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Community-level variations in the distribution of third sector organisations: their impact on volunteering and community-wellbeing in England and Wales

Thu, June 30, 9:00 to 10:30am, Campus Ersta, Aulan


Scholars have attributed various beneficial outcomes - enhanced levels of engagement, social cohesion, health, adolescent development - to the presence and density of the voluntary, third or nonprofit sector in communities. Examples are Putnam’s (2000) work on social capital or Sampson’s (2012) studies of collective efficacy. The existing UK literature is largely limited to studies of social capital which include as an independent measure of context the proportion of the population engaged in various forms of voluntary activity (e.g. Mohan et al., 2005). That measure may not be independent of the distribution of third sector organisations, since they provide opportunities for engagement. We hypothesise that the distribution of third sector organisations is related, after controlling for relevant individual and area characteristics, to the likelihood of engaging in pro-social behaviours (by providing opportunity structures through which such behaviours are mediated) and to community well-being.
This raises the question of how we measure the distribution of the third sector locally. Previous indicators include the distribution of voluntary organisations per capita (Sabatini, 2008; Rice and Sumberg, 1997; Rupasingha et al, 2006), non-profit expenditures (Snyder and Freisthler, 2010), third sector employment (Scheffler et al, 2008), community, social and personal service associations in the UK (Andrews and Wankhade , 2014), and the distribution of IRS 501(c) 3 organisations (Sampson, 2012).
We build on this work by constructing indicators of the distribution and economic weight of third sector (charitable, social enterprise, and other nonprofit) organisations at various spatial scales, taking account of lessons learned in previous projects which have sought to map the UK’s third sector (e.g. Mohan, 2011; 2012; Mohan and Barnard, 2013). Sources are administrative data (regulatory returns to the Charity Commission, for charities in England and Wales; Companies House data on a wider population of nonprofits) and survey data for England covering a wider population of third sector organisations (see Clifford, 2012). We use the Citizenship Survey for England and Wales to which we have linked data at three spatial scales (super output areas; local government districts / unitary authorities; and the “top tier” local authorities in England) on various spatial measures of the third sector.
We use multilevel modelling techniques which account for compositional (individual-level) and contextual (community-level) variations. Firstly we investigate the relationship between the distribution of voluntary resources and the likelihood of engagement in voluntary action. Secondly we analyse whether the indicators we construct of the third sector “footprint” have discernible effects on perceptions of social cohesion or related measures of social capital. Our analyses suggest that these measures do not add to the explanation of community level variations. Given that much public policy in the UK in recent years has emphasised the formation of formal voluntary associations as part of a route to neighbourhood renewal, such results raise questions about the direction of such policies. These findings are relevant beyond the UK to debates about the understanding of variations in voluntary action, and to discussions about the impact of the third sector upon communities.

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