Mammoth sector survey gets under way

The Government began the biggest ever survey of the voluntary sector today.

Around 104,000 not-for-profit organisations in England are being invited to respond to itsinaugural National Survey of Third Sector Organisations.

The results will be used to assess how well local authorities are promoting the voluntary sector. Almost two-thirds of English councils chose to prioritise the voluntary sector in their Local Area Agreements this year (Third Sector Online, 1 July).

The survey, which being funded by the Office of the Third Sector and conducted by Ipsos Mori, is being sent out this week and should arrive at organisations by Monday.

It asks about local and national funding relationships, advice and support services and organisations' relations with their local authorities. The information will be used to set a baseline against which progress will be measured in 2010, when the survey will be repeated.

The organisations have been selected by Guidestar UK, on the advice of Ipsos Mori, in order to get a balance of different kinds of organisations. An OTS spokesman said this was standard practice in similar surveys.

Ben Marshall, research director at Ipsos Mori, said the value of the survey hinged on the sector's engagement with it. He said: "If it is to make a difference we need as many organisations to take part as possible. This will ensure the survey is statistically robust and that it provides a strong baseline."

The headline findings from the survey will be released in January, with a full analysis to follow in the spring.

Phil Hope, minister for the third sector, said: "This survey is absolutely crucial to ensuring charities, voluntary groups and social enterprises get the support they need to help them thrive."

In July, Hope hailed news that almost two-thirds of English councils had chosen to prioritise either national indicator 7, which requires them to create an environment for a thriving third sector, or national indicator 6, which commits them to promoting high levels of regular volunteering, in their latest Local Area Agreements.

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