BVSC Director of Research Sophie Wilson gives an overview of the 2021 State of the Sector Report findings and what they reveal about Birmingham's Voluntary, Community, Faith and Social Enterprise sector.

This week we have great pleasure in presenting the 2021 State of the Sector Report.

With huge thanks to everyone who participated in the survey itself, or who took part in the interviews that were carried out, we hope that you find the report as interesting as we have (and I apologise in advance for the length of it, but remember, a lot of it is pictures and graphs!)

There are lots of interesting findings in the report, and some big takeaways for us here at BVSC Research and the wider BVSC team. I thought it might be helpful to summarise these here:

Despite the concerns reported in our 2020 survey about the impact of the pandemic on the financial security of organisations in the sector, income and staffing levels have actually remained relatively stable. That is not to say there have not been significant challenges - around 15% of organisations reported that they had to make staff redundant during the year, and many reported having to significantly change, expand or extend their provision. With increased costs of living, inflation rising (not matched with increases in contractual values) and the loss of significant funding streams (in particular the loss of the European Social Fund in 2023), as well as funders being seen to ‘pause’ after Covid-19 to re-assess their priorities, those challenges remain, and we need to keep a close eye on this over the coming months.

It was very evident from our interviews and from some of the earlier reports that informed this year’s State of the Sector, that the sector has truly embraced ‘new ways of working’ developed during the pandemic. This is notably through increased collaboration, digital and on-line delivery, and increased flexibility in staff roles to meet emerging need. The sector appears to be retaining some of the benefits of ‘hybrid working’ with staff continuing to offer a mixture of face to face and remote work.

One striking finding was that one in five organisations do not currently collect any demographic information about the people they work with. This clearly has implications for understanding who the sector serves, and where any gaps may exist. On the basis of the responses we did receive, we estimate that between 57-59% of people being supported by the sector are from Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic groups, between 30-45% have a disability, between 9-16% identify as LGBTQ+ and between 49-59% are women. However, with the lack of data available (coupled with the limited response to the survey itself) these figures cannot be assumed to be truly reflective of the work that is happening across Birmingham.

In terms of staffing, we estimate that between 30-45% of staff working in the sector are from Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic groups, 9-17% have a disability, between 5-13% identify as LGBTQ+ and between 51-66% are women. The average VCFSE organisation is supported by between 10-26 volunteers.

The survey and interview responses also underlined the current challenges facing our communities. The key issues highlighted included the impact of the pandemic on people's mental health and social isolation, widening inequalities, poverty and the cost of living increase, and the changes to benefits and the lack of a ‘safety net’. None of this comes as a huge surprise, but it nevertheless draws attention to the importance of the sector and the work that we do to support our most vulnerable citizens.

Survey respondents highlighted where they need help and support, with bid writing and fundraising topping the bill. This was closely followed by support in volunteering and volunteer management, training or support in the effective use of IT and digital technology and developing partnerships and strategic relationships.

So, what next?

The report is going to be shared widely, with partners across the VCFSE sector as well as strategic partners in the Local Authority, the West Midlands Combined Authority and across health, education, criminal justice and employment sectors. We will also be sharing the report with colleagues from VCFSE Infrastructure organisations across the UK, as well as academic partners who have an interest in the sector.

At BVSC, we will be using the report to inform much of our upcoming work – in particular through our Engage for Good activity, and as part of our work to develop a City-wide Volunteering Strategy which is due to start in September. We will also be using the demographic information we have collected towards our work on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, for example, in our work with Birmingham Race Impact Group (BRIG) in developing a Voluntary, Community, Faith and Social Enterprise sector Mini Race Impact Summit and position paper on race equality in the sector. 

We are very aware that for many people working in the sector, the key priority is just ‘getting on with the job at hand’ – and we also know that completing surveys can be a time consuming task! We have therefore been having a think about this year’s State of the Sector activity and we are planning to do things a little bit differently.
We have been in recent discussions with colleagues from Durham University who are the architects of the national Third Sector Trends Survey (I invite you all to complete this if you haven’t already)

The value of the Third Sector Trends survey is that it will give us comparator data from a national and regional level, which can help us to identify key trends. Rather than duplicating this work with yet another survey, we have agreed to work together with colleagues from Durham University who are happy to share this data with us.

The plan is therefore to use the data from our report, alongside the data generated from the Third Sector Trends survey to identify key themes for further exploration. We will be holding a series of thematic events in the Autumn, to which you will all be invited, which will allow us to delve a little deeper into some of the issues highlighted and really understand what is happening for you. We can then share this learning with both our colleagues from the Third Sector Trends work, and across Birmingham in particular – allowing some national, regional, and local pictures to emerge!

This will then be presented back to you all in a series of bite-sized learning papers in early 2023.

I will be sending out more information about the events in due course, and hope to see many of you in attendance. Your knowledge, expertise and insight is truly invaluable.

If you would like to no more about the survey, or any of the other work that BVSC Research is involved in, please do contact me on 07765 867869 or email me on [email protected]