The road ahead: What you need to be aware of in 2016

My fellow travellers…

Each year we publish our Road Ahead report aimed at helping our members get their bearings and navigate the best way forward for their organisation. Once again, we consider the political, economic, social and technological drivers that are affecting voluntary organisations.

Download the Road Ahead summary (PDF922KB)

NCVO members: Access the full report for free

Four key issues for 2016

Responding to global crises and preparing for possibility of Brexit

There remains considerable uncertainty about the future of Britain in the EU and implications for voluntary organisations, of all sizes, about what Brexit would mean for their work (watch out for a NCVO report on the Europe question coming soon).

Meanwhile, the refugee crisis, terrorism, environmental and economic issues call for international responses. UK organisations are doing their part – for example, ahead of the Supporting Syria conference this week, NGOs will highlight the experiences of people in Syria and bring their voices to the attention of the gathered heads of state.

The only way is… local

For other charities, the most significant developments are likely to be local. With devolution continuing apace, local VCSE leaders will be well advised to seek a seat at the various strategic tables. For those involved with public services, the trend towards ever larger contracts with ever tighter margins looks almost unstoppable.

Yet some are bucking the trend, often by taking a collaborative approach, working closely with commissioners, and building their evidence base – for example, a social prescribing service in West Leicestershire which has proved highly successful and prompted new investment in VCSE services locally.

Playing digital catch-up

As technology advances ever forward, many voluntary organisations find themselves playing catch up. It will be important for charities to review their digital capabilities, infrastructure, opportunities and risks –in particular, to safeguard against data security lapses.

Getting our house in order, together

Charities are under the spotlight as never before – with regular media stories on fundraising, pay, campaigning, investments, administrative costs and more.

Trustees and managers of charities of all sizes will want to ensure their organisation’s activities stand up to scrutiny; while the largest will bear particular responsibility for getting their houses in order and acting collectively where possible to maintain public trust and confidence in the sector as a whole.


Understanding the external landscape is one thing, deciding what it means for your organisation and how best to chart your course is another.

I was recently recommended a Harvard Business Review series on ‘VUCA leadership’ – that provides some interesting insights from business and military leaders on dealing with volatile, uncertain, complex or ambiguous situations. For starters, they advise pinpointing which of these four different situations you’re actually facing, and that glib generalisations like ‘be prepared’ don’t cut it.

Some more specific ideas include: creating safe opportunities for people to hear outside perspectives and challenge each other’s assumptions (sometimes known as ‘red team’ or ‘challenge team’ sessions); ensuring that your teams present leaders with the most relevant information to inform decisions, not just raw data or un-prioritised information; and letting go of grand solutions if they are unlikely to be realisable in a rapidly changing context.

This is, of course, just one way of looking at the challenges facing leaders today. I’d imagine many voluntary sector leaders feel that, far from VUCA, they are often in all-too-familiar territory when it comes to the challenges they face. For example, around funding, collaboration or governance.

Yet, as my colleague Karl Wilding wrote in our Road Ahead report last year, voluntary sector leaders are ‘militant optimists’. Everything we’ve seen and heard this year around the country from NCVO members continues to confirm this: amazing people doing amazing things often in difficult circumstances.

Even when it feels like it’s all uphill, it’s worth looking outwards too.

How to be a better leader

Further your professional development and enhance your leadership skills in our practical Annual Conference workshop on 18 April 2016.

Find out more about NCVO Annual Conference 2016


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Charlotte Ravenscroft was NCVO’s head of policy and public services. Charlotte’s wrote about funding, public service delivery, and strengthening the evidence base for voluntary action. She has also worked at The National Lottery Community Fund and the Department for Education.

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