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COVID-19 continues to affect charities and those they support

15 Dec 2020

70% of charities have seen a negative impact on those they support as a result of COVID-19, according to a new survey by the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR).

Over 2,500 charities responded to the survey to help provide a snapshot of the impact of the pandemic on a large and representative cross section of Scottish charities. Carried out in November 2020, it builds on the comprehensive data gathered from OSCR’s first COVID-19 charity survey in May.

The people and communities that charities work to benefit, together with the services charities provide are wide ranging and diverse. They include young people and those accessing services, to the wider community and beyond. The mental health and wellbeing effects of the pandemic and its associated restrictions were evident in the responses, with 51% of charities reporting increased loneliness and isolation and 43% reporting anxiety about the future as areas of concern for beneficiaries.

A third (30%) reported financial security as a threat for beneficiaries, with a quarter (24%) observing increased financial hardship and vulnerability. One third of charities (33%) reported that services to beneficiaries are currently disrupted due to COVID-19 and the restrictions

The new findings also provide detailed information on the significant financial impact of the pandemic on Scottish charity income:

  • 79% of charities who receive income from donations and fundraising reported a decrease
  • Lower trading income was reported by 83% of charities with this income source
  • Grants and government funding was the least affected of the income streams tested, with a third (33%) seeing an increase and 29% a decrease for those with this income source.

One in ten charities (9%) reported a critical threat to their financial viability in the next 12 months, a decrease from 20% in May.

The data also shows that charities remain active in countering the effects of COVID-19. Eighty-four per cent of charities had taken action in the period from June to November 2020, with 43% adapting current services to respond to the restrictions. A quarter (25%) had applied for additional funding, while 37% used financial reserves.

Some charities did benefit from positive changes since the pandemic began, with 47% reporting improved use of digital technology among staff and volunteers.

Read the findings of the COVID-19 Impact on Charities (November survey) here.

OSCR will continue to analyse the data to inform its work and to help others support the sector. The May findings supported our conversations with the Scottish Government, local government and other partners and provided insight on the variable impact of the pandemic different groups of charities. They were used to inform detailed work on volunteering, social enterprises and local support for the third sector.   

Maureen Mallon, OSCR’s Chief Executive said,

‘I would like to thank everyone who participated in the research.  The findings will help shape OSCR’s ongoing regulatory work during COVID-19 and our conversations to share the priorities of others such as with Scottish Government who partner, fund and support charities.

 ‘This information is crucial if we are to understand the impact of the pandemic on the resilience and sustainability of the charity sector. Charities play an essential role in Scottish society. They connect communities, provide help where it is needed most and make very significant contributions to Scotland’s economy. It is clear that some are suffering financially while trying their best to achieve their purpose. Recognising the role charities have played during the pandemic and securing widespread flexible support for the sector has never been more important than it is now.


Background information

  • The Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) is the independent registrar and regulator of Scotland’s 25,100 charities and publishes the Scottish Charity Register at oscr.org.uk
  • The survey was being conducted by Breaking Blue, an independent market research organisation and member of the Market Research Society.
  • The objectives of the research were to:
    • understand the impact that COVID-19 had had on charities at the time of the research
    • quantify what sources of support were being considered and used
    • explore the most effective ways in which OSCR and other third sector organisations can support the sector throughout this time.
  • The survey was carried out from 3-15 November 2020 with 2,548 charities responding.
  • Representatives of approx. 21,000 charities on the Scottish Charity Register were invited to participate in the research, with the following few exclusions:
    • individuals who were the contact for multiple charities were invited to participate only once
    • charities for whom OSCR had no email address on record
  • If you have any media queries, please email Ian Grieve or Judith Pogorzelec at info@oscr.org.uk