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28 February 2012 - press release

New research conducted by the Third Sector Research Centre has examined the impact of the Big Lottery Fund (BIG) on the voluntary sector. It finds that BIG’s funding, plus the resulting outcomes, have an influence on the direction and policy of the sector as a whole.

Through providing small amounts of funding to a large number of organisations, BIG has helped to grow and maintain small scale voluntary action. It has also had an influence on funding practices across the sector: increasing the odds of funders being interested in outcomes, of providing longer term funding, and of offering full cost recovery.

The report also suggests that BIG could be more explicit about what impact they are looking to have on the sector and the evidence they are using to inform their decisions.

The research, which was part funded by BIG, poses questions to help them formulate future strategies. For example, how can they widen and deepen engagement with the sector? How can they make better use of their intelligence to influence policy or practice? Do they want to be more active in leading policy change? And how would the sector react to moves in this direction?

While the report is specifically about BIG it offers shared learning for others in the sector. Many of the questions raised may be useful for other funders to consider.

The research highlights BIG’s many positive impacts on the sector. As well as enabling many organisations to start up, keep going or expand, they have built capacity to write funding applications, manage projects, measure outcomes, involve users, and work in partnership with others. But the research also points out that BIG’s impacts on the sector are not always consistent or as significant as they might be.

Angela Ellis Paine, who led TSRC’s research, said: “Our research shows that BIG has worked hard to build relationships with voluntary organisations and be seen as an intelligent funder, but engagement and impact are not evenly distributed across the sector. We hope this report offers BIG a systematic way to develop their strategies by addressing fundamental questions about who they want to be and what they want to achieve. These questions are not for BIG to answer alone, but in conversation with the sector and other stakeholders.”

Peter Wanless, Big Lottery Fund Chief Executive said: “BIG jointly funded the research as part of our planning to help inform BIG’s future strategic direction. We are shortly expecting our new policy directions from the Office for Civil Society. This research, along with our new policy directions and our refreshed strategic framework will help inform our work and future investments.”