Northern Rock Foundation

Feb 22, 2010 | Category: Trusts and Foundations

Two major reports on findings from the Northern Rock Foundation’s Third Sector Trends Study (TSTS) are published today. The reports are both ‘works in progress’ from the TSTS, and their emerging findings already contain important new messages for sector researchers, practitioners, funders and policy-makers. The reports examine the realities behind some of the dominant rhetoric which currently influences thinking about the local third sector. They suggest that:-

  1. Local voluntary organisations have higher management capacity than is sometimes thought, and are clearly focussed on their mission and the needs of the people who use their services - BUT - they are less good at communicating their strengths and the value and impact of their work - which means their significance and role is under-estimated.
  2. Small, informal, local and community groups outnumber formal charities, and constitute a hidden force in the voluntary sector. We need to know more about the contribution of this often unseen part of the voluntary sector, to be able to understand and support it in maximising benefit to the communities it serves.

What makes a Third Sector Organisation tick? Interactions of foresight, enterprise, capability and impact, by Tony Chapman and colleagues (University of Teesside), and Fred Robinson (University of Durham). The results reported show:-

  • local organisations perform well in a number of qualities important for survival in an uncertain economic environment including: foresight ;capability ;enterprise and impact.
  • organisations which score highest know what they are there to do, and who they serve
  • organisations use networking effectively to spot opportunities, but are less driven by innovation than by the needs of their beneficiaries
  • the area where organisations are least effective is in communicating their value and impact.

Beyond “flat-earth” maps of the third sector: Enhancing our understanding of the contribution of ‘below-the-radar” organisations by John Mohan and colleagues at the University of Southampton, with David Kane and Karl Wilding of NCVO.

This is the first study that has tried to produce a reliable picture of the thousands of small ‘below-the-radar’ but vital, community-based and local organisations which make up the third sector in the region. Early findings show that:

  • there are around 3.66 below-the-radar organisations per 1000 population
  • this compares with 3.27 for the better-known registered charity sector and other types of regulated third sector organisations
  • there are higher numbers of below-the-radar organisations in the most deprived areas of highest local need; registered charities are located in the more prosperous parts of the region although their activities (as measured by expenditure) are not confined to such areas.

The study emphasises that caution should be attached to its findings because of the variable and patchy quality of the data available. The messages for policy-makers and funders are that:

  • they need to better understand the kinds of community capacity which local ‘Below-the-radar’ organisations provide
  • allocating resources to improve local data, possibly through infrastructure and umbrella bodies, would be a valuable investment.

Although these studies focus on the North East and Cumbria, there is no reason to believe they would not apply to other regions, and results from both reports provide a valuable springboard for similar studies of the local sector in other regions.

Background Note

The Northern Rock Foundation's Third Sector Trends Study (TSTS) covers North East England and Cumbria, and its first phase runs for three years from November 2008 to 2011. Its key objective is to provide an evidence base on the local third sector which can better inform the decisions of funders and policy-makers, and improve services to those in need. The research has two main aims:

  • to produce robust data and independent analysis on the scale and scope of the third sector in the North East and Cumbria;
  • to provide an analysis of the dynamics of the sector through a long-term study of stakeholder perceptions, organisational practice and local impact.


Teesside University's Third Sector Development Unit (TSDU) is surveying the dynamics of the sector, led by Tony Chapman (Teesside) and Fred Robinson (Durham University). Alongside this, colleagues at the University of Southampton, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and Guidestar UK are undertaking a comprehensive quantitative mapping exercise of third sector organisations (TSOs) in the study region. The two sides of the work will come together in a longitudinal panel survey of a representative sample of local organisations starting in Spring 2010.

Research findings are being disseminated on a regular basis throughout the life of the project. The project is guided by an Advisory Group of sector and government representatives, chaired by Cathy Pharoah, Co-Director, Centre for Giving and Philanthropy, Cass Business School.

‘What makes a Third Sector Organisation tick? Interactions of foresight, enterprise, capability and impact’, by Tony Chapman, Fred Robinson, Judith Brown, Robert Crow, Victoria Bell and Emma Bailey. Northern Rock Foundation. February 2010. Report (pdf) and Summary (pdf).

‘Beyond “flat-earth” maps of the third sector: Enhancing our understanding of the contribution of ‘below-the-radar” organisations’ by John Mohan, David Kane, Karl Wilding, Julia Branson and Fiona Owles. Northern Rock Foundation. February 2010. Report (pdf) and Summary (pdf).

For further information visit NRF Third Sector Trends Study Website


Cathy Pharoah: 020 8769 7866 or 07941 214734

Professor Tony Chapman: 07949 022627

Professor John Mohan: 02380 596681


Notes to editors

Northern Rock Foundation is a charity and company limited by guarantee with an independent Board of Trustees that makes all decisions on governance, finance and policy. The Foundation aims to tackle disadvantage and improve quality of life in North East England and Cumbria. To do this, it invests money, time and expertise in charitable activities using several tools including grants, loans, training, research and demonstration projects. The Foundation’s work is delivered by a professional staff team of 13 based in Newcastle upon Tyne.

The Foundation was established when Northern Rock demutualised in 1997. Up to December 2007, the bank gave, by covenant, 5% of its annual pre-tax profits to the Foundation, totalling more than £190 million. The Foundation will receive a minimum of £15m a year in 2008, 2009 and 2010 from Northern Rock, as part of the arrangement under which the bank was taken into temporary public ownership. Maintaining this arrangement is a condition of any sale of the bank in that period. The Government has asked the bank’s board to identify a viable long-term future for the Foundation.

For further information please contact Hilary Florek at HF PR.

Tel 0191 285 7100

Mobile 07831 552624

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