City lights

Thinking ahead: What does the future hold for charities?

Everyone seems to be thinking about the future at the moment, not least because we suddenly know so little about what it could hold.

The only thing we can be certain about in politics at the moment is its uncertainty. The polls didn’t give us a reason to expect Brexit, but that is what we are getting, in some form or other. The shock of a Prime Ministerial resignation has given way to nervous anticipation about the plans of his successor. And Labour’s plans are still anyone’s guess.

We are looking to the future in the world of charities, too, and this week has been an especially good time to do so. On Monday I spoke at the launch of a new paper from the grandest think tank of them all, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), which has conducted some interesting work into the potential of community volunteering. And today NPC’s own latest publication is released: Boldness in times of change, which is the first major product of our State of Sector programme looking at how well-prepared charities are for all the changes we are seeing in the external world.

The IFS paper is typically insightful. It concludes, in brief, that local authorities are good places to conduct pretty robust tests about volunteering and other social actions (from which civil society as a whole can learn a lot), and that potential volunteers—in this case in Lambeth—respond particularly strongly when they can enjoy some personal recognition for their efforts (as opposed to incentives which aren’t personalised in any way).

As I said at the launch—where NCVO’s Charlotte Ravenscroft also spoke—it is good to see the big brains of the IFS getting down and dirty in this sort of work. Here at NPC, I think Boldness in times of change is a slightly different take on the same big themes. In it, we ask: how can charities and other areas of society work together best to thrive in our ever-changing world? And how do we make sure that effective charities aren’t swallowed up or forced to close because they haven’t adapted?

The report takes a sweeping look at the way that the external world is already setting challenges for the voluntary sector. And it’s a dizzying array of issues.

The nation’s demography is changing, with all the questions this poses (we have written before about the danger if charities mistake this for just growing demand on charity services rather than an opportunity to be grasped). Technology is making the public expect much greater interactivity in their dealing with all parts of society, and the voluntary sector is no exception. Local assets are crucial for charities who want to make the most of the communities in which they work, and the IFS study shows how crucial and also how difficult it is to secure people and resources to help a charity along. The ‘devolution revolution’ is likely to continue under the new Prime Minister, in which case charities must be nimble enough to strike up relations with local commissioners and make their persuasive case that they can deliver social impact in a way and at a price acceptable to local politicians.

This is just a slice of the issues we explore in the paper: I strongly recommend that you have a look. Sudden changes might make us feel nervous, and for good reason, but we expect charities to rise to the challenges ahead. That is what their beneficiaries will demand.

Download Boldness in times of change, or find out more about our ongoing State of the sector programme.

We’ll be exploring these issues further at our annual conference NPC Ignites: Burning issues + bold action in October. View the programme and sign up today (earlybird closes 22 July).