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An unequal picture – the impact of COVID-19 on Scottish Charities

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Today we are publishing the full data tables from our survey on the impact of COVID-19 on Scottish charities. The findings are already being used to provide insights on the impact and needs across a range of different groups to help support the Scottish charity sector and the communities and beneficiaries they support as we recover from the pandemic.

In May, we contacted all Scottish charities to take a snapshot of how the sector was being affected by COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown measures. Up to that point, there had been lots of excellent, responsive research, much of it covering specific sectors and addressing  particular topics, but nothing that gave us what we needed - a view across the sector.

We received an overwhelming response. In the ten days the survey was open, almost 5,000 charities (representing around 20% of all Scottish charity contacts) had taken the time to share their views. Such a positive response to any survey at a time when the pressures had never been greater, speak to commitment and generosity of the Scottish sector, as well as the sense of urgency.

When we first published the findings at the start of June the situation was changing week on week, but aspects of those initial findings were stark. One in five charities in Scotland facing a critical threat to their financial viability at some point in the next 12 months. One in five reporting they would be unable to do what they were set up to do at some point over the same period. Lost income from fundraising affecting over half (51%) and lost income other sources such as trading affecting 42%.

Almost all respondents (95%) had taken some form of action, most commonly providing support over the phone or digitally (47%). Over a third (36%) had stopped operating, a quarter (25%) had applied for emergency funding and almost a fifth (19%) had furloughed staff.

We also asked about the support that had helped, or would help. Local authority funding (33%) and other independent grant funding (33%) were viewed as most helpful, followed by simplified requirements for reporting on grants and outcomes (32%).  Advice on claiming financial support (51%), more guidance on how charities should continue in the pandemic (46%) and flexibility in reporting deadlines (45%) were top of the non-funding list.

Since then we have reflected on the findings and have looked at them in more detail. While the overall results were startling, it was not an equal picture.

  • Smaller charities were much more likely to have stopped operating (45% with income under £25k) than larger organisations (19% income of £100k or more).
  • The critical threat to financial viability in the next 12 months is stronger in charities with more than 11 employees (31%) and those with income over £100k (28%). It is 10% for the charities with income under £10k.
  • Lost income from trading and other sources (not fundraising) is significantly higher for larger charities, affecting 61% of charities with income over £100,000 (42% overall).
  • A significantly higher proportion of sports and recreation charities (56%) and charities working in culture and the arts (48%) reported to have stopped operations than overall (36%).
  • Disruption of services to beneficiaries was reported by a higher proportion of charities working in housing (63%), mental health (65%) and social care charities (55%) than overall (42%).

There are many more observations. While it is important to recognise the critical financial impact for larger charities and the disruption to their beneficiaries, it would be wrong to overlook small charities, their key role in leading community resilience and how important that will be in the coming months. The majority of Scotland’s charities are small to medium and we need to learn from the whole picture, including the voices less frequently heard. There are many areas such as health, food and other direct services that have been a priority over the last few months. Over the next period it is important to ensure others, including arts, culture, sports and recreation are supported to ensure our overall wellbeing.

The detailed findings show that the picture is complex. The survey achieved its aim of speaking directly to a large and representative cross section of Scottish charities, and we are sharing these detailed insights more widely to enable others to use them to develop a better understanding. We are publishing the full data tables today, along with some basic charts to help visualise the impact on different groups. This is a large and robust dataset. We hope you will be able to use the data to provide further insights on the impact and needs of different groups.

While there is a wealth of data, there are areas the survey didn’t capture: what is the nature of the impact on beneficiaries, what about 12 months and beyond? What sort of charity sector will we be regulating then, and what support will it need? We are in the early stages of planning another survey for nearer the end of the year to answer some of these questions. But we are very aware of balancing these needs with the pressures the sector is under.

While charities are finding new ways to operate and share their experiences, we are also adjusting. These findings have created new priorities for OSCR. We are considering the partnerships and data that we need to support the sustainability and long-term resilience of the Scottish charity sector. We would like to thank the sector again for responding. The data has already made a difference and the use of the information will be felt for some time to come. #NeverMoreNeeded