Two-thirds of charities reported increased demand for services as lockdown eased, research finds

The data also revealed the number of organisations using digital technology has doubled since the pandemic began

Volunteers at Blackpool Food Bank. (Photo by PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Volunteers at Blackpool Food Bank. (Photo by PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Almost two-thirds of charities have faced an increase in demand for their services since the July easing of lockdown restrictions, according to new research.

The latest data from the Covid-19 Voluntary Sector Impact Barometer, which is produced by Nottingham Trent University, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and Sheffield Hallam University, found 57 per cent of surveyed organisations had reported increased demand over the past month.

Just nine per cent of organisations reported a decrease in demand, according to the survey of 371 organisations.

The survey painted a mixed financial picture for survey respondents. Almost one-third of organisations said their finances had deteriorated in the past month (27 per cent), while more than a quarter (26 per cent) said they had improved.

The number of organisations reporting an increase in paid employees doubled from nine per cent in June to 18 per cent in July, the findings revealed. A quarter (24 per cent) of respondents took on more volunteers over the same period.

The research also found a significant number of organisations had changed the way they use digital technology. Before the pandemic two in five organisations (41 per cent) used digital technology to work or volunteer remotely, a figure that has subsequently doubled to 82 per cent.

This led to a growth in accessible services, the research says, with 45 per cent of charities reporting improved accessibility of their services as result of their online operations.

Daniel King, professor of organisational behaviour at Nottingham Trent University, said the increased levels of digitalisation had created new ways of working, but added that sustaining the progress would take investment.

“The pandemic has shown some of the possibilities and limitations of digital working and service delivery, but investment is required to really capitalise on these changes if the sector is really able to build on the learning for the past 18 months,” King said.

Three-quarters (74 per cent) of charities said the level of digital skills required for volunteers and staff to carry out their work had increased, while a fifth (20 per cent) named the current skills of staff and volunteers as a key barrier to increasing or improving their use of digital technology.

Commenting on the findings, Anya Martin, research and insight manager at NCVO, said: “The past year has been a huge challenge for many voluntary organisations, especially those who deliver face-to-face services.

“As always, we’ve seen charities respond creatively to the challenges. Most notably there was a huge uptake in the usage of digital technology – both for frontline service delivery and for back office uses.”

A number of organisations had used the crisis as a catalyst to develop better and more efficient services, Martin continued.

“While progress still needs to be made, the data in this month’s report offers promising insights into charities’ potential future in the digital space, and the opportunities technology can offer for improving service accessibility beyond the pandemic,” she said.

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