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More for less: A Sector at capacity needs investment, not cuts

An increase in the demand for services, having to deliver more for less, navigating the cost of living pressures, rising overheads and ensuring teams are looked after, are all challenges that have been identified in the most recent 3SG Annual Third Sector Survey, released today.

Unsurprisingly, the survey, which is carried out every year by Bath and North East Somerset Third Sector Group (3SG), revealed the top three pressures for the Third Sector were finances, capacity and staffing. The Annual Survey of charities, community groups and social enterprises ensures that the voice of the 3SG membership can be heard and assists the organisation in planning its support and advocacy work in the year ahead.

68 Third Sector organisations responded to the survey, which was made available towards the end of last year and the results analysed. This autumn will see the fifth annual sector survey, which will see 3SG shake up the format for further, in depth feedback.

The key highlights from the survey include: 76% of organisations reported working at or over capacity, which has grown compared to 68% last year and over half surveyed said they are working over capacity to deliver services. Another significant increase has seen organisations seeking new income streams, up 16% - since the pandemic, those seeking new funding from trading activity has doubled. 76% of those surveyed had been seeking new income streams in the past year. Three quarters of organisations that responded reported being very or moderately concerned about long term funding.

The percentage of those using reserves to cover core costs had increased from 32% to 39% and over 30% of those asked were holding reserves worth 0-3 month’s expenditure. Overall, the results saw the use of reserves for funding nearly doubling since the last survey.

66% were concerned about volunteering services, including recruitment and retention of volunteers - the organisations that responded are supported by over 4,600 volunteers.

In a separate poll, 100% of those asked said that they had increased staff salaries to support members of their team with cost of living pressures. The overall percentage increase in the UK National Living Wage from April 2017 to April 2023 was approximately 38.93%, which has brought pressures to operational running costs and the dilemma of organisations wanting to take care of their staff. This, alongside little or no contract uplifts, is putting extreme pressure on the sector. One respondent said: “The challenges our staff teams are facing are not dissimilar to our clients.”

Staff morale rated good or excellent had dropped from 66% to 43%, yet 59% were very or moderately concerned about staff recruitment compared to 75% last year.

Becky Brooks, Director at B&NES 3rd Sector Group (3SG) commented: “Our thanks to all the 3SG members and local organisations that took part in the Annual Survey. This feedback gives us an in-depth understanding of the issues facing the Third Sector and increasingly so, from last year, the results show a sector that desperately needs core funding support and investment. It is really challenging, in the current climate, with proposed cuts to the Sector by the Local Authority to ask for investment, but statutory services are increasingly reliant on local charities to deliver services - and without support, those services simply won’t exist.

“3SG has been asking the Council to bring us into those discussions and to be creative about ways in which services can be delivered, without sweeping and damaging cuts which will affect local people and the support they receive.

“The Sector is clearly looking at ways in which it can adapt and grow, including greater collaboration and looking for alternative methods of funding. 3SG will be looking to support through various events - and we would also like to hear from local businesses who might be interested in supporting the sector through CSR and social enterprise.”

Kate Morton, CEO of Bath Mind and Chair of 3SG’s Board of Trustees said: “3SG’s survey is unique in our region and is a powerful barometer of the challenges and ambitions of the B&NES Third Sector in 2023-24.  The results show that unsurprisingly, the same challenges remain - and unfortunately, these pressures are only getting harder to resolve.

“In 2024 we need to be looking at ways in which we can work creatively and collaboratively to bring new initiatives to the table and to forge better relationships with the Local Authority and the Integrated Care Board, so that the Sector is truly heard and supported. There is work to be done on finding ways collectively to demonstrate the Sector’s social impact and value, because without the work of the Third Sector, residents will undoubtedly see a loss in services and a higher need which will struggle to be met.”

To join 3SG or find out about how we support charities and Third Sector organisations with training, advice, support and networking events, visit: or sign up for the 3SG newsletter

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