Wherever there is money there is influence: exploring BIG's impact on the third sector

Research by TSRC, in partnership with BIG, has explored the role and impact of BIG in the third sector.

The Big Lottery Fund (BIG) represents a significant source of funding for the third sector. During the current period of public sector cuts its significance is likely to increase. BIG’s mission is to ‘bring real improvements to communities and the lives of people most in need’, rather than to achieve outcomes for the third sector itself. But given its scale of funding, it is likely to have had considerable - albeit unanticipated - outcomes and impacts on the sector.

The research highlights BIG's influence on the sector, not just as a result of its direct funding but also its philosophies, its strategies, and its processes. It has contributed to the establishment, continuation, diversification, expansion and capacity of third sector organisations. It has contributed to a move towards outcomes thinking across the sector, to partnership working, user involvement and the growth of local voluntary action. BIG’s impact on the sector, however, is not as consistent or significant as it might be, and is not always positive. At the sector level, BIG is more likely to be seen a ‘facilitator’ than a ‘leader’ of change.

The potential for BIG to shift its relationship with the sector raises opportunities and challenges, for them and the sector. More generally, it exposes the significance of funders as policy actors within the third sector.

The report offers five questions and potential strategies for BIG and the third sector to address - about engagement, transparency, intelligence, independence, and the extent to which BIG is or could be an active policy actor within the sector.


The research explored three key themes:

  • BIG’s relationship with the third sector and how this has evolved over time;
  • Perceived impacts of BIG on the third sector and its organisations;
  • Future priorities and directions.
  • The research involved two stages. The scoping phase involved interviews with BIG staff and a literature review. See scoping report.

The main stage included interviews and focus groups with a range of stakeholders within BIG, the third sector, government and other funders, and an online survey of grant recipients in third sector organisations.

Research contacts:

Angela Ellis Paine
Rebecca Taylor
Pete Alcock