The Law Family Commission on Civil Society launches ambitious research into unleashing the potential of civil society


Civil society has many constituent parts – an often overlooked but extremely important element being the philanthropists who support with time, talent and treasure.  They complement the volunteer army, the charity teams and social entrepreneurs who all make a positive impact to the UK.

This important work by the Law Family Commission on Civil Society will help guide policy makers and leaders on support to civil society and capacity growth in the third sector to support communities in the UK.


What is the Law Family Commission on Civil Society?

The Law Family Commission on Civil Society aims to research the ways in which civil society can

“harness and enhance the powerful community bonds that exist in our nation”.

The commission will investigate how the the public, private and social sectors can work together for systemic, positive societal goals.   It will be run by Pro Bono Economics and has been made possible with a philanthropic donation from the Law Family Charitable Foundation.

17 commissioners have been appointed.  Philanthropists will be represented by Mary Rose Gunn of The Fore, Vidhya Alakeson of Power to Change and Sir Harvey McGrath of Big Society Capital.

The commission will focus on three main opportunity areas:  giving more, volunteering more and achieving more.

The social sector – comprising 167,000 charities, upwards of 200,000 grassroots community groups and 100,000 social enterprises – is often considered the core of civil society. The Commission is concerned with both the broader and the narrower concepts, taking a ‘building block’ approach to focus on different aspects of civil society in different contexts.  Philanthropy is one of the key building blocks to be considered.


Why now?

The impact of COVID-19 has been heavily felt by the charity sector – a squeeze on funding, no fundraising events and an increase in demand for services have led to:

  • 58% of charities have been forced to cut back services
  • A £10 billion charity funding gap comprised of reduced incoming funds and an anticipated increase in need equivalent to £3.4 billion
  • Increased redundancies for charity sector staff; a survey of 455 charities in August 2020 found that 19% have already made redundancies, and that 23% plan to make further cutbacks before the end of the year.

There has never been a more pressing time to support civil society and to do that effectively means understanding the competencies that exist and the challenges that this new era has exacerbated.


The 3 key themes that the commission will undertake to understand are:

  1. the value of what civil society delivers and how to measure it;
  2. the need  for joint responsibility and equality between the private, public and social sectors, and;
  3. the ability of civil society to react to market forces


Delving deeper the following questions will be answered:

  • How can the state support charities without undermining their independence?
  • How can businesses answer to both shareholders and society?
  • Can the profit motive be used effectively to improve efficiency in the ‘Third’ Sector without undermining its values?
  • How can we combine most effectively the benevolent instincts of millions of individuals, are new leadership structures required?
  • Are philanthropists in Britain less generous than in some other countries, and if so why?
  • How can we measure and therefore encourage purpose that does not generate a profit?
  • How must our great charitable institutions adapt to new forms of collective action and technological change, as well as additional scrutiny?
  • How can the ‘Third’ Sector harness but also enhance the powerful community bonds that exist in our nation?


What will we see?

Firstly, a collection of 21 essays are being published in which thinkers from across the three sectors reflect on how to unleash the potential of civil society in the 2020s.

Over the next 2 years the commission will consider three broad themes,  how civil society is undervalued and overlooked, that civil society is too often viewed in isolation, or simply ignored altogether and where there is a mismatch between the supply of money, time and effort delivered through the social sector and the demand that exists for support.

The three themes will provide the baseline for policy proposals for government, business and the social sector. It will mean establishing the most effective mechanisms by which the private, public and social sectors can be brought together to collectively focus on achieving social good. And it will mean pushing towards the creation of an architecture that better supports efficiency, effectiveness, and collaboration in the social sphere.