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The charity sector has ‘never been more stretched’, says NCVO interim CEO

21 Jan 2022 News

Sarah Vibert, interim chief executive, NCVO

In 2021, the charity sector was “never more needed” but “never more stretched” said Sarah Vibert, interim CEO at NCVO.

Last Thursday, Vibert opened the Withers Charities Review of the Year event on Zoom and emphasised the important role that charities and volunteers played during Covid-19 recovery.

However, she also pointed out the negative impact 2021 had on the sector, saying that the pandemic “has really been a test of our relationship with government”.

The impact of Covid-19

Vibert detailed how the Covid-19 pandemic put an enormous stress on charities last year, but applauded non-profit organisations for the work they undertook to combat the virus.

She also celebrated the “huge role” charities and volunteers held in the vaccine take up. In particular, she mentioned the work of St John Ambulance, which saw 30,000 of its volunteers giving their time to administer and assist in vaccinations.

However, Vibert said another year of the pandemic made its toll on charities – citing research that many charities had to access reserves. In November last year, Charity Commission research found that 91% of charities experienced “some negative impact” from the pandemic.

Charities and the government

In 2021 we found that the charity and voluntary sector did not “have the relationship with the government we perhaps thought we did”, said Vibert last Thursday.

“I think it showed us that on a sector wide basis we didn’t have the relationship we perhaps thought we did and the government perhaps didn’t understand the sector as much as they thought they did.” As a consequence, “we spent a lot of last year rebuilding our relationship with government,” said Vibert. 

NCVO began a partnership with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) last year to collaborate on “shared opportunities” between charities and the government.

She highlighted the political backdrop, including former culture secretary Oliver Dowden’s comments that some charities “appear to have been hijacked by a vocal minority seeking to burnish their woke credentials”.

Vibert said that for NCVO “this was a step too far and we came out really strongly in defence of the independence of the sector”.

The year ahead

Closing with what she sees for the year ahead, Vibert said that the charity sector has entered 2022 “financially vulnerable” which she thinks is “likely to persist into the years ahead”.

She predicted an increase in demand for the sector this year, with rising inflation “fewer people may be donating to charity” in the coming year. As well this, more may become reliant on the sector for support. These predictions are echoed in NCVO’s Road Ahead report. 

Vibert stressed that charities should be at the forefront of the levelling up agenda and upcoming levelling up White Paper. 

When questioned about the biggest lessons she’s learned at NCVO in the last year, Vibert said the importance of collaborating with other bodies. 

It’s a case of “putting the cause above the brand”, said Vibert. 

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