The concept “third sector” is relatively new in Spain. Until recently policy discourse referred to either social economy or NGOs/ nongovernmental organisations. Nowadays, four major types of third sector organisations (TSOs) can be distinguished:

  1. Big and medium non-profit organisations, largely dependent on public funds, including the three ‘singular entities’ (ONCE, Red Cross and Caritas), mostly delivering social and health services;
  2. Local and regional TSOs, mostly in culture and sport policy fields, but also in social services, that are deeply rooted in communities and are part of traditional civic engagement;
  3. New TSOs linked to new social movements and new social needs;
  4. social economy enterprises that operate in private markets, mainly cooperatives and mutual societies.

The third sector policy environment is highly decentralised and complex: public policies, funds and services come from national, regional and local governments. Also, the third sector has difficulties in building long-term partnerships with these governments.

Since 2008, a deep crisis has affected Spain and its third sector that can be divided in four related sub-crises. The first is the economic crisis that has increased dramatically social needs (unemployment, poverty, exclusion) and has reduced private business sector donations. The second is the drastic reduction in public funds due to the austerity policies deployed. The third is the collapse of the saving banks that constituted half of the Spanish financial sector before the crisis and were the major private traditional source of financing for the third sector. Last but not least, the fourth crisis is the qualitative austerity policy, not
only in form of an increase in bureaucracy but also in delays, procedures of applying and implementing and other exigencies, that complicates, even precludes, the collaboration of the third sector with the public sector.

Nearly a quarter of third sector entities have disappeared, more than half of them have been involved in human resources and budget restructuring processes, while only a low percentage has maintained or increased their level of activity. This report, available for download beow, first outlines the development of the third sector in Spain, offers a detailed analysis of the challenges and offers a range of policy recommendations to address barriers.