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State of the Sector 2024: where next for charities?

By Alice Neild 13 March 2024 4 minute read

In February, we launched our highly anticipated State of the Sector 2024 research. At the launch event, we were joined by: Thangam Debbonaire MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport; Matt Downie, Chief Executive of Crisis; and Anne Taylor, Expert by Experience at Crisis. In this blog, Alice Neild, NPC’s Policy and Communications Officer, shares three key things we learned at the event.  

State of the Sector is a robust, sampled, survey of charity leaders, which NPC has run every three years since 2017. This year, for the first time, we asked a similar set of questions to the public and charity users. This offered us a fresh perspective on the work that civil society does, how communities want charities and government to support them, and how this differs from what charity leaders think. 

In the report, we make recommendations to government, charities, and funders based on the findings. A lot of what we heard from charity leaders and users was about dealing with a lack of funding and capacity. The charity sector plays a vital role in tackling social inequalities and many respondents said that they believe charities have a unique advantage over businesses and the state in delivering certain services. But we were concerned to learn that charities are propping up state services by £2.4bn a year which puts essential public services at risk.  

To tackle these issues government needs to reset its relationship with the voluntary sector, and in the past we’ve suggested a range of ways that they could do this. Our State of the Sector launch event brought together people from across the social sector to hear from our speakers and put their questions to the panel.  

Here are three key takeaways from the event: 

1. Charities must be bold in their asks of government 

Our research found that only a small minority of the public (15%) think charities are ‘too political’. 56% of the public overall think that charities get the balance ‘about right’, including 63% of Conservative voters and 61% of Labour voters.  

In light of this figure, Thangam was critical of the condemnation of certain charities who have been ‘muddled up’ in so-called ‘culture war’ debates. She spoke about wanting to make better policies based on the rich evidence and experiences that charities have.  

Matt Downie echoed this, saying that the sector has grown used to ‘asking for things to get worse at a slower pace’. Instead, charities need to ‘come out from behind the sofa, to assert a mature and productive relationship with the state, to boldly talk about our causes and solutions to our issues, whether or not they fit neatly into our limited objects’.  

During the panel discussion, Anne Taylor commented that a lack of funding sometimes gets in the way of charity campaigning. That charities are too busy firefighting to focus on bigger issues and campaigning. Our recommendations to government and funders address this issue.  

2. Charities should not overlook the longer-term risks that environmental crises pose 

In our survey, we asked charity leaders to rank the top three risks facing their organisations. What we found was that charity leaders considered insufficient funding, rising costs and recruitment, and retention of staff to be their biggest threats. However, very few leaders considered the impact of the climate and nature crises as a top risk.  

Thangam described this low identification as a ‘concern’. She recognised that charity leaders have long lists of things to be concerned about, but said that the environmental crises pose an ‘existential threat’ to us all and ‘the voluntary sector has a critical role to play as agents of change’.  

NPC is currently working alongside over 60 charities to tackle the social impacts of the climate and nature crises through our Everyone’s Environment programme 

3. Charities must not get complacent about diversity  

As part of our research, we asked charity leaders and users a series of questions about how they are looking to improve diversity and tackle inequalities in their organisations. We found that whilst some progress has been made, the sector is still unrepresentative of the people it serves in many ways. Thangam recognised that whilst there has been significant progress since she left the sector, charities must not get complacent. Thangam also highlighted the figures from our survey on class and was struck by the lack of class diversity in the sector as a whole.  

We found that leaders were less worried (7%) than users (19%) about class representation in the sector. This concern is supported by data, we know from independent surveys that far more charity leaders are privately educated, for example, than the UK average. 

NPC’s Centring Lived Experience guide is designed to help senior leaders take a strategic approach. It contains step-by-step guidance on how to effectively incorporate insight from lived experience throughout your organisation. 

To find out more and catch up with the event, visit our YouTube channel.  


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