole of Scotland, who are willing to share their experiences, views and concerns as the sector faces both new and ongoing challenges.

The Tracker is run by an independent research company called DJS Research on behalf of SCVO, the Scottish Government, the William Grant Foundation and the National Lottery Community Fund.

Those involved in the running of a third sector organisation operating in Scotland are invited to represent their organisation as a member of the Scottish Third Sector Tracker.

What does it involve?

Every four months, members of the Tracker will submit a small amount of detail about their organisation’s current situation via an online survey. These details will be anonymised and then aggregated alongside the responses from all of the other Scottish Third Sector Tracker members. This will give SCVO and its partners a clear and up-to-date picture of the health of the third sector in Scotland and will enable them to identify where they can provide support to the sector most effectively.

What has been achieved so far?

The Tracker is entering its second phase. As a direct result of its first phase, which ran from summer 2021 to spring 2023, SCVO was able to make informed decisions on its influencing and media work, and Scottish Government gained invaluable insight which shaped internal decision-making and prioritisation. If you are interested in finding out more information on the impact of the first phase of the Tracker, please read this blog post by Steven Marwick (Director of Evaluation Support Scotland) which can be read here.

To register your interest

To register your interest in becoming a member of the Scottish Third Sector Tracker, please click the ‘Register interest’ button below to give us a few details about you and your organisation. After this, you will receive a welcome call from a DJS researcher. On this call, the researcher will give you some more details about the Tracker and will conduct the first of the Tracker surveys over the phone.

For further information

Please visit the FAQs at the bottom of this page and if you have any questions about the Scottish Third Sector Tracker, please email the DJS Research team at and they will be very happy to provide you with more detail.

Wave 6 findings - Spring 2023

The findings from wave 6 are now available.

Key findings — summary report

The summary report is available at this link

The findings from wave 6 suggest that more organisations are feeling the impact of rising costs, inflation, and other financial pressures. Core operating costs continue to rise with more organisations reporting a negative impact on their ability to deliver services. In addition, difficulty fundraising continues to be a perennial issue for around a third of organisations with over half applying for additional funding to combat rising costs. Funding delays and cuts, whilst not appearing to be prevalent, cause additional financial uncertainty for organisations.

Two-thirds of organisations would like to see more funding made available to help with rising costs, with 40% wanting specific help with energy costs. This comes after a quarter of organisations said that the practical and financial support available to help with rising costs was not very sufficient and an additional 15% said that it was not at all sufficient.

Financial reserves remain important to the survival of many third sector organisations, however, almost half of those organisations using reserves feel this use to be unsustainable. This wave also saw an increase in the number of organisations reporting that they had access to less than six months operating costs in their reserves.

Despite these financial pressures, 60% of organisations report reducing the cost of their services or making them free to support the communities they serve as the rising cost of living continues to have a detrimental impact on peoples’ lives.

While financial pressures are prevalent, staffing and volunteer issues remain high too, with volunteer shortages the response option most frequently ranked as organisations number one challenge. Many organisations report increasing the pay offered to new and existing staff and offering more flexible working conditions to attract and retain paid staff. In the face of these challenges, most organisations remain confident of their future survival, although the percentage of organisations that are very confident has dropped.

Key Findings — Infographic summary

The infographic summary is available at this link
Almost all organisations recorded a rise in overheads again into April/May 2023, with energy and staffing costs leading this increase. Increasingly, these rising costs are thought to be having a detrimental impact on organisations’ ability to deliver their services.

Financial challenges remain the most common issue reported across the sector. In contrast, the increase in organisations reporting decreased turnover in December 2022 appears to have been reversed and accompanied by a notable jump in those recording an increased turnover in April/ May 2023. For those seeing increased turnover, grant and trading income has often underpinned this rise.

Financial reserves remain important to the survival of many third sector organisations. However, new data suggests almost half of those using their reserves feel this is unsustainable and more organisations now report that they have access to less than 6-months’ operating costs in their reserves.

Data tables

The data tables are available at this link

Wave Five Findings — Winter 2022

The infographic summary, summary report and data tables for the fifth wave of The Scottish Third Sector Tracker are now available.

Key Findings — Summary report

The wave 5 summary report is available now

The findings from wave five of the Scottish Third Sector Tracker suggest that third sector organisations are operating in an increasingly difficult environment. Organisations are facing rising costs/inflation, staff and volunteer issues and shortages and financial pressures, all of which make it difficult to run a sustainable organisation and provide adequate support to the people and communities they serve. Many organisations are doing their level best to continue to support their staff through a time of reduced income and increased demand.

Key Findings — Infographic summary

Financial pressures continue to dominate the Scottish third sector landscape. December saw an increase in organisations reporting lower turnover, with those reporting lower turnover also increasingly pessimistic about how long this will last.

Rising costs remain a prevalent issue for third sector organisations, with all bar a small minority seeing their costs rise. This has affected the ability of almost half of all organisations to deliver their core services or activities.

The proportion of organisations falling back on their financial reserves has steadily increased throughout 2022, with over a third having accessed these reserves between August and December.

Challenges regarding staffing and volunteer numbers remain a key concern for the majority of organisations.

The infographic summary is available now.

Data tables

These tables present the in-depth findings from the fifth wave of the Scottish Third Sector Tracker.

The percentages are based on the weighted figure, not the raw totals.

The tables are available now.

Wave Four Findings — Summer 2022

The findings from the fourth wave of the Scottish Third Sector Tracker are available now.

Key findings — summary report

The wave 4 summary report presents key insights into Scotland’s third sector. The report covers current challenges, risings costs and the impacts on organisations and their beneficiaries, staffing and volunteering, financial health, and funding.

Particularly evident in this report was the increased prevalence of staffing issues and shortages, volunteer shortages and financial challenges in the third sector. Organisations have seen costs rise across all areas of business, and approximately one third of respondents made use of financial reserves between April and August 2022.

Further, many organisations have reported concern about the impacts of the cost of living crisis on their beneficiaries, and in open responses gave insights into issues relating to mental health and wellbeing, rising food and energy costs, and increasing hardship and vulnerability in the communities they serve.

Short term funding was found to be dominant, and respondents described the challenges such agreements create for planning for the future and employment. Behind securing funding for core activities, multi-year funding agreements was respondents’ second most frequently reported fair funding priority.

Download the report here - Summary report

Key findings — infographic summary

The findings from the latest wave of the Scottish Third Sector Tracker show the impact of rising costs is becoming increasingly apparent, both for third sector organisations and the communities they work with. Overall, 93% of organisations said they were experiencing rising costs in at least one area of their business, compared with 86% in April.

Organisations reported sharp rises in costs across almost all operating areas. The most pressing being the cost of materials and supplies (76% of the sector); transport costs (61% of the sector); energy costs (50% of the sector) and staffing costs (43% of the sector). Of organisations seeing rising costs, 43% felt this was having a negative impact on their ability to deliver their core services or activities.

To mitigate these impacts, 40% of organisations have applied for funding from new funders and one in three have used their financial reserves. One in ten have had to reduce their services or work.

Almost 80% of organisations reported they were seeing increasing financial hardship in the groups and communities they work with and 64% of organisations considered that demand for their services had increased, with 23% saying that demand had significantly increased. The majority (80%) of those organisations seeing an increase in demand for their services were able to meet most or all of that demand.

Rising costs are not the only challenge third sector organisations reporting facing in the three months since April, with 72% reporting shortages and issues with staffing and volunteers and one in three difficulty planning for the future.

Only one quarter of organisations reported being able to award staff a pay rise since April, typically a rise of between three and five percent.

Infographic summary

Data tables

The weighted and raw data is available in the data tables. The data tables allow you to disaggregate the findings by organisation size (turnover); geographic location; type of organisation (e.g. Social Enterprise) and many other variables.

Data tables

Wave Three Findings — Spring 2022

The findings from the third wave of the Scottish Third Sector Tracker are available now.

Key findings

Scotland’s third sector organisations continued to face challenges in spring 2022, particularly in regard to staffing, volunteer recruitment and management, and finances. Spring 2022 also saw the cost of operating increase for most
organisations. For many, this impacted their ability to deliver core services and activities.

For 71% of organisations the most common challenge was issues with staff and volunteers, this includes management, recruitment and retention. It also includes staff absence and health and wellbeing.

Sixty-one (61%) percent of organisations also report financial challenges.

Almost two-thirds (64%) of organisations continued to see increased demand for their services. Seventy-eight (78%) percent of those organisations were able to meet all or most of this extra demand.

For the majority of third sector organisations, online played a large part in their day-to-day management in Spring 2022. However, more than half of organisations conducted most or all of their programmes or services in-person.

There were notable increases in the proportion of organisations reporting food insecurity (40%, up from 24%) and fuel insecurity (45%, up from 23%) in the communities they serve.

Seventeen (17%) percent of organisations had increased the number of paid staff they employed since December 2021.

Eighty-six (86%) percent of organisations reported rising costs since December 2021, with the most common rises being: material and supplies (63%); transport costs (53%); staffing costs (47%) and energy costs (45%).

Of organisations seeing rising costs of any kind, 42% felt this affected their ability to deliver their core services or activities.

Twenty-seven (27%) of organisations had made use of their financial reserves between December 2021 and April 2022.

Sixty (60%) percent of organisations held less than 6 months’ financial reserves.

You can view all of these statistics and more in the infographic summary.

The challenge of rising costs and hybrid methods of administration and delivery

This wave of the survey also included three open-ended questions asking respondents about:

. the main challenges that rising costs are presenting their organisation

. the benefits of operating using hybrid methods of administration and delivery

. the challenges of operating using hybrid methods of administration and delivery

This report presents analysis of those responses and provides insight into the medium-term challenges of rising costs and the challenges and benefits of hybrid systems.

Data tables

The weighted and raw data is available in the data tables. The data tables allow you to disaggregate the findings by organisation size (turnover); geographic location; type of organisation (e.g. Social Enterprise) and many other variables.

Wave Two Findings — Winter 2021/22

The initial findings from the second wave of the Scottish Third Sector Tracker are now available.

The findings suggest that most third sector organisations continue to face challenges in the face of the pandemic. However, there has been improvement in the sector’s ability to deliver services and/or planned programmes of work.

The headline findings suggest that disruption to service delivery is no longer one of the top 3 challenges for organisations. That has been replaced by issues with staffing and volunteers and difficulty in planning for the future. Unsurprisingly, financial challenges remain in the top 3, up from 47% in summer to 53% in winter 2021/22. Despite this, organisations’ reporting a decrease in turnover has fallen from 48% to 25%.

Demand for services has increased from 57% to 62%, as has organisation’s ability to meet this increase in demand – up from 71% to 83%.

Redundancies have dropped 7%, but recruitment of paid staff is also down from 37% to 29%. Volunteering numbers started to stabilise over the winter after a 36% drop over the summer.

Finally, most in the sector are relatively confident in their future – 92% were confident that they’ll still be operating in 12 months’ time, down from 97% in summer.

Wave One Findings — Summer 2021

The findings from the first, baseline wave are now available. In this wave, organisations were asked to reflect on the challenges of continuing to provide services and planned work during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic

The findings highlight just how disruptive the pandemic has been for third sector organisations in Scotland. Many could not deliver fully on their work plan across the previous year. However, the sector has responded by adapting and creating new services to meet increased demand and emerging needs.

View all the outputs from the first wave, including: a recorded webinar; PowerPoint presentation; infographic summary; summary report; the data tables; key charts and an analysis report on the open questions. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Once every four months.

For most, the survey will take between 10 and 15 minutes to complete each time.

You complete the survey online. A link to the latest edition of the survey will be emailed to you once it is live.

A complete picture of the sector is crucial to the success of the project and so we ask, where possible, that members submit a response for as many surveys as possible. We appreciate that this will not always be possible due to a change in roles, leave or illness. In these cases, we would ask for another colleague to complete the survey in your absence.

If you leave your organisation altogether, please let us know and we can organise for someone else in the organisation to take your place in the community.

Finally, in the very unfortunate circumstance that your organisation stops operating at any point during the next 6 months, we would be very grateful if you could let us know, so that we know not to continue to contact you.