The Road Ahead: What will 2017 mean for charities?

Each year we publish The Road Ahead, a report that builds a picture of the challenges and opportunities coming up for the voluntary sector, and helps our members navigate the best way forward.

Download The Road Ahead summary (PDF 2.6MB)

NCVO members: Access The Road Ahead report in full

Key issues for charities in 2017

As in previous years, we have considered the key drivers shaping the sector in four areas: political, economic, social and technological. Here are some of the key issues identified in each section.

The impact of Brexit

Brexit will dominate the political agenda and almost completely monopolise the attention of decision makers. Charities will need to quickly understand the threats and opportunities, so they can be part of the debate.

The parliamentary timetable is also likely to be taken over by Brexit for several years at least, even where policy hasn’t changed, and charities will have to be vigilant about significant changes being introduced without meaningful parliamentary scrutiny.

Austerity extended

While the economic outlook may have changed, the direction of travel for government continues to point towards a reduction of public spending.

This, combined with changing local authority finances, reduced public service provision and lower incomes for poorer households, is likely to increase demand for many forms of charity services and place further pressure on their resources. These will not be new trends for many charities, but the fact they are now set to continue for longer than expected will be significant.

Regulatory challenges

The regulatory environment, which has already undergone substantial changes, will continue to present a number of changes – and challenges – to voluntary organisations and the people working within them.

These new requirements will be introduced at a time when charities are already facing the consequences of a drop in the public’s trust, and when therefore it is more important than ever to have the right checks and balances in place.

Decreasing social mobility

Poor social mobility, coupled with the divisions that the EU referendum brought to the surface, could be a considerable challenge in future years.

The need to strengthen social cohesion is likely to become a priority for many voluntary organisations, building on their experience of working closely with their volunteers and others to bring people together and help tackle issues around fairness and inequality.

The rise of automation

Predictions about the development of technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning have so far been limited to sectors that are more susceptible to automation, such as manufacturing, catering and hospitality, and retail.

But it is becoming increasingly possible that automation will also affect voluntary organisations, even if this will initially be limited to back-office roles, allowing to redirect people’s time towards higher value tasks.

Charities in the ‘shared society’

A common thread throughout our report is the unique power of volunteers and voluntary organisations, and the fundamental role they can play in facing up not only to their individual circumstances but also to the wider societal challenges that Brexit, globalisation and demographic change will pose.

This uniqueness of our sector, and its volunteers, will continue to be its greatest strength as people connect and work together in building a truly shared society.


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Avatar photo Elizabeth was head of policy and public services at NCVO until 2020.

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