‘The charity sector is entering a new economic phase’ 

01 Apr 2019 News

Sir Stuart Etherington at the NCVO annual conference 2018

© Rebecca Fennell

The sector is entering a new economic phase and charities should be asking themselves fundamental questions about how they operate in order to continue to be successful, Sir Stuart Etherington said this morning. 

Etherington delivered his last annual state of the sector address at the NCVO annual conference this morning, where he urged the sector to embrace change, make sure it is at the centre of coming up with a new vision for the country and move on from media attacks. 

“The sector is entering a new economic phase,” he said. “In the last two decades, we saw substantial growth in the scale of the voluntary sector. It was driven for some by public contracting, and driven for others by fundraising.

“It feels to me that this stage of the sector’s life is coming to a close.”

Etherginton added: “The things that made us successful in the past will not be the things that make us successful in the future.

“More and more I’m hearing colleagues asking fundamental questions about why and how their organisations are operating.”

Seize control of the future 

Etherington also urged the sector to be bold and to ensure it was at the heart of shaping the country’s future. 

“Too much public debate in this country of late has revolved around nostalgia,” he said, adding that there had been “so much time focusing on what we don’t want that we haven’t thought about what we do want”. 

He said the country needs a “vision for our future” and that it is time to “show what our sector can do as part of that”.

“We will, we must, be the ones sticking up for the interests of others, of those who aren’t listened to,” he said.

He also urged charities to embrace change. “Change can be uncomfortable,” he said. “But change and renewal are part of life.

“Without change and renewal you will be overtaken by the world. That isn’t good enough for our sector. You must always seek to be in the driving seat, leading the way.”

Move on from attacks 

The last few years of Etherington’s leadership have been dominated by a series of scandals in the sector. There has been intense media criticism of executive pay, fundraising practices and more recently safeguarding in charities. 

But Etherington said it is time to move on.  “We must move on from a focus on ‘attacks’ on the sector, which has taken up much time in recent years.” He said the sector had shown it could “respond in a mature way and control the agenda”. 

He added that NCVO plans to launch a new assurance service called “NCVO Trusted Charity”, though did not give any further details.

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