New ways, and a hundred days

Well that went quickly…

If you browse the shelves of airport bookshops, you’ll be aware that they groan under the weight of management self-help books, with lots of advice on new ways of working and what to do in your first 100 days. I’ve just completed my first 100 days, but rather than write an airport book I’m sharing sharing some of the conversations I‘m having and the things that I’m thinking about in the style of a ‘weeknotes’ blog.

If you’re on Twitter, where I discuss these and other things, you can find me at @karlwilding. 


The end of the year went by in a bit of a blur for us as we closed our centenary year. Rather puts my 100 days in perspective. Anyway, a few highlights:

  • The general election now seems a long time ago. With Brexit and a reshuffle to come at the end of January, and leadership elections for Labour and the Lib Dems, it feels like the calm before the storm. But we got a good sense of the views of different political parties at the CAF/NCVO Charity Debate, where we had spokespeople from not just the three main parties, but also some of the smaller parties. It’s still worth a listen: I think many of you will be surprised.

  • Our winter reception brought together charities large and small to reflect on the past year and share their hopes and fears for 2020. The stars of the show though were the students talking their degree apprenticeships in social change. They are the ones to watch for the future!
Queen Mary University degree apprentices
  • We also did something practical: if like me, you’re sick of orange juice and diet coke as the only non-alcoholic options at a do, we got Alcohol Change UK to do a wine and beer tasting session for us. The trick? They’re all low or no alcohol beer and wine. It was a real success: we’ll do this again and I’d suggest you should try it too. A big thanks to Richard Piper for arranging this – we’ll showcase more NCVO members doing innovative things at future events.
Alcohol Change’s non-alcohol drinks tasting table
  • It was a pleasure to host HRH The Princess Royal (thanks to haysmacintyre for making it possible) and listen to her reflections on charities and volunteering. Also well worth a listen. It’s clear that the Princess Royal’s views are drawn from her own knowledge and experience – and she wasn’t afraid to challenge us either. Or spend a considerable amount of her time meeting the many people running charities who came to listen to her.
  • Since the new year I’ve been up and down the country as per usual a fair bit – our Members’ Assembly was in Brighton last week, I popped into an excellent session with Community Action Derby and also spoke to the Eastside Primetimers Foundation on the future of work in the charity sector. There’s so much to talk about here – my question is what can we do to make sure we’re relevant and attractive as a place to work for the people who want to change the world. Meanwhile, we’ve got 20 Members’ Assemblies this year, across the country. Come and see us!

Front and centre

I was pleased to kick the year off by adding my name to a letter signed by leaders from across faith, culture, sport, civil society and business. The letter urges us all to leave behind a decade of division and begin a decade of reconnection. There’s going to be more on this in the future. More when I know.

Some of our work around equity, diversity and inclusion is starting to progress.  I’m finding this work tough, often uncomfortable, and taking longer than I had thought. I’m absolutely convinced it’s the right thing, and equally convinced that doing it right is going to take time. New ways! Alongside building local connections and generally making life easier for our members, equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) is a strategic priority for NCVO this year. Not only is this reflected in several internal changes led by our EDI working group but also in the support we provide to members and our research agenda. We are currently reviewing the resources and the training we have available to members. Given the breadth and complexity of EDI as a topic, we’ll be taking our time to make sure that what we do produce is as good as we can make it.

The same applies to the third of our focused reports from our Time Well Spent research will be on diversity and volunteering, following the report we’ve just released on volunteering in public services. More on what we’re doing can be found in our researcher Amy’s blog. For the first stage, we want to hear from volunteer-involving organisations: what diversity means to you, your aims, ambitions and priorities and experiences (the successes, the challenges and the learnings) when it comes to diversity and volunteering. If you’re interested, there are lots of ways to get involved.

I’m dead chuffed that NCVO has itself been awarded the Trusted Charity Mark. Reviewing how our whole organisation works has been hard – and we’re much stronger for it. We focused on improving our governance processes and being much more systematic in how we develop and review our policies. We’ve been externally reviewed by an independent assessor, so it’s been a rigorous process (and one that’s now been externally accredited).

It was a real organisation effort and I’m immensely proud of our achievement – not least because we’re ‘eating our own greens’. I’m keen that more charities go down the quality standards route, and having attained the Trusted Charity Mark ourselves, I’m confident in talking to others about it. I reckon quality standards are one of the two things that we need to do if we’re going to build trust in charities – if you want to know more, I’ve explained in this series of tweets on trust and charities.

What I’m reading and listening to

  • I was totally blown away by the new film from the RNLI released just before Christmas – so good to see volunteers front and centre (and some brilliant challenging of gender stereotypes). Watch it – I promise you’ll love it.

  • I read Derek Bardowell’s No Win Race over the Christmas holiday. Derek’s account of modern Britain, and his experience of racism, is told through his love of sport and recollection of big sporting events like the London Olympics. As we refresh our values at NCVO, and take forward our work on equity, diversity and inclusion, it made me reflect on the future of our sector and the values we hold – with a clear sense that being inclusive has to be central to our future. Well worth reading.


  • Since I’ve gained a podcast habit, one of my favourite podcasts has been about the how technology is shaping government, social attitudes and public services. It’s called Government vs the Robots and I think it’s compelling listening, very much a guide to the future. Digital is increasingly critical for us here, and this has helped my thinking. (Episode 38 – Trigger Warning – is about modern politics and is especially good.)
  • Readers of these notes will probably already know a little about my music preferences. My favourite new music is from No-Man. It’s a bit like Donna Summer’s I feel Love mashed up with Radiohead. Please don’t laugh…it’s brilliant.

Coming up

With a new government now in place, my thoughts have turned to how the relationship with the voluntary sector can be strengthened and I’ll be meeting some of the people in Number 10 shortly to discuss. We have also, alongside other sector bodies, written to Government ministers setting out thoughts on what should happen to the Office for Civil Society should its current home – the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) – be dismantled in the widely anticipated Whitehall shakedown. While its place in DCMS over the past four years has worked well, we wanted to reflect on the changes such as Civil Society Strategy, how these can be maximised and to think through how civil society can help to meet public policy priorities.


Aside from coming along to our largest event, the Annual Conference, there are now many more opportunities to catch up with all things NCVO. I’m really keen to get out and about and most of the NCVO members assemblies for 2020 are now up on the website so do check out if there is one coming near you in the near future. If you can make time to network, share ideas, and find out more about the resources we have that can help you – I promise it will be worth it.

Also on the subject of future thinking, we are about to launch our annual Road Ahead which considers future trends likely to affect the sector. Sarah Vibert, who has just joined us, has set out some of our thinking in Civil Society.

Finally, I began by talking about my first hundred days. Some of the best advice I had from Julie Bentley and Hildy Gottlieb, and that was to go out and listen, listen again, and then listen a bit more. And ask questions. It was great advice – if you’re about to start your first hundred days, just make sure you’ve got plenty of notebooks.


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

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