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Brexit and the need for big thinking

Charities are not insulated from the uncertainty of Brexit. It has created upheaval in our markets and our politics, and these will ripple in the direction of the voluntary sector.

That was my response the morning after the UK voted to leave the EU, and that uncertainty has only intensified during the last week. There are now leadership vacuums at the top of both major political parties, with allegations flying that no one has a plan for what happens next. Even England’s loss to Iceland in the football on Monday—a sporting humiliation that tops even failures of the past—has done its bit to undermine national confidence.

NCVO touched on some of this in the brief presentation they published on Tuesday. If foundations,  philanthropists and the general charitable donor grow nervous about the financial fall-out, and reduce their giving in the same way some did back in 2008, there will be less cash to go around. If the sector wants to grab the attention of the Cabinet Office, it is going to be extremely tough to navigate past Brexit negotiations, which will be consuming so much time and energy. And there is probably a tough public spending revision to come in the Autumn Statement.

Not for the first time, charity leaders will need to innovate to get through: moaning just will not do. Charities should  always be bold and imaginative so as to maximise their impact, but if Brexit poses the serious challenge to the sector that many anticipate, then this becomes ever more important.

In October, NPC is bringing the charity sector together to explore how this can be achieved. At NPC Ignites, our sixth annual conference, we will welcome big thinkers from the sector and beyond to tackle these important questions head-on.

This will include how Whitehall views charities in such complex and straitened times, and what the sector needs to do to engage with the decision-makers in government; as well as how we can reboot charity campaigning (something under so much scrutiny in 2016). There will also be a chance to understand the potential impact of devolution for charities, something NPC will also be discussing at this year’s party political conferences.

Our conference will look at new options for funding, as the more reliable grant systems of years gone by are replaced by contracts and, for larger charities, more blended financing. And the conference will include more on systems change and its potential to completely rethink the way the whole sector goes about its essential business.

Last week’s vote has tightened the focus on something that we, and many others, have been saying for some time. The charity sector, with its wealth of expertise and personal passions to do good, needs to adapt to the changing world around it. Some organisations are already doing so: they are rethinking their work in light of the digital revolution, changing demographics, and shifting public perception of how charities operate. While the sector is diverse, this is something that all have to do

The Brexit vote has provoked profound changes. The sector needs to take this opportunity to make some big plans for the future.

Sign up for NPC Ignites 2016 and join us for a day of bold discussions about the voluntary sector.

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