Third Sector Interface network model and Voluntary Action Scotland: evaluation

Independent evaluation of Scotland’s Third Sector Interface (TSI) network model and Voluntary Action Scotland (VAS).

3. Meeting the needs of the Third Sector


The TSIs were established to ensure access to quality services to support the Third Sector's development, and to help the Third Sector to engage in the planning and delivery of local services.

Through a survey and focus groups we asked Third Sector organisations about whether they used TSI services, which services they used, and their level of satisfaction with those services.

A snapshot of the Third Sector in Scotland

The sector is diverse in terms of scale and function. This section provides an overview of the scale and scope of the Third Sector in Scotland to provide a context for 'market' for the services delivered by the TSI network.

The SCVO State of the Sector report published in 2014 estimates that the Scottish Third Sector comprises some 45,000 organisations, of which around half are registered charities. The sector ranges from small grassroots organisations at the community level, to major housing, health and social care providers, all of which contribute to the well-being of people and communities.

The report [2] estimates that there are:

  • 20,000 grassroots community groups, sports, arts groups etc.
  • Around 23,000 registered charities.
  • Over 3,500 social enterprises (of which around 50% are also charities) [3] .
  • 163 Housing Associations.
  • 107 credit unions.

Of the charities alone (estimated to be 23,000), over half have an annual income of less than £10,000, and 68% have an income of less than £25,000. The vast majority of these have no staff and rely entirely on volunteers. 73% of all charities do not employ staff.

Only 17% of registered charities have an income over £100,000. However, there is a small percentage of charities that have income levels in the millions of pounds.

Housing accounts for almost a third of the sector's turnover, followed by social care which accounts for a quarter.

Two-thirds of organisations operate locally, while 7% operate nationally across Scotland, and 2% have an international focus.

Third Sector engagement with the Third Sector Interfaces

As part of this research, we carried out a survey of the Third Sector in the 11 selected areas to explore the profile of the TSIs among the Third Sector, take-up of services and reasons for not using TSIs, and feedback on quality of services. The survey was widely distributed through contact details provided by OSCR, through SCVO, and through TSIs in the 11 areas.

We received 705 responses to the survey [4] . Whilst this number is not statistically representative of the sector, it gives an indication of the range of views on the key issues being covered by this evaluation.

Awareness of the TSIs

Respondents reported a relatively high level of awareness of TSIs. Of 705 responses, 87% (613) were aware of their TSI and although people who were already familiar with the TSI network may have been more likely to respond, this is not necessarily indicative of awareness more widely. Even within this respondent group 13% (92) had never heard of the TSI.

Use of TSI services

60% (423) of the 705 respondents had made use of TSI services. 27% (192) had not made use of TSI services and 13% (92) had never heard of the TSI.

189 respondents (who were aware of their TSI but had not engaged with it) gave reasons for not using TSI services. The main reasons given were:

  • 27% said they did not need any support;
  • 25% said that the TSI didn't offer the support they needed;
  • 21% said they received support from another organisation;
  • 13% said they lack awareness of the services that TSIs offer; and
  • 8% (15 respondents) said that on a previous encounter, support from the TSI had been unhelpful.

The main sources of support accessed by the 40% who had not made use of TSI services are Local Authorities (24%), other local organisations (14%) and branches of national organisations (13%).

Reach of the network - who uses the Third Sector Interface services?

The survey results suggest that organisations from the very small to the very large use TSIs. This again mirrors what we found in the 11 selected areas.

Of the 417 respondents:

  • 24% had an annual income <£10,000;
  • 10% had an annual income of £10,000-£24,999;
  • 21% had an annual income of £25,000-£99,999;
  • 10% had an annual income of £100,000-£249,000;
  • 12% had an annual income of £249,000 - £500,000; and
  • 23% had an annual income of >£500,000.

They also range from local to national bodies although the vast majority are local (49%) and regional (27%) which reflects the nature of the sector.

14% of respondents who used TSI services were a branch of a national organisation, 5% were national organisations and 4% were organisations operating across several Local Authority areas.

It is clear from the survey, field work and interviews with TSIs that different Third Sector organisations use different services (and at different stages in the organisation's lifecycle). Most TSIs clearly articulated the 'market segment' for each of their services:

"The larger organisations don't come to us for constitutions and funding advice. What we provide for them is information and connectivity - we connect them to each other, to policy and to the Community Planning Partnership" ( TSI Chairperson)

Few of the small-scale local organisations (the majority of which do not deliver services) have an interest in influencing community planning. Additionally, small-scale Third Sector organisations, which typically do not employ staff, do not have the capacity for involvement in the community planning process.

TSIs told us that:

  • for the most part, TSIs are providing organisational support to smaller and often new Third Sector organisations whom they assist with drafting constitutions, assistance with funding searches and applications;
  • medium sized and some larger organisations will access services to support service delivery - many TSIs provide a wide range of training to Third Sector organisations around governance issues, volunteer management, understanding funding as well as practical skills training for workforce development;
  • some small and medium sized organisations buy services from the TSIs - such as payroll services, Independent Examination of Accounts etc.; and,
  • at the other end of the spectrum, TSIs told us that they also frequently provide intensive and highly specialised interventions to support organisations in crisis.

This analysis is confirmed by the Third Sector survey responses - larger organisations are more likely to use TSI services that connect Third Sector organisations to each other and to Community Planning Partnerships, for example:

  • 69% of organisations with an annual income over £500,000 use TSI support to connect with the wider Third Sector, compared with only 36% of those organisations whose annual income is under £10,000;
  • 58% of those with an income between £250,000 and £500,000 use this service compared with 35% of those whose income is between £25,000 and £99,999; and,
  • 51% of organisations with income above £500,000 use TSI support to connect with community planning, but this figure is 16% among those with income below £10,000 and 13% for those between £10,000 and £99,999.

"We use the TSI for intelligence - they know what other organisations are doing and can connect us to them - and to what is going on at community planning" (regional Third Sector organisation)

Smaller organisations are more likely to use some of the capacity building functions. For instance:

  • 49% of organisations with income under £10,000 use TSIs for funding advice compared with 33% among those with an income greater than £500,000;
  • 32% of those with an income below £10,000 use TSIs for governance and management advice, but the figure among those with incomes above £250,000 is 18%.

It also shows that medium and larger organisations access TSI training services (53% among organisations with income between £250,000 and £500,000 but only 28% among those with income below £10,000).

Table 3.1 below gives an indication of the frequency with which respondents engaged with their TSI.

Table 3.1: How often do Third Sector organisations engage with the TSI?




How often do you engage with the TSI?

Very frequently (once or more a week)



Frequently (once or twice a month)



Infrequently (once every few months)



Rarely (once a year or less)



The table shows that just over 60% of respondents engage with their TSI infrequently or rarely. In addition, our research highlighted that a key issue for TSIs is that many Third Sector organisations do not ask for support until it is too late:

'We don't hear from them till there's a problem" ( TSI Staff Member)

"We didn't think about going to them for support" (Third Sector organisation)

"Unfortunately many only get to know about what we can do when they are beyond hope, which is disheartening for everyone" ( TSI Staff Member)

What type of support does the Third Sector use from TSIs?

Table 3.2 shows the services that Third Sector organisations used.

Table 3.2: TSI services used by Third Sector organisations




What support do you get from the TSI?

Connecting our organisation to the wider Third Sector i.e. Forums/ Networks



Training and Development



Funding advice



Signposting to other organisations who can help



Advice for supporting volunteers/volunteering



Governance and management advice



Connecting our organisation to community planning



Support to set up/change/restructure your organisation



Legal/accounting advice



Staffing/employment advice






Quality of support

We asked organisations to rate the support they had received from TSIs:

  • 69% rated the support either 'good' (33%) or 'very good' (36%).
  • 20% rated it as average.
  • 11% rated it as poor (7%) or very poor (4%).

Among those Third Sector organisations that had used TSI services, over two-thirds were satisfied with the quality of services that they receive.

Comments from the survey and focus groups in the study areas included:

"Excellent communication and great support" (Third Sector organisation)

"Always willing to listen to what we need and offer support" (Third Sector organisation)

"Excellent service with company payroll, book-keeping and general advice" (Third Sector organisation)

"They are always there when we have needed them; their advice is of an excellent quality, they respond very quickly to requests for information and they are very friendly (yet professional) too" (Third Sector organisation)

There are also those who have had very poor services, and there are organisations who are unaware of the type of services available through the TSI and had little trust in the capacity of the TSI to support their organisation:

"Not good at responding and/or following up on enquiries and advice given no more helpful than online research" (Third Sector organisation)

"The organisation provides very poor service and the nature of support they offer is poor with no depth of knowledge or expertise" (Third Sector organisation)

"[The TSI] is good at talking, spending money on salaries for themselves and commissioning reports on how the Third Sector should operate... the general feeling… is that [the TSI] is not fit for purpose" (Third Sector organisation)

"The support for the Third Sector in [the local authority area], in general is appallingly poor. There is little or no information sharing, engagement or developmental opportunities" (Third Sector organisation)

This type of variability in the quality of services delivered by infrastructure organisations has been highlighted in other research [5] on the effectiveness of infrastructure organisations in the UK.

Who else provides services to the Third Sector

We asked Third Sector organisations who else they received support from (base 275 respondents) [6] . Again, the picture that emerged is varied:

  • 40% said they did not get other support;
  • 24% said Local Authority;
  • 14% said other local organisations;
  • 13% said a branch of a national organisation;
  • 9% said SCVO;
  • 4% said Volunteer Scotland; and,
  • 22% said other.

Table 3.3: Other sources of support



Where do you currently get support from?

Local Authority


Other local organisations


Other branch of a national organisation




Volunteer Scotland


Voluntary Action Fund


Social Enterprise Network




None of the above




Third Sector Interface role in brokering connections between the sector and with local partners

Alongside the role in building the capacity of the sector, the TSI also has a role in leadership of the sector, advocacy for the sector, brokering connections and connecting the sector to local partners.

The importance of this role is highlighted by the survey - 50% of Third Sector organisations said that they used the TSI for 'connecting our organisation to the wider Third Sector' and 26% used the TSI for 'connecting to community planning'.

Table 3.4: What support do you get from the TSI?




What support do you get from the TSI?

Connecting our organisation to the wider Third Sector i.e. Forums/ Networks



Connecting our organisation to community planning



We also asked Third Sector organisations to rate the effectiveness of TSI in these roles. Again, the picture is of varying satisfaction with their TSI:

  • 71% report that their TSI engages well with charities/Third Sector organisations in the local area, 14% disagree and 27% don't know or cannot comment.
  • Just over half (54%) said the TSI had helped them to build better relationships with other Third Sector organisations and charities, 26% disagreed and 20% don't know or cannot comment.
  • 66% report that the TSI is well connected to local community planning, 9% disagree and 24% don't know or cannot comment.
  • Only 44% feel well connected to community planning through the TSI, 28% disagree and 24% don't know or cannot comment.

While there are organisations who are very satisfied with the capacity of the TSI to connect them to other organisations and to community planning, there are organisations that have no trust in the TSI to advocate on their behalf:

"[The TSI does] not represent the voluntary sector in [the area] and are more concerned with empire building. They are a very expensive organisation and do not offer value for money. They appear to be more aligned/'in bed' with certain sectors of [the Local Authority]; their communication is poor and often extremely late, consultations organised by them have been poorly arranged and they are not prepared to take on board any criticisms of them/suggestions for improvement" (Third Sector organisation)


We found many examples of TSIs making efforts to extend awareness of their services and reach, for example through activities such as the creation of better communication channels, holding outreach surgeries, and hosting business breakfasts. However, it is also clear that the reach of the TSIs are affected by their capacity and resources currently:

"We have been successful in promoting our Independent Examinations to the sector - but unfortunately we have now reached our capacity and there is more demand than we can meet" ( TSI Chief Executive Officer)

"We simply do not have enough reach… I have 1.6 people delivering to 1300 organisations" ( TSI Chief Executive Officer)

For TSIs with a large geographic and rural area to cover these problems are compounded:

"It is too easy to underestimate the large travel times… in one week I drove for over 900 miles wrapped around my working days" ( TSI Staff Member)

Chapter Conclusions

Below we summarise our findings about the extent to which the TSIs are meeting the needs of the sector at the local level based on the Third Sector survey and the field work in the 11 selected areas:

  • While there are examples of excellent service quality, there are also examples of poor quality service and dissatisfaction with the TSI. This is compounded in some areas by lack of trust in the capacity of the TSI to advocate on behalf of the sector.
  • Third Sector organisations indicated that in addition to their local TSI, they used a variety of other organisations for support. In some cases this is due to experiencing poor quality service and lacking trust in their local TSI. However, in interviews with Third Sector organisations in the selected areas, TSIs reported that the TSI frequently supported them to access support from a range of other agencies.
  • Some Third Sector organisations do not use TSI services because they simply do not need them, others do not seek support until their organisation has reached crisis point.
  • Capacity of the TSI: there are significant challenges in broadening and extending the reach of the current model to satisfy demand within existing resources.
  • The profile of the TSI network remains variable - even if people know of the network, there remains some lack of clarity about what the role of the TSI network is.
  • Local needs and priorities inevitably play a part in resource management and prioritisation. For example in some areas the connectivity and strategic positioning of the sector has become more of a priority for the TSI.


Jacqueline Rae:

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