Events, collaborations and ratios – and, of course, the election

I’ve been in post for about a couple of months 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 affecting the voluntary sector and filling up my in-tray as chief executive of NCVO.  

Tweet me on @karlwilding with your thoughts. 

Out and about

I’m still trying to get out of London on a regular basis. Earlier this month I was up in Norwich for a conference organised by Community Action Norfolk talking about the changing landscape for charities and volunteering – and how tough things can be particularly for small and medium-sized organisations. Frustratingly I couldn’t stay long after speaking, but I heard strong messages about the need for more collaboration in the face of tight resources and a strong sense of wanting to make a bigger dent on issues.  

A couple of days ago I spoke at an event on governance hosted by Hertfordshire Community Foundation, and listened to one of the best presentations on board diversity that I think I’ve heard. James Watson O’Neill of SignHealth was simply brilliant, talking about his own experience and the changes that the organisation has gone through. It’s made me think that we should do something here like this example from Google so that more of us can share some of the brilliant people and leadership we come across.  Let me know if you think we should give this a try.

I seem to be spending quite a bit of time talking to various people about the incredible contribution of charities and volunteers. You only have to look at the events of the last few weeks to see the impact our sector has. Whether it’s the Red Cross helping students after the Bolton fire, Khalsa Aid helping the residents of Fishlake affected by flooding, or even the many organisations coming together to influence political debate during the election period (check out #OneCancerVoice and #GE2019WomenAndGirls if you haven’t clocked them yet). 

I took some time out of the day to day at the Acevo conference, listening and learning from charity leaders from across the sector. Really useful to reflect, even after a short time in the role, and to catch up with a few people. I was particularly struck by the presentation from BelindaParmer on the importance of bringing empathy into the workplace.  

It would be remiss of me not to mention that NCVO’s annual conference has also just opened for bookings.  

It’s also been a pretty hectic month at NCVO:

  • We launched NCVO’s manifesto calling on the next government to work with us to create the right environment for community groups, charities and volunteers. We’re writing to all the candidates in the election asking them to support charities and volunteering.
  • We’ve had an amazing response to a call to input into NCVO’s new strategy. In just under 48 hours we had over 120 responses. As part of a series of events relating to our new strategy, over 100 people came to our AGM for a really good debate about what the future holds. You can read more about what we’ve learnt so far in this process and what’s happening next here.
  • We also said thank you to outgoing chair Peter Kellner and to vice-chair Sally Young. Both have made an invaluable contribution and we’re very grateful to them for sharing their advice and knowledge with us. We also welcomed our new interim chair, Anne Heal 

  • Finally, we’re starting to make some changes inside NCVO. For the next year we’ve got an interim senior leadership team whilst we develop our strategy – more details are in the thread below. We’re also doing some of the smaller changes that are starting to make the place feel a bit different – so next on the list is a bit more of a clearout of cupboards and building a new meeting room.

What I’m reading and listening to 

I’m a bit of a podcast fan. As it’s election season, I’m enjoying listening to Matt Chorley’s Times Red Box podcast, and the BBC’s Electioncast – excellent accompanimentto the morning commute. If you’ve got a bit more time – and no distractions – David Runciman’s Talking Politics is just about the best thing. (The episode on the climate crisis is utterly compelling). But you do need to concentrate. Good for a 10k run (at my speed, anyway). All are available via your podcast provider.

I spend a fair bit of time looking at what’s happening internationally concerning charities and volunteering and I couldn’t help but respond to a discussion sparked by an article in the New York Times about rating charities on their cost-effectiveness. My view is that rating charities using metrics like admin cost ratios doesn’t work. Worse, it drains resources from charities that could be spent on the mission. 

It’s been great to see two leaders of larger charities talking about the importance of collaboration. Michelle Mitchell from Cancer Research talking about working in collaboration with others to beat cancer and enabling CRUK to act as a convenor bringing together the best minds and breaking down barriers between organisations to reach goals quicker. Mike Adamson and the British Red Cross highlighting the role of the voluntary sector in emergencies is also worth a read.  

Coming up

  • Well, obviously there’s something fairly big happening in the political sphere… #GeneralElection19. We’re doing a fair amount of thinking about how to engage with a new government of any persuasion and, as per usual, hope to be pretty hot off the blocks with an analysis of what the results mean for the voluntary sector. 


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

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