The next chapter in NCVO’s history

Dr Priya Singh was elected NCVO’s chair at our 2020 annual general meeting. Here she reflects on her incoming priorities

I join NCVO at a time of great upheaval for the voluntary sector and volunteering. The impact of covid-19 on charities cannot be underestimated. NCVO’s research published this week depicts a complex and concerning picture – while 20% say their finances are improving, many more, nearly 40% report they are deteriorating. Social distancing and the wider financial climate are decimating voluntary sector funding streams. In parallel, demand for services has risen sharply as people and communities feel the health, social and economic impacts of the pandemic.

Despite these challenges, the response to the crisis from charities and volunteers has been extraordinary. Voluntary organisations have pivoted their services overnight to respond to changing needs. It is estimated that three million people volunteered their time in local organisations. A further 600,000 volunteered with the NHS. While it is unlikely this scale of volunteering is sustainable, some of these new ways of operating are doubtless here to stay. Not least a digital transformation that has been hastened by the need for socially distanced services and support.

An acceleration of other changes in society

This year we have seen an acceleration of other changes in wider society that have in turn impacted on the voluntary sector. The global anti-racist mobilisation that was sparked by the death of George Floyd in police custody in the USA has invigorated the Black Lives Matter movement in the UK. This has inspired many voluntary sector organisations to publicly stand against racism and take action to address structural inequality.

Another global movement given a new focus during the pandemic is climate change. Our sector has been amongst many voices calling for a green recovery from covid-19. Charities and volunteers clearly have a critical role to play in a future society that is not solely focussed on economic growth and consuming more resources.

NCVO’s role shaping and responding to change

NCVO must both respond to and shape these wider changes in the voluntary sector. Over the last year NCVO has reimagined its goals and activities to ensure the organisation is fit for the future. We are at the start of a new chapter in our 100-year history.

It is with mixed emotions that I take on this new challenge. Supporting the leadership team as they undertake this transformation is a priority for me and my fellow trustees. I want to work alongside them to honour and celebrate past achievements and to say thank you and a grateful farewell to dedicated and talented staff who will leave the organisation through the restructure.

In parallel, I also want to rejoice in the future vision and look forward to the organisation we will build. As NCVO’s new chair, my priorities relate to the three interrelated challenges we have as an organisation.

Member-centred approach

Deepening our connection with our members is hugely important to me as NCVO’s new Chair. I have spent much of my career in mutual organisations. It is therefore second nature to me to design and deliver services in an equal partnership with members.

There is also an analogy here with my background in medicine and addressing the need for meaningful conversations between patients and clinicians. Advocacy charities have led a drive for more person-centred care in the NHS. This recognises that people are the experts in their own health. NCVO’s strength is in our membership, not our own expertise. By becoming more member-centred, we are shifting the dynamic and the empowering the whole sector.

A diverse, equitable and inclusive organisation

For me being more member-centred is synonymous with being more inclusive. NCVO has work to do to ensure we have a culture which is equitable and inclusive, and to attract diverse talent to join our staff team. It has been helpful and not always easy to hear some very honest and often upsetting stories about the experiences of colleagues, including the challenges faced with career progression, speaking up and being heard. We must work to address these issues, at pace, and with clearly defined goals.

We also need to acknowledge and use our powerful place in the sector. We must work alongside and amplify the messages of partners who are doing great work to build a more equitable sector reflective of the communities we serve.

Focusing on our resources

Working with partners also serves another important function. NCVO has not been immune from the financial impact of covid-19.  With less income and a smaller staff team we must ensure we are playing to our strengths and working collaboratively to achieve our ambitious goals for members.  The experience of running an NCVO member charity (The Society for Assistance of Medical Families) has given me a keen understanding of what NCVO’s members need and I’ve been consistently impressed by the quality of NCVO products and services. It is critical we retain this, NCVO will need to prioritise around the areas that are most important to members.

Just as important as focussing on financial resources will be focussing on our people.  I want to ensure NCVO is supporting our staff team and developing voluntary sector leaders of the future.

I feel honoured, excited, and hopeful, as I take on the role of chair. I am grateful for the confidence and trust members have put in me. Charities and volunteers are crucial to helping people through crises such as covid-19, and they also underpin so much of community life in the UK and bring people together. Charities and volunteering are more important than ever – we will stand alongside them, bang the drum for them and support them every step of the way during this crisis and beyond.


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Dr Priya Singh Dr Priya Singh is chair of NCVO's trustee board.

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