Report highlights key challenges for the third sector's future

The Third Sector Research Centre launched its final report into the future of the third sector at the House of Commons this evening (25 June). The report is based on the Third Sector Futures Dialogue, a series of discussions hosted by the Centre since September last year.

The report highlights some of the key challenges faced by the sector today, including articulating value, negotiating relationships with the public and private sectors, and maintaining autonomy and mission in hard times.

The dialogue highlights that the ‘unsettlement’ faced by the sector is not only about reduced funding. Nicolas Deakin, who was part of the Futures Dialogue Sounding Board, said in the Preface ‘There are fundamental questions to address about the continuing ability of voluntary organisations of all kinds to secure a future based on their independence of action and shaped by their own mission and values.’

The importance of putting mission and values before organisational survival was a recurring theme throughout the discussions. Another recurring theme was the importance of voice within the sector, and the vital role organisations play in speaking out on behalf of those they represent and challenging political decisions they disagree with. 

Pete Alcock, Director of TSRC who has led the dialogue, launched the report at the All Party Parliamentary Group on Civil Society and Volunteering. He said that “while organisations across the sector face very different challenges, this dialogue has reinforced the need for shared debate. The future for organisations depends on the individual decisions they make, but there is also call for a sector voice on many issues, such as commissioning, social investment, localism, welfare cuts and, not least, their right to advocate.

Sector organisations are inevitably affected by the political and economic context, but they should not be seen as passive recipients of change. The future of the third sector will involve interdependence with a range of public and private sector actors. A key challenge lies in influencing the terms of these relationships.”

The Futures Dialogue also highlighted areas of disagreement or controversy in the sector. Some felt that the sector was not doing enough to challenge attacks on the welfare state, and others felt the sector should challenge current trajectories – such as the drive to measure impact, or the idea that commissioning was the only way for government to fund third sector organisations.

Pete Alcock added that “an on-going challenge for the sector is to continue to articulate, debate and challenge what it is for.” 

The full report, 'Unity in Diversity: what is the future for the third sector?' is available here

The report was launched on Tuesday 25 June, 5.30pm, after the main meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Civil Society and Volunteering at the House of Commons.

The report is based on the Third Sector Futures Dialogue, hosted by TSRC between September 2012 and April 2013. The Dialogue was based on issues raised by TSRC research. They involved online debate and discussion, as well as meetings of a Sounding Board made up of voluntary, community and policy representatives. More information can be found at

For more information

Naomi Landau:  / 020 7520 2421

Third Sector Research Centre website