Road Ahead 2018 – what does this year have in store for charities?

Today we are publishing the Road Ahead, our report that looks at the upcoming year and identifies the key trends that are likely to shape the operating environment of charities and their work. Each year we try to think about what might be both the challenges and opportunities for our members, so they can build these into their plans. (Naturally, you’ll want to augment this with some thinking about the trends and drivers specific to your area of work.)

Download the Road Ahead 2018 summary (pdf, 80 KB)

NCVO Members: access the Road Ahead 2018 full report

The last few years have been a bit of a bumpy ride for anyone in the business of making predictions, especially in the political and economic spheres. The year to come is likely to be just as turbulent.

One might therefore suggest that this year we should not offer ourselves as a potential hostage to fortune by publishing the 2018 edition of the Road Ahead. But in uncertain times it’s more important than ever to be aware of the key trends and drivers that may shape our work in the months to come, so we are prepared for a range of possible outcomes – no matter how unlikely they may seem.

So what are the key issues charities need to be thinking about in 2018?

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:

Politics and the economy

Brexit will inevitably continue to be the biggest uncertainty, not only with regards to regulatory change and its potential economic implications, but also with regards to our country’s future relationship with the European Union.

Deficit reduction and driving growth will also be at the top of the Government’s economic agenda throughout 2018. Charities cannot ignore the impact that this is likely to have: continuing pressure on public finances will be felt particularly by those who rely on government contracts or grants.

But as charities are expected to step in and deliver more and more services, is the existing model of public services sustainable?

Social attitudes

The social context is showing how a number of dynamics are becoming more acute: from an ageing population that increasingly requires more health and social care, to rising atomisation whereby individuals feel more and more isolated and turn towards public services for support, albeit with very different expectations and almost a transactional approach.

The public’s attitude towards charities will also continue to play an important role: the days of being seen to be ‘good’ simply for being a charity are long gone, and people will continue to question charities and their impact more. Charities may not be front page news but they will need to constantly thing about public perceptions and their relationship with the media, especially in a world of online and immediate news, where the power of social media continues to be on the rise.

2018 is also a year of looking ahead

Despite, or perhaps because of, these challenges, 2018 itself is going to be a year of looking ahead, with many initiatives aimed at developing strategies for the future and thinking about solutions to the problems mostly deeply affecting our economy and society. From the ‘Civil Society Strategy’ announced by the Parliamentary Undersecretary Tracey Crouch, to Julia Unwin’s ‘Civil Society Futures’ inquiry, there is huge potential to open up new and exciting opportunities for charities and the wider voluntary sector, offering the possibility of a role in the wider political, social and economic agenda.

So, despite the challenges, this year could present many opportunities for charities and voluntary organisations, and for the individuals who volunteer with them. I hope you enjoy our take on what may lie ahead this year, and that you find it useful for your planning, and I wish you every success for the year ahead.


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

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