Ask not what you can do for NCVO

Hannah Kowszun was NCVO’s Marketing & Membership Manager until July 2014. Her blog posts have been archived here.

For our live discussion please see comments below.

‘Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!’

L. Frank Baum

Depending on who you speak to, NCVO is either an organisation that cares only about the little charities or only concerns itself with the big ones. Now that I’m on the inside I know that’s not true: the huge range of organisations doing excellent work, both despite and because of their size and budgets, are all important. And there is something relevant for everyone. In my career so far I’ve found things that were relevant for me, perhaps they might help you too.

All aboard

I first joined  NCVO when I started working for LCRN, a medium-sized charity based in London, who were then members of the network. At the time NCVO was heavily involved in ChangeUp: delivering a programme of support for the voluntary sector across a variety of needs. I remember attending their events and being impressed with the quality of resources available. As an infrastructure organisation ourselves the temptation to rehash their advice for our own members was too strong to resist (sound familiar?). NCVO membership was hugely relevant to my day job at the time because I relied on their information to support my own network.

A major change of direction

Two years later I was on the fundraising frontline at Macmillan Cancer Support, a major-sized charity working across the UK. This meant my relationship with NCVO became essentially extraneous, despite Macmillan also being part of NCVO. Joining a charity with nearly 1,000 members of staff meant that I already had a charity network, along with my twitter account and the odd #nfptweetup. NCVO had become a campaigning organisation in my mind: it was a feature of my working past, along with talking to MPs and chasing press coverage for composting projects.

Meanwhile, in my spare time

That changed when I joined the board of Street Action, a small charity with no staff, and NCVO became relevant again. At times it felt like our Chair had the Guide to Good Governance tucked permanently under one arm.

After a few sweeps of the website I found quite a lot of their information and resources were relevant to my day job, especially when we realised Macmillan were eligible for a discount on room hire for a team meeting. Until that point, I could go for months without thinking about NCVO.

What’s your experience?

So ask not what you can do for NCVO, but what NCVO can do for you. In fact, what can we do for you? Let me know!

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18 Responses to Ask not what you can do for NCVO

  1. In my experience NCVO just isn’t interested in small charities, in all the years that my organisation was a member we were never asked anything or listened to.

    NCVO’s pricing structure is designed to meet the needs of the big charities. For an income of over £5 million large charities pay £741 per annum if your charity is 100 times smaller, with an income of £50,000 per year you might expect to pay 100 times less ie £7.41 per year. However NCVO’s fees are actually £45, so proportionately it’s 6 times more expensive for the smaller charities.

    Similarly most products aren’t discounted, a huge charity will pay £1440 for a staff member to attain the Certificate in Campaigning a very tiny charity will pay £1440 !

    I rest my case.


  2. Hannah Kowszun says:

    John, thank you for letting me know how you feel and your experience of NCVO. We’re starting work at the moment to understand better what people find of value from NCVO membership and where we can improve. I really hope you can feed into this.

  3. Hannah Kowszun says:

    Hello everyone! Sorry for the confusion – we have had a slight issue with our cafe this afternoon, but we will be re-posting the questions and encouraging conversation through these comments.

    Please do get involved!

  4. Posted on behalf of Guleid.

    Hello There,

    I have been a member for a while in Knowhow Non-profit society. Now, I would like to work with you by helping me setting up my professional training and consulting Institute. For non-profit organizations and social enterprise business.
    There are a lot of young people in developing countries that cannot access the professional training that they deserved to have. From the beginning I would like to concentrate Project Management and supply chain and logistics Management which is highly needed in ASEAN countries as they are going to open their borders in 2015. The particular country that I’m targeting is Cambodia where many poor families cannot send the children in expensive schools. My objectives and policies are as follows:

    – Set up a Institute that provides professional courses

    – Concentrate Project Management from the beginning
    – Supply chain and logistics Management
    – Accept maximum 15 students only
    – Age must be between 18 to 22 years old only
    – Duration three to six months
    – Free of charge but students but pay transcript and certificate cost
    – Institution will not accept students without agreement with their parents
    – There will be penalty if students fail to finish the courses ( $200)
    – Students must pass placement test English and Math
    – Student must graduate at least high school
    – The school will you Prince2, PMI, APICs and other materials
    – Institute must be register and get credential from the government other International organizations
    – From the beginning we need one office and one class room

    Consulting: (consulting is not free but not expensive)
    – Provide consultation for non-profit organizations by collaborate with Knowhow Non-Profit
    – Writing project proposal by collaborate with Knowhow Non-Profit
    – Fund raising by collaborate with Knowhow Non-Profit
    – Providing and organizing non-profit professional training by collaborate with Knowhow Non-Profit
    – This is what I have in mind and I would like to help me to write the business plan for this project. I do not have big budget and I really want do this with my saving first and see the outcome.

    I hope you can help me. Looking forward to hear from you soon. Thanks a lot
    With regards,

  5. Drew says:

    Hi everyone – found my way here after some helpful directions from Hannah!

    Just reflecting on John’s comment, I ended up doing the Certificate in Campaigning myself, rather than paid for by my organisation. Partly that was because an individual rate was much cheaper and my organisation was not able to fund that amount. While it was very beneficial and I’d recommend it, I wondered what NCVO’s thoguths were on potentially offering smaller, relatively cheap ‘taster’ sessions of courses like that to individuals/charities to help them decide whether to take the full (financial) plunge? It strikes me that you could almost offer each of the sessions I went to as a standalone item.

  6. Andrew Walkey says:

    Bob Joswick wrote:
    Really looking forward to hearing about your research Hannah.

  7. Andrew Walkey says:

    Lilly Price wrote:
    I’d like to know more about what discounts are available to small charities like me.

    • Hannah Kowszun says:

      In answer to Lilly’s question about discounts:
      We are pleased to offer people from member organisations discounts on a wide range of NCVO’s own products and services: 30% off books, events, and our training courses. We are also able to offer discounts of up to 20% for our consultancy, bespoke training courses and hire of our lovely conference suite facilities here in Kings Cross.
      We also broker discounts among selected third party providers, ranging from 5-30% depending on the supplier. You can find a list of these here:
      It’s always useful to get feedback on the relationships and deals that we do offer, so if there’s a particular service or product you’re looking for, please let us know!

  8. Hannah Kowszun says:

    In answer to Guleid’s question about business plans:
    There are several places you may want to visit as you build your business plan, particularly the British Accreditation Council, who may be able to help you accredit the courses that you plan to run overseas: You may also want to check with the existing accreditation you mention as to whether they have requirements for external providers to meet (eg. for Prince2).
    You may also want to get in touch with the School for Social Entrepreneurs, who provide practical support to people like yourself setting up a business:
    Meanwhile, KnowHow NonProfit has specific guidance on writing a business plan for a social enterprise:

    Best of luck! Let us know how it goes.

  9. Hannah Kowszun says:

    Drew, thank you so much for your comment. That’s a really interesting idea, probably the key question is what the price point is for smaller organisations and whether we aim it at self-funded individuals looking to develop their career or organisations looking to invest in their staff/volunteers.

    Does anyone else have any thoughts on this? What kind of time and financial resource do you think people would be able or willing to invest in this kind of training?

  10. Hannah Kowszun says:

    In answer to Bob’s question about our membership research:
    We did a combination of qualitative (focus groups and in-depth telephone interviews) and quantitative (online and telephone surveys) primary research among people from current and lapsed organisations. We also did secondary, or desk-based research, of the data we already had available and the kind of things happening in membership in our sector and in others.

    Does anyone have any specific questions about the methodology we used and why? Or maybe about the results? 😉

  11. Posted on behalf of Tom Romero:

    I run a small community group on my own so it’s really hard to know where to start with everything. I find some of the information on KnowHow really useful but it would be good to find out what other information I might be able to get from NCVO?

    • Hannah Kowszun says:

      In answer to Tom’s question:
      NCVO has a range of different types of resource available for members to help them get the answers or advice they need. We are also developing some new ones in response to some of the demand shown by our research.
      a) Online we have the Members’ Area of the website, which has a number of guides available to download that walk you through your options, best practice and other advice on issues like fundraising and events management.
      b) We also have the Members’ Helpdesk, although this is currently under refurbishment ready to relaunch in a few weeks’ time – this has phone, email and live chat functionality to answer your questions.
      c) These live chat sessions are the first Wednesday of every month and we hope they will be a great source of discussion and peer-supported help, while we will be bringing in guest experts on a range of voluntary sector issues
      d) and membership allows you a discount on the cost of our training and conferences. We are looking to develop a programme of member-only free seminars, with the topics suggested by you – so watch this space!

      I hope this helps. Please do let us know if you have any feedback on the support and advice we do give to help us improve.

  12. Karen S says:

    Thats interesting about the research, What results did you get?

    • Hannah Kowszun says:

      Karen, thank you for your question.

      Our qualitative research gave us a wide range of results: from feelings about the cost of membership to the experience of using our website. These results fed into the quantitative questions – so we were asking for insight into what our members themslves felt were the important aspects of NCVO membership.

      Overall we learned that our practical advice and support was considered the most valuable aspect of membership, along with our representative role and keeping our members informed and up to date. We will use these insights to improve upon the exiting benefits of voluntary sector membership.

  13. Andrea says:

    I run a small NGO working in Nicaragua, Latin America. We have successfully fundraised for 5 years but we’re aiming in the future to be self funding through our social entreprise label that we set up last summer. How can NCVO support a charity like us that is transitioning from fundraising and relying on donation / grants to in effect becoming a social entreprise that relys on marketing, sales and PR – which are two very different strategies to fundraising, but still not – for profit and with the same charitable goal?

    • Hannah Kowszun says:

      Andrea, thank you for your question. It’s a good one!
      NCVO has a specific training course for organisations looking to make the most of trading opportunities; the next one is in October:
      We also have a course on StudyZone that walks you through different stages of planning and delivery: (both of these available at a membership discount).
      However, we also want to ensure that you’re able to access the different types of support that are available, which aren’t part of NCVO’s core mission. So there are 3 other organisations that may be able to help you:
      The School for Social Entrpreneurs ( and Social Enterprise UK (, both of whom specialise in the kind of profit-making activity you’re looking to capitalise on.
      There is also CharityComms ( who support both individuals and organisations working in communications in the charity sector. They have an excellent mentoring scheme – which I’m part of as a mentor – as well as seminars and other resources that may help with the PR and marketing aspects of your business.
      As I mentioned above, we are keen to develop the range of guidance we provide our members with, so if there is anything specific you’re looking for which isn’t covered please do get in touch at so we can explore what we could do.

      I hope this helps!

      • Andrea says:

        Hi Hannah, Thank you for your reply – I will look into those resources and be in touch. Best wishes, Andrea