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  • Alexander Thomson

"If you do not challenge yourself, you will not realise what you can become"

Reflections from the #NPCIgnites annual conference 2019.

The great and the good from the not-for-profit sector convened on the 08 October 2019 for the NPC Ignites Annual Conference. It had been a number of years since I last attended a conference, so I must admit I was genuinely very excited to attend and learn about the ‘challenges’ facing the sector presently.


The day kicked off with a keynote address from Michael Adamson (CE, British Red Cross) who kindly shared his thoughts and opinions on a number of key areas where the not-for-profit sector could improve, some of which I summarise as follows:


Scale - Charities have very ambitious mission and vision statements, with strong and vibrant communities and programmes. However, they do not have unlimited resources in comparison to the issues they are trying to address on a global basis, the demand far outweighs the supply.


Collaboration - There are some incredible and extraordinary collaborations within the charitable sector, but sadly too few exist. It begs the question whether charities are only good at collaborating in response to a campaign or request from Trustees. To meet the demands of today, charities need to take greater risks and develop more durable and sustained partnerships.


Trust - Charities need to work alongside each other more positively, and be more trusting of each other, so that resources can be directed and focussed in the most effective manner. Trust issues between large and small organisations must be put aside; someone has to break the ice and make that bold first step! Boards and CEO’s must seriously take this into consideration and put their own interests to one side so that organisations can convene and become the change they want to see.


Personally, I couldn’t agree more with the points raised during the keynote address and upon reflection there was nothing earth-shatteringly difficult in terms of taking significant strides to address what would appear to be achievable improvements. Though, I hear myself ask, what is stopping them from making progress?

I would have assumed that many charities and foundations strategic objectives would have afforded a greater degree of flexibility to respond in an agile and effective manner to many of these issues, and that they would be all too keen to learn from each other and look beyond the charitable sector for good examples of how to address issues such as diversity, inclusion and equity. I can’t help but feel that too many charities have become large corporations that are being inhibited by multiple layers of bureaucracy and a strong pinch of resistance to change that takes up too much valuable resources they can ill afford. They have in effect become barriers to their own success.


Perhaps the charitable sector is lacking sufficient numbers of progressive leaders who want to drive forward change and challenge standard convention and move the charitable sector into a new direction. There is no denying that diversity and inclusiveness is an issue within the charitable sector when you consider that 85% of Trustee Boards are made up of white males between the ages of 55-65. People of colour are absent and marginalised, with very few holding prominent roles with the sector.


Conversations around power and privilege need to take place, so that deep rooted historic structures of power are challenged in a measured and constructive manner to address the baggage of the past in order to move forward. Trustee Boards need to be more reflective of the communities that they serve, and put people and organisations ahead of their own personal interests. Diversity of thought is needed to create a more progressive environment for charities to operate in, which can be achieved through the provision of power and trust to individuals from diverse backgrounds. Charitable Boards and Trustees should be held to account, and their success measured by their willingness to change.


The not-for-profit sector continues to operate under difficult circumstances, with austerity being pro-longed into a second decade, safeguarding issues coming to light in recent years, and scaremongering by the national press leading to a loss of public trust. Let’s be straight, who would want to be a CEO or lead a fundraising campaign in the current landscape?

I have a great deal of respect and admiration for not-for-profit workers, and it saddens me to say; but they do not get enough recognition for the good work they deliver and the impact they have on improving civil society each and every day.


However, there is cause for optimism that a tide of change is on the horizon. This is due to the fact that a significant number of challenges have been identified and there is recognition and desire from very passionate individuals and leaders to pro-actively do something about them. Tweaking a quote from Fozia Irfan (CEO, Bedfordshire and Luton Community Foundation) – if the charitable sector continues to challenge itself, it will realise what it can become.


#FluentConsultancy, #challenge

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