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The Progressive Policy Think Tank

IPPR North: Businesses must “get smarter” about supporting their communities

  • Businesses in the North of England make a “significant contribution” of £1.9bn to charities and other voluntary organisations.
  • Nearly 70% of third sector organisations in the North receive some form of financial support from business.
  • But the voluntary sector prefers businesses’ cash over their volunteer support.

New analysis by IPPR North provides a rare insight into the relationship between business and the third sector in the North of England.

A survey of over 3,600 northern charities has found that businesses make a “significant contribution” towards the income of 70% of charities and other voluntary organisations in the North. Non-financial support is also highly valued, for example, 46% of charities in the North say they benefit from the provision of free facilities by business and 47% say they receive free expert advice from businesses.

But the voluntary sector prefers businesses’ cash, not just their volunteers. In fact, over three quarters of all third sector organisations say that the provision of volunteers from business is of little or no importance to them.  

IPPR North’s Jack Hunter has highlighted this analysis as evidence that Northern businesses need to “get smarter” about the best way to support the voluntary sector, by making financial contributions or using their expertise, rather than by sending in squads of teams to paint buildings or perform other chores. He also explained that there is a need for a more strategic approach to relationship building between business and the third sector to avoid organisations being left behind.

One example of a successful collaboration is that of Kiveton Park and Wales Community Sports Park in Sheffield, with Harsco Steelphalt, an asphalt manufacturing business based in Rotherham. Harsco supported the community development trust to build their 4G sports pitch. Stephanie Hryschko, Chair of the Kiveton Park and Wales Community Development Trust said that “the in kind support, equating to £250,000, from Harsco Steelphalt was essential to the success of our Community Sports Park Development. Not only did it enable us to complete the build within budget but key personnel also worked closely with us throughout to deal with any problems as they arose. Their expertise led to a superb development.”

The report - The Value of Business to the Third Sector in the North - also finds that businesses prioritise those causes which are working to tackle poverty. But there’s a long way to go before business support for charities can be considered strategic. Currently, larger charities and those based in urban areas are more likely to benefit from support from businesses, meaning that smaller, more isolated charities are being left behind.

Report co-author, Jack Hunter, said:

“Business in the North make a significant and valued contribution to the third sector, but businesses need to get much smarter in how they support charitable activity. One-off volunteering events might be easy to arrange and encourage teambuilding, but they tend to have limited value on the ground – instead charities get the most benefit from a long-term and sustained relationship with businesses.

“At a time when cash is hard to come by, voluntary organisations need financial support more than anything else. But this change of approach needs to work both ways- charities too need to reach out to businesses. Currently, 75% of Northern charities and voluntary organisations have no plans to work more closely with businesses in the future. This is a huge missed opportunity”.

Report co-author Professor Tony Chapman, said:

"Many charity and business leaders may be surprised by the volume of financial and in-kind support given on social issues such as poverty. If the contribution of business remains largely invisible, then less of it will happen than could be the case. This research opens the door for more debate on where business can make a difference at the local level."



Rosie Corrigan, Media and Campaigns Manager for IPPR North, on 07585772633 or [email protected].


IPPR North is the leading think-tank for the north of England, developing bold ideas for a stronger economy and great public services to really take back control in the North. For more information, visit

The Third Sector Trends study is the only large-scale longitudinal survey of the charity and voluntary sector running in the UK. The Third Sector Trends study was conceived and originally commissioned by Northern Rock Foundation and originally focused on the voluntary and community sector in the North East of England.

The current iteration of the survey, covering the whole of the North of England, is the result of a collaboration between the Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland (who are responsible for its legacy in the North East), St Chad’s College at the Durham University, Joseph Rowntree Foundation and IPPR North.

Survey methodology

The Third Sector Trends study used an online questionnaire to survey third sector organisations in the North of England between July and December 2016. A total of 3,594 responses were received, including 1,462 from the North West, 1,083 from Yorkshire & the Humber, and 1,012 from the North East.

As the analysis is unweighted it is best referred to as a “survey” rather than a “poll”.

For full details of IPPR North’s programme of work on the future of civil society, click here.