Up and running: my first few weeks as chief executive

I’ve been in post for about a month now and I wanted to share some of the conversations I‘m having and the things that I’m thinking about. I’ll aim to do this on a fairly regular basis in order to reflect on some of the issues which are affecting the voluntary sector and filling up my in-tray as chief executive of NCVO.

I thought I’d give this a go and see how it feels to work a bit more in the open – tweet me on @karlwilding with your thoughts.

Out and about

  • As you would expect of a new chief executive, I’ve been out and about a lot in my first few weeks in post. Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle, Guernsey and Cornwall so far. I’ve talked to a fair few people in different parts of the country over the last month. The consistent message that I’ve heard is that our sector, like our politics, is too London-centric. I’m very keen that NCVO renews its relationships in every part of the country and I hope you’ll see me and other staff members out and about near you soon. Our next Members’ Assembly is in Barking.
  • On that note, I’d love to see you at our members’ winter reception next month if you’re free. We’ll be celebrating the work of our members and also drawing our centenary celebrations to a close. We’ll look to the future and discuss the opportunities and challenges facing voluntary organisations in the year ahead. It will be a great opportunity to network and collaborate with other members during the reception, and most importantly, to enjoy a mince pie or two. You can RSVP online.
  • My first few weeks in post also coincided with the annual party-political conferences. We had really encouraging round-table events at Labour and Conservatives. It was a good reminder that while national politics has been stuck in a Brexit quagmire, there is much happening elsewhere that requires our attention and I’m grateful to all those who contributed (particularly Baroness Barran, Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees and Barking and Dagenham Council leader Darren Rodwell).
  • I was pleased to be asked to speak on a National Trust panel at Conservative party conference on volunteering and public spaces – a topic that taps into many wider issues around volunteering and public services. And on a personal note it gave me a chance to talk about what a difference running and volunteering at my local Parkrun has made to me. It was an uplifting discussion that left me with a renewed energy. It was great to see people from across the political spectrum sharing similar concerns and ambitions.

  • Along with two members of NCVO’s equity, diversity and inclusion working group, I met the team behind #CharitySoWhite. We talked about the issues around structural racism in the voluntary sector and where we could work together. This is an important issue that all charities need to engage with. They wrote a blog about our meeting. They challenged us a lot but it was a warm and constructive meeting, and just the start of what I want to be an ongoing dialogue. We agreed that the sector has much more to do in thinking about and acting on who’s included and who has power, and who isn’t and doesn’t. We’ll be talking more about inclusion in the near future.
  • I also met Dawn Austwick, chief executive of the National Lottery Communities Fund, to discuss their future plans. They recently backed the work that NCVO led on safeguarding which has proved very popular, with well over 10,000 people using the resources so far. I think this shows the importance people across the sector are placing on safeguarding. Please do look at the resources and share with your team.
  • I popped into Acevo’s new members’ lunch, and I also spent some time with our newest member of staff – a degree apprentice on Queen Mary University of London’s new social change programme.
  • Finally, we took NCVO’s most of staff team on an awayday at Amnesty UK’s fabulous Human Rights Action Centre…and here they are. A big thanks to the central staff team who stayed behind to keep our own conference venue going.

What I’m reading and listening to

  • The Association of Charitable Foundations’ diversity report. It has got me thinking about the need to better reflect the communities we serve. It talks about how foundations can use their power to ensure that they ameliorate rather than exacerbate injustices. While it’s aimed at foundations, it’s worth reading for all sorts of organisations. Foundations naturally have a lot of power by virtue of their money, but we all have power to influence the things around us in our own way and the report is a reminder of how we can go about making sure we’re using that power in the best way.
  • Beth Crackles’ great fundraising podcast. Her latest episode is an interview with Friends of the Earth’s head of individual giving and supporter care, Kathryn Holloway. She’s very thoughtful and had some great insights into how we should work with supporters.
  • (NB: After publishing the blog post, someone asked what music I’m listening to. Couldn’t resist…here’s my current earworm.)

Coming up

  • There’s a general election on the way. We’ll be hearing a lot about Brexit, but this election also gives charities a chance to make sure their core issues get attention. We have guidance on NCVO Knowhow, and the Electoral Commission has released new guidance specifically for non-party campaigners, which should reassure charities about their ability to campaign. We’ll be running a webinar soon covering all you need to know about campaigning during the election. Follow us on Twitter for news on how to join in.
  • We’ll shortly be publishing our manifesto which will set out what the next government can do to put charities and volunteering front and centre and support your work.
  • We’re doing a lot of listening right now because we have a strategy review coming up. It’s been five years since our last major strategic review, and so much has changed in that time. There are lots of big questions for us to answer. And as ever, so many things that NCVO could do – the question is what will be the most effective and best serve our members and the sector. We’ll be asking you for your views on this soon – we really want this process to be driven by our members. But if you have thoughts in the meantime, please do get in touch.


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Karl Wilding Karl Wilding served as NCVO's chief executive from September 2019 to February 2021.

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