arrow road marking

Charities: take charge

By Patrick Murray 24 May 2017

Today NPC publishes Charities taking charge: Transforming to face a changing world. We started our State of the Sector programme of research because we saw a lot of charities struggling from a range of external factors. The changing role and shape of the state. Big trends in wider society—from changing demographics, to the digital revolution, to changing attitudes to institutions. Close to home the sector’s faced fundraising and governance scandals. And of course, Brexit looms over everything.

The list of challenges can appear insurmountable.

But in these tough times charities are needed more than ever. So we wanted to find out how charities can take charge of their own future. The main report we publish today holds a mirror up to the sector, reflecting back what we’ve heard from 400 leaders—chief executives, senior directors, and trustees—in charities, social enterprises, and others of different shapes and sizes.

Through a process of in depth interviews and roundtables we’ve uncovered a whole range of organisations thinking about, and taking, new approaches to how they can deliver greater impact in a changing world.

The big takeaway is that the sort of transformation is possible—and we know this because we’ve seen it.

We found that organisations that seem to be on the front foot are focusing their strategy on activities that deliver the greatest impact, and working in collaboration with a range of partners to achieve a greater collective impact. They are ensuring their board works in ways that support innovation, balancing strategic risk to be bold, and bringing in a broader range of voices, skills and experiences.

Some are rethinking how their relationships with the public and the state can look and others are thinking about how to get the most out of new networks and resources, including digital, and the strengths and assets beneficiaries and communities possess.

But we’ve also been able to test out, through a telephone survey of 300 charity leaders, where the sector is more broadly with some of these new models—and it’s fair to say there is still a journey for a lot of organisations to go on. So we hope that by reflecting back what we’ve found we can spark off new ideas and approaches that put people at the heart of what charities do, and encourage new networks and collaborations, focused on achieving making the biggest difference for the people and communities charities exist to serve.

For our part we’ll be continuing with the programme, publishing a collection of essays to further stimulate and provoke new thinking and action, from a range of innovative leaders showing how they are putting some of these ideas into action. And the findings of this research will shape our work going forwards. Where we’ve identified gaps between the rhetoric and the reality we’ll be looking to see what we as a think tank can do to help people along the journey.

Of course we know there’s much for other actors to do as well—from funders to government. But the research shows there is much too that charities themselves can do to take charge and transform to face a changing world. We want this research to contribute to a movement for change in the sector. So get involved in the debate, share your ideas and thoughts with others, and tell us how we can best support you. Together we can achieve what we all want—for charities to thrive and deliver the long lasting social change that is so desperately needed in Britain today.

  • Do let us know what you think via Twitter @NPCthinks #StateoftheSector or get in touch directly via
  • We are, of course, very grateful to all those who gave up their time to take part in the research, and to our our supporters on the State of the Sector programme PwC, Barrow Cadbury Trust, Ecclesiastical, Odgers Berndtson and Cripplegate Foundation.