Highlights from the NCVO annual conference

  • Six hundred voluntary sector leaders came together to discuss what the future holds for the voluntary sector
  • As part of our partnership with NCVO, we awarded 10 bursary places to small charities to attend the event
  • Five of these charities pass on learnings to help others who didn’t attend

As part of Zurich’s partnership with NCVO, we awarded bursaries to 10 small charities to attend their annual conference in April 2018. Leadership, digital, trust in charities and the speed of change, were some of the key themes that emerged.

Here, some of the organisations who attended share learnings from the event – and we also have links to conference downloads for more information.

Gus Alston, CEO of Kentish Town City Farm

I feel that we are all in this together. We need to continue to develop how we work together and support each other, in order to meet the challenges now and the challenges ahead.

The leadership sessions inspired me to push forward with plans to reach out to other local charity leaders. Also, to continue to create and develop supportive networks. As a result, since the conference, I have pulled together partners and a sponsor to create a brand-new Camden Charity Leaders network, due to launch in mid-June.

The session also made me feel less lonely as a leader, and gave me some great pointers, such as trying harder to separate home and work. As a relatively new CEO at Kentish City Farm, peer learning and support is vital for me.

Founder of a youth development organisation

The talk by Baroness Stowell of Beeston, the new Chair of the Charity Commission, was particularly hard-hitting. She mentioned a study that showed that the public have lost trust in the charity sector and trust them no more than they trust a stranger on the street. In light of the recent incidents with Oxfam, and a few other large charities, this was alarming to hear. She emphasised the qualities of charity and that we should continue to work with these at our core.

I went to a workshop about leadership facilitated by Kellow Learning (view the slides from session A1). It provided great insight into different ways of learning how to lead, such as learning on the job, learning from or being a mentor, reading books, listening to podcasts, going on a course, getting a qualification, keeping a diary and reflecting on your work/past.

The workshop on how to measure impact was great too. It was good to hear stories about impact and how it’s not necessarily about the amount of data you have, but what you do with it.

Edward Rowland, CEO and founder of Careers for Heroes

The main message which reverberated through the event was about trust and integrity. Sir Stuart Etherington (Chief Executive, NCVO) championed the need for further transparency in the sector, while warning that more “bad news” may come out.

The mood was however, generally upbeat and the vibe from the delegates was one of unity and passion. I felt that there was a shared realisation that collectively we need to work to restore the faith lost in the sector.

It is quite clear that many charities are still behind the times when it comes to digital technology and how to use it. It was very refreshing to hear from an NHS communications manager about how the organisation had pushed to the forefront of digital engagement with its donors and beneficiaries.

There were concerns from other organisations about the trust, or lack of it, that the trustees seem to have in executives or managers of their charities. I am relatively new to the sector and have read many articles on the disconnect between trustees and employees of charities, so it was interesting to hear more about this first-hand.

This justifies our decision at Careers for Heroes to operate as a CIO with a unitary board. We also recognise the importance of communication, not only externally to our beneficiaries and supporters, but also internally. This is often overlooked and arguably may be more important to get right.

Director of an education and social development charity

My key learnings included hearing from a group of top CEOs about their leadership experiences, including the need to be authentic, open, and honest about mistakes and problems.

The final session introduced a radical view of the future, emphasising how fast things are going to change and how we all need to be ready to quickly change and adapt.

Mark Freeman, CEO of Cambridge CVS

Something that was driven home by a number of speakers, was the importance of digital for charities and community groups, and the need to work out how to make the most of this in many areas.

At Cambridge CVS we are on a journey to improve our use of tools and to help our members improve theirs. You can read more about this in our blog post. There is also a great blog by Jane Ide, NAVCA’s CEO, about embracing digital.

We have developed training for groups to help them with their use of digital, and have worked with students at Cambridge University to assess and prioritise our own way forward. This was done via the Cambridge Hub’s Social Innovation Programme.

The NCVO event was a great opportunity to hear a different viewpoint and gain a national perspective. Hearing from Sir Stuart Etherington and the Chair of the Charity Commission gave a big picture view that we do not get locally.

Conference resources

Watch videos of the keynote speeches and download slides from the breakout sessions via the NCVO website.

Read also:
Transcript of Baroness Stowell’s keynote speech
Transcript of Sir Stuart Etherington’s state of sector address
Pale, male and stale? Further thoughts on volunteering and diversity from session B3.