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As I said in my opening remarks to this year’s annual conference, NPC Ignites always aims to help the sector keep pace with the latest developments and to anticipate new trends. This year specifically, we helped charities to make sense of changes caused by the pandemic and to think about what challenges they might face over the next few years.

In our Chief Executive’s speech at the conference, Dan spoke about how even the good work we have seen from charities so far is incremental in the face of the huge challenges that we now face. We need to respond with creativity and collaboration if we really want to make a difference to people’s lives.

Dan also spoke about NPC’s Rethink, Rebuild initiative—our new strand of work on convening and collating insights and expertise from across civil society, to support the charity sector’s adaptation and increase its resilience. Our guest speakers gave us plenty of food for thought for this project and some new lines of enquiry to explore too. Their experiences shone a light on pockets of good practice and difficult issues that need resolving across all areas of society and our sector. They shared with us the injustices being faced in parts of our society, including by Black and minority ethnic people; how charities are struggling to tackle rising need; and the difficulties of adapting to our uncertain future.

Learning from others

Below, I set out in greater detail what we learnt from our guest speakers and their thoughts on where we need to rethink. These thoughts have also enabled us to consider how the sector can rebuild, to a position of greater strength.

  • Rethink strategy: At our annual conference, Caroline Abrahams from Age UK spoke about how resilient, agile and adaptive charities now need to be, to face up to challenges like Covid-19. However, we also heard from Tom Gash of Leapwise about how many charities are putting off making strategic decisions at the moment—instead they are concentrating on managing short and medium-term risks. As we help charities to rethink strategy, we will look at how we can bring tomorrow back into planning discussions, rather than charities just thinking about today. We will explore what tools the sector needs in order to plan ahead in such uncertain times.
  • Rethink grant-making: We heard a lot at NPC Ignites about how funding needs to change. Danielle Walker Palmour from Friends Provident Foundation talked about how foundations that think of themselves as grant-makers limit their horizons and their ability to make change. How can we get more foundation’s to see themselves as change makers across all of their assets? Jenny Oppenheimer from Lankelly Chase and Nusrat Faizullah from Resourcing Racial Justice talked about some of the good practices that they have seen during the Covid-19 crisis—including different attitudes to risk, more trust and more working in partnerships. We also heard from the author Paul Vallely, Rhodri Davies from Charities Aid Foundation and the community activist Maureen Grant about how philanthropy is still rooted in the attitudes and behaviours of the past. Our work on grant-making will continue this discussion, exploring how we can change that and build philanthropy that is rooted in our current values. As more and more people get involved in grassroots organising, we will look at how funders can support those movements without distorting them.
  • Rethink data: At NPC Ignites, there were a lot of interesting comments around how we currently collect data. Jara Dean-Coffey of the Equitable Evaluation Initiative spoke at our session on rethinking data. She talked about how too much evaluation is extractive and there needs to be a rebalancing towards asking the questions that users of charities themselves want to know the answers to. Bethia McNeil from the Centre for Youth Impact echoed that point in the session on shared measurement by saying that we need to recognise the role of funders in evaluation. Ensuring that data answers the right questions, especially during this period of change, will be a key feature of our rethinking data work.
  • Rethink collaboration: Collaboration was a hot topic at our annual conference, with many speakers praising the collaboration that has happened over the crisis period. But as we heard in our collaboration session, we now need to explore how we can maintain that collaboration and also bring in other partners, such as the private sector. In our session on mergers and sharing models, we heard about a merger fund that SeaChange Capital run in the US. A similar fund in the UK could help charities to work in partnership.
  • Rethink policy: Finally, the Minister for Civil Society, Baroness Barran, talked about the government’s role in stewarding the sector and unlocking volunteering and financial resources for charities. How can the sector work with the government to develop a vision for civil society in these troubled times? A few speakers, including Chris Sherwood from the RSPCA and Martin O’Brien from Social Change Initiative, talked about the sector’s role in challenging the government. Our work on policy will look at how the sector can help the government build a fairer society, and at a building a policy framework that is right for civil society.

As you can see, our discussions at NPC Ignites offered a glimpse of a path to a fairer and more equitable future. What’s more, they offered us inspiration on some of the themes we are exploring in our ‘Rethink, Rebuild’ initiative. If you have insights and expertise on how to support the charity sector’s adaptation and increase its resilience, please help shape this project by getting in touch.

Did you miss our annual conference? All of the proceedings were recorded and you can continue to purchase access to all of the sessions from us here.

How can we support the charity sector’s adaptation and increase its resilience? This new blog from @NPCthinks shares the thoughts of charity leaders: Click To Tweet

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