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30 things to think about

To celebrate ACEVO’s 30th birthday in 2017, we asked people in and around civil society for their thought-provoking insights. We hope that these will inspire debate about how to make the biggest difference over the next 30 years.

The content below was originally published throughout November 2017, using the authors’ job titles at the time. 

Originally published 01/11/2017

by Lynne Berry

Leadership is about hope and optimism not despair and disillusion. It’s about inspiring others, about putting in place the capacity and resources to achieve change, about fostering the skills to create the alliances that will hasten a better future.

Positive leadership

The discourse around leadership in the sector has too often focused on despair, the sense that society is going to hell in a handcart, and that we are impotent to change that. This ignores the power and opportunity we have to shape the way society addresses social and economic change. There are many leaders who spread optimism and hope, but the focus of the narrative seems to be on the obstacles, rather than on how successful we have been – or could be – in overcoming them.

Rictor Norton, a gay historian, says that he doesn’t want the history of the gay movement to be the history of homophobia – rather he wants to celebrate success and the achievements of those who campaigned against prejudice.

Similarly, I don’t want the story of leadership in the voluntary sector to be about the power of other sectors and their disregard for ours. I want it to be about the things we have done, the changes we have brought about and the successes we have had, are having and will have in the future.

So let’s acknowledge ourselves as leaders with vision and passion, as shapers of thought, as activists who know stuff and make things happen. Let’s not be embarrassed to talk about being a leader; it doesn’t need to be at odds with collective action and common purpose.

The face of leadership is changing. It is no longer synonymous with the heroic, straight, white man. And that change is a reflection of what is happening, however slowly, throughout the sector. Has the growth of diversity changed the way we think of leadership? I think it has and it will do so even more in the future.

Collaborative leadership

One change needs more work. Increased scrutiny of charitable governance means we need a more nuanced understanding of the shared roles and responsibilities of leaders and chairs of boards. As the sector becomes more confident and professional we need to be clearer about how that shared leadership works.

Dynamic leadership

Leadership in the voluntary sector is leadership in the public eye and I believe we can do more to grasp the opportunity of considerable public interest in what we do and how we do it.

We are embracing the language of effective leadership and acknowledging that there are leaders of different sorts among us. But extraordinarily, we forget to acknowledge the point of leaders and what we can do with the power and influence we have.

Remembering Marx, the point of our leadership is not just to understand – or bemoan – the world, but to change it.

Lynne Berry OBE is chair of trustees at Breast Cancer Now and chair of the Commission on the Voluntary Sector and Ageing. Until recently she was deputy chair of the Canal and River Trust and chair of the trust in Wales, GlandŵrCymru. She is a trustee of UnLtd and Cumberland Lodge, a professor at Bayes Business School, and a fellow of Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge University.

Originally published 02/11/2017

Hugh Biddell, head of charities and innovation at NatWest, explores innovation through collaboration with Neil Heslop, chief executive of Leonard Cheshire Disability, Andy Ellis, head of strategy and innovation at RBS, and Vicky Browning, chief executive at ACEVO.




This video was produced by NatWest, who kindly sponsored 30 things to think about.

Hugh Biddell is head of charities, schools and not for profit for NatWest. He is also a chair of the NatWest Social and Community Capital Investment Committee. Hugh has had various roles as a trustee, including at Crisis and The Reader.

Neil Heslop OBE is chief executive of Leonard Cheshire Disability. Previously, he was managing director at RNIB Solutions. Neil is also co-founder and trustee of Blind in Business.

Originally published 03/11/2017

by Becca Bunce

Just over three years ago, I was with my friend Robyn, painstakingly editing the first IC Change petition copy, distracted every so often by glimpses of the Houses of Parliament in my peripheral vision.

A week before that Robyn had asked me a seemingly innocuous question on Facebook: “Do you fancy doing a petition with me? It’s to get the UK government to ratify the Istanbul Convention [on ending violence against women].”

In that moment, we were unaware that we had co-founded a volunteer-run campaign. Little did we know that this campaign would build a coalition of over 50 supporting organisations and that two years later parliament would be firmly in our sights as we mobilised thousands of people to support the successful passage of a private member’s bill through parliament to create the Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women Act 2017 (IC Act).

To do this, we used and built on the power of clicktivism. Digital campaigning opened the doors for a more inclusive campaign, and without digital I – and many others – could not have been involved.

Clicktivism is legitimate engagement

Parliament was in the corner of my eye that day because I was in St Thomas’ Hospital. This is my normal. Hospital beds, oxygen masks, NHS tea and a hearty dose of pain relief.

My world at that point had the physical boundary of the curtain around my bed. I couldn’t speak due to lack of breath. However, my ability to take action was not limited, thanks to digital solutions, and the willingness of the rapidly expanding team to accept and develop these solutions.

Much of this early activity – writing petitions and asking people to share – would be considered clicktivism. Or, to others, “slacktivism” or “lazy activism”. Whether signing a petition or tweeting your MP, clicktivism as a form of action is regarded as not enough.

We need to be clear about who we are excluding when we de-legitimise clicktivism: people with children – particularly women, disabled people, carers, people for whom speaking up is risky, people who happen not to have a degree in politics or the ear of someone with influence. And there are more people for whom the barriers in traditional campaigning are too high.

When we say: “your action is not enough”, but don’t give people alternative ways of engaging, we are effectively saying: “your voices do not belong here; your voices do not matter”. We are telling people they have no role in creating change. And then we wonder why people disengage.

To harness the power of digital in campaigning we need to move beyond the idea that “clicktivism” is lazy activism. If I hadn’t engaged with petitions and social media I wouldn’t have seen digital as a way to make change happen. Nor would I have ended up accidentally co-directing a campaign.

Clicktivism works as a tactic

One of the great moments of the campaign last year was watching an MP rearrange their diary to attend the second reading of the bill following a well-reasoned discussion with a supporter on Twitter. All too often tweeting and signing petitions are disregarded – even when they are successful. Yet we have seen multiple successes from digital actions including No More Page 3, Jane Austen on the £10 note and the government passing the IC Act.

Clicktivism is often most successful when used alongside other campaigning tactics. The difficulty is that many of the more traditional tactics for campaigns exclude large numbers of people. Part of the power of petitions and social media is that they have shown that it’s possible to overcome significant barriers to engagement. Now a critical challenge is how we can design – or redesign – digital tools that allow a diverse range of people to engage and have impact.

Diversity driving digital

The Istanbul Convention covers multiple forms of violence against all women, and calls on all sections of society to respond. This meant our campaign needed to do the same. So we built a team and a wider coalition that brought in a diversity of backgrounds and experience. Diversity was not about tokenism. Diversity brought a range of perspectives that enabled strong strategic decisions and developed our campaign understanding.

With minimal resources, digital was necessary for success, and in many ways need shaped our digital use. Volunteers who joined us brought their “normal” and their needs. Digital helped us adapt to religions, responsibilities, working patterns, and geography, and to ensure each person’s well-being. Digital facilitated engagement and allowed for a wider network, which in turn enabled us to have a broader sense of leadership and wider challenge.

Digital hindering diversity

However, we quickly found digital spaces were replicating barriers found in the real world.

In our rush to make use of digital tools, all too often civil society is forgetting to shape them. Perhaps this is because organisations designing campaigns don’t have a diverse group of people involved in producing campaigns and signing off budgets and strategies. We need to look to who our leaders are and who we hope them to be, and engage with how current structures are holding those people back.

If every civil society organisation sent an email to Twitter today asking them to add image descriptions to tweets with any image, video or gif, I imagine that would get resolved pretty quickly. Similarly, if we all asked Eventbrite and Facebook to make accessibility and childcare mandatory fields for events, they probably would. We also need to challenge the digital tools that we use as teams, such as Slack and Google Drive. We have to ask ourselves why we don’t see improving these digital structures as a priority, and yet expect to diversify the people engaging with – and leading – our campaigns.

Part of the power of clicktivism is that it enables a diverse range of people to engage with, design and lead campaigns. As a disabled woman, digital offered many of the solutions that allowed me to not just engage but also lead a campaign.

We need to think about how we can build on this principle of inclusion to create better digital infrastructure for future campaigns, because at the moment many of the platforms and tools used for campaigning are excluding the people we seek to engage. To harness the power of digital for future campaigning we need leaders in the sector to work together to make digital campaigning more accessible.

Becca Bunce is co-founder of women’s rights group IC Change and a campaigner for disabled feminist group Sisters of Frida.

Originally published 04/11/2017

by Rhodri Davies

Blockchain is the technology that provides the infrastructure for the digital cryptocurrency bitcoin. It could fundamentally reshape the nature of charity, and even do away with the charity sector altogether.

A blockchain is a record of all the transactions in a system, but unlike traditional ledgers it does not rely on a third-party authority to maintain it. Instead, it is decentralised and distributed among its users, and they all contribute to its upkeep. Iterations of the ledger (known as “blocks”) are encrypted, ensuring that once made these blocks are almost impossible to alter. The ledger is public, so everyone can see who has transacted with who. These processes and the built-in transparency guarantee accuracy and robustness.

Many of our systems are built around transactions where trust needs to be ensured. The blockchain system could remove the need for costly middlemen like banks and lawyers who currently make these systems work.

Enabling donations on the blockchain will have a radical impact, because these donations are 100 per cent transparent. A donor will be able to follow their gift all the way through a charity to the beneficiary, and beyond. There are already organisations putting this theory into practice on a small scale, such as Alice.siDisberse and the BitGive Foundation.

But perhaps the biggest impact of blockchain will come from the way it enables a wider trend of decentralisation and disintermediation. This is about enabling those who want to do social good to act together directly without intermediation by centralised charitable organisations.

We may no longer need the infrastructure provided by intermediary organisations to coordinate decision making, logistics and so on. Blockchain has created the possibility of decentralising organisational structures themselves, in the form of Distributed Autonomous Organisations (DAOs).

A DAO is a collection of individuals, groups and things recorded on the blockchain and bound together by some smart contracts (self-executing computer programs that perform set actions when specified conditions are met). These smart contracts govern how members of the DAO interact.

The DAO model could transform civil society. It could, for example, enable networks of donors to democratically choose and fund projects or individuals all around the world based on a common cause. It could make it possible to coordinate national or even global campaigning and advocacy work without the need for a single intermediary or group of intermediaries. This may sound like science-fiction, but as with many things in the world of blockchain, it is happening in a small way already. Initiatives like and Charity DAO are attempting to create DAO structures that will allow people to do social good.

In future, people might be able to access the services or products they need directly through decentralised platforms. Charities could retain a role in this scenario, but it is likely to be as curators or enablers – helping people to access and manage services directly – rather than as service deliverers. Eventually, even this role might diminish and we will see the end of the traditional model of a charitable organisation.

However, this doesn’t mean that there will be no role for social leaders. Within these decentralised networks, social leadership will be democratised: rather than being defined as a leader on the basis of your position within an organisational structure, leaders will emerge on the strength of their ideas and their ability to win support within the flat structure of the DAO.

There will also be a vital role for the expertise that so many people in the charity sector have. Once the ability to act is democratised, it will be incredibly important to ensure that this action is well-directed. And in the absence of an intermediary that can do this by centralising control, those who wish to lead in the social sector will have to rely on their expertise and use of evidence to win support more than ever.

There may also be a vital role for social leaders at the edges of these blockchain-based systems, where they bump up against the real world. A blockchain is merely a ledger and you need to be certain that the information on the ledger reflects what is happening in the real world accurately and truthfully. For instance, for smart contracts which trigger payments on the basis of outcomes being delivered (a bit like an automated social impact bond) to work, we need to be sure that those outcomes really have been delivered. Confirming these things is likely to be an important part of the role of social leaders in the future.

It is possible that the next 30 years will see the beginning of the end for charitable organisations, but not for social leaders. Their role will almost certainly evolve while remaining as crucial as ever.

Rhodri Davies works at Charities Aid Foundation, where he leads Giving Thought, the in-house thinktank focusing on current and future issues affecting philanthropy and civil society.

Originally published 05/11/2017 By Esther Foreman Is leadership in the third sector about running an organisation or is it about empowering people at a grassroots level? Esther Foreman talks about political structures and the changing ways in which civil society will need to influence power to create change.

Esther Foreman is founder and chief executive of The Social Change Agency. She is a 2011 Clore Fellow, a 2012 Winston Churchill Fellow and a 2013 SSE Fellow. Esther is also a trustee of the National MS Society and The House of Saint Barnabas.

Originally published 06/11/2017

By Tracey Crouch MP

Our country is starting out on one of the greatest journeys in recent history. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reshape the UK, not only in terms of how we relate to the rest of the world, but also here at home.

The prime minister has been vocal in highlighting the burning and everyday injustices that too many of us face today. A key priority must be to build a stronger and fairer society.

The incredible organisations that make up our charity sector will be at the heart of this work. It was a huge privilege to be asked to take on ministerial responsibility for the sector in June, as part of the civil society brief. I have long been in awe of our charities. Large and small, they work tirelessly to address some of the most pressing problems we face, driven by the passion and commitment of incredible staff and volunteers.

But I believe that there is even more potential that can be unlocked if we can find ways to make partnership across all sectors easier and more effective. Some great work is already going on, but there is much that needs to change to make this good practice common.

I recognise that a large part of the change that is needed will come from the public sector and the way in which we create opportunities for charities and others to engage in public services. But as we are celebrating the 30th anniversary of ACEVO, it feels appropriate to focus on the role of charity leaders and the support they need to reach their full potential.

Charity leaders do an amazing job in often extremely challenging circumstances. But from what I have heard in the last few months, this contribution and commitment goes largely unrecognised. It is easy for leaders to feel isolated, with a huge burden on their shoulders. Too often leaders must focus all their efforts on the day-to-day running of key services. This can mean they are unable to take time to plan for the future and look for new partnerships and opportunities, let alone to think about their personal development.

I don’t know what it is like to run a charity, but I do understand the pressures of leadership and the impact it can have. It is clear to me that all leaders need to be supported if their organisations are to reach their full potential.

My challenge to those with an interest in creating a stronger society, and in the future of the charity sector, is to put the needs of leaders at the heart of their work. Government is ready to work with you to support leaders. I look forward to seeing new ideas and partnerships emerge in the years ahead as we work together to address this challenge.

The charity sector has come a long way in the last 30 years. In the next 30 it can do even more, at the heart of efforts to build a stronger and fairer society. But this will only be possible if we work together to support our current and future leaders.

Tracey Crouch is MP for Chatham and Aylesford and minister for sport and civil society. Previously, she was chief of staff to the shadow education secretary and chief of staff to the shadow home secretary. Tracey is also an FA-qualified football coach.

Originally published 07/11/17

By Sarah Mitchell

“Be more businesslike,” charities are told. And, superficially, we are: we have paid-for services, we try to hire more professional staff and we tender for public sector contracts. But not far below the surface too many of us still distrust private companies and see for-profit employees as an unfamiliar tribe with mysterious values and dubious ethics.

It’s easy to sneer at businesses’ corporate social responsibility as window dressing, but look again: some firms are dramatically changing the way they relate to the communities around them and their own employees. They recognise that charities do not have a monopoly on achieving social good. In fact, profit-generating businesses can – and do – achieve enormous social impact as a core part of their business.

One obvious area is in employment. By offering paid work in areas of high unemployment, firms can provide the sort of bridge out of poverty which charities struggle with. The inspirational K&M Decorating in Islington has had the sort of results with young people not in education, employment or training that most charities can only dream of.

Some companies move further, driven by an increasing demand to demonstrate the impact of non-profit activities. B Corps were established in 2015 and now have 1,400 businesses in their pipeline of applicants for accreditation. Certified B Corps companies complete a rigorous review of all aspects of their business to ensure that the maximum social impact and the minimum environmental impact are achieved through their work. How many charities do the same?

Companies are moving into areas where charities have failed to act: the small, dynamic Benefacto is aggregating real time volunteering opportunities and selling their intermediary service to large companies. Charities knew a gap existed but failed to act to close it. Why did it take a business to do this?

Businesses are also working together in clusters to respond to significant social problems in London’s new place-based giving schemes, and through the special interest clusters facilitated by intermediaries. Why is it that supposedly cut-throat, competitive businesses can work together to solve these problems when charities seem to find such joint work incredibly challenging?

Can it be because, in fact, charities are failing to evolve and adapt to the changing world? We’re not being fleet of foot and reforming our services to meet changing needs in new ways. Despite all our protestations, do we really have users at the centre of our minds when we develop our services, in the way that businesses put their customers at the heart of their value proposition?

I don’t say this lightly and I recognise that many impressive charities are responding with imagination and investing in future services, but too many of us are not. And I say this because I want great charities to thrive and I think we are missing out by not learning from businesses at the same rate they are learning from us.

We should widen our collective gaze beyond fundraising and bake sales to learn more about how successful companies operate and to understand what else we can glean from them. For-profit business has much to teach us about systems and processes; about market research and product placement; about developing a powerful value proposition and properly investing in our staff. Just as we can teach many businesses about establishing high levels of staff motivation, high public trust, great interpersonal skills and how to secure a rootedness in their local community.

Sarah Mitchell is director and chief executive of Heart of the City and vice-chair of the Nationwide Foundation. Previously, Sarah led the Carers Network and worked for Crisis and Shelter.

Originally published 08/11/17

By Craig Dwyer

Campaigning for change is in a period of flux. We need to be nimble in our response. We need to rise to the challenges and embrace new opportunities.

Campaigning is often portrayed as a fight, a battle, a crusade. And it can often feel like that to campaigners and to those directly affected by issues.

But to affect real change, campaigns must go beyond the struggle of those involved to reach people not directly affected. People for whom the campaign doesn’t represent a fight, but rather something that they feel compelled to be a part of or to support.

People are intrinsically motivated to do good; it is the task of campaigns to mobilise these people and facilitate their action. This requires moving from combative concepts to collaboration, listening and empowerment.

Much of the next 30 years of change-making will be shaped by the millennial generation: those born between 1980 and 2000, who by 2047 will be between the spritely ages of 47 and 67.

The Millennial Impact Project found that millennials learn about and donate to causes digitally, that their peers are a critical influence of millennial giving and that they are motivated by opportunities to use and develop their skills.

Increasingly, millennials support causes rather than organisations. To connect with individuals more effectively and increase engagement with the cause, campaigns should use digital platforms to enable and empower supporters to create content that they can share with their peers to promote the campaign’s central message.

Where does that leave civil society organisations? There is still an important role for them to:

  • Frame the cause in a way that motivates people to get involved.
  • Facilitate and enable supporters to take action and become content creators.
  • Be a central hub, providing strategic leadership and oversight.

If we take these as guiding principles to build a campaign for change, what will this look like? As a starting point, charities must draw supporters in with an inviting cause that appeals to their intrinsic desire to do good. Excellent storytelling and issue framing is crucial to converting observers to supporters. It must be authentic, it must demonstrate how things can get better and it must show what role an individual can play in making that happen.

Jean Case, chief executive of The Case Foundation, who produce the Millennial Impact Report, eloquently sums up this type of campaigning as “quick, get to the point, show me where there’s impact, tell me what I need to do in an authentic way”.

So you’ve hooked supporters with your compelling cause, now how do you get them to take real action? While proactive social media activity will keep supporters informed, new era campaigns move them to deeper engagement by providing opportunities for collaboration where they can create content and tell their own stories about what motivates them to support the campaign.

This type of engagement is vital in encouraging supporters to influence their peers to become involved. What would make you stand up and take notice? Your friend sharing content from a campaigning organisation or content created by your friend about why that issue is important to them?

Authentic campaign messages by supporters to their networks reach more people and incentivise more action. Content created by individuals, stakeholders and other campaigning groups can also be supported and shared by organisation accounts.

Empowering supporters to become content creators requires strategic leadership from campaigners to frame the cause and develop the narrative, then to open it up to participation. Having a bank of engaging, relevant, informative and shareable content that promotes key campaign messages and activities sets the tone of the campaign, inspires others to get involved and ensures that they can be on-message. People want to participate – your campaign should be concerned with making it as easy as possible for them to do so.

Providing a spectrum with different levels of engagement and various points of entry encourages participation. Some people may want to show support by simply changing their social media avatars, others may want to donate online or even make a video. However supporters want to participate, it’s important that they can.

Craig was the social media director for the Yes Equality campaign for civil marriage equality in Ireland. He was recently awarded a fellowship to conduct research for the Social Change Initiative on using digital and social in campaigning.

Originally published 09/11/17

By Caroline Mason

Sir Horace Plunkett, pioneer of agricultural cooperatives, believed that people didn’t have to wait for life to be made better for them – they could do it themselves with a little help.

If ever there has been a time when this philosophy should resonate, then that time must be now. The world is dealing with fundamental disruptions on an almost weekly basis. As funders, how do we respond? With our knowledge, independence, skills and money, how can we empower people? How can we help those made experts by experience to be resilient and to own their own future? Research on funding practice over the last five years has consistently called for a change in practice. So, could we do with a little disruption?

Our current five-year strategy at The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation aims to do just that. We have borrowed some excellent practice from other funders and are experimenting with some ideas of our own.

We are increasing unrestricted core funding to enable organisations to thrive on their own terms rather than on ours. We believe that success is dependent on backing good people and we want to see more user-centred, impact-focused work.

We have dramatically reduced (and want to continue to reduce) the amount of bespoke reporting that we ask for. We believe that good governance is critical and that we should trust governance structures to have oversight of our money.

We have also increased the duration and flexibility of our funding, we have stopped one year “get to know you grants”, and we are trying to decrease our turnaround time for decision making to 100 days. We want to see successful, long-term impacts for complex and intractable problems and, in this volatile and fast-moving environment, we want the organisations doing the work to have a say in shaping the future.

We are experimenting with different types of funding such as repayable grants that sit alongside our conventional grant making and social investment. We are increasingly open to supporting social enterprises, community ownership or co-operative models and we provide additional support that enables the work we’ve funded to have a greater impact. This is because we know that organisations need help transitioning to cope with earned income, contract negotiations, business management and social investment.

We are working with other funders to try and become more than the sum of our parts by collaborating on data sharing, reporting, impact strategies and advocacy. We believe that change happens best through collaboration and co-design and that this must be as true for us as it is for those we fund.

We want organisations to make effective use of our money. This means not treating each organisation in isolation, so that they don’t need to spend precious resources servicing our individual requirements.

Foundations are all unique and we’re rightly proud of our independence and individual missions. But surely we can improve the way we work by really listening to those we fund. If we do, we can genuinely empower people to develop their own agency, build their local economies and make their voice heard in what is being called the fourth industrial revolution.

Caroline Mason CBE is chief executive at the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. Previously, Caroline was chief operating officer at Big Society Capital and Charity Bank. She was also the co-founder of Investing for Good.

Originally published 10/11/2017

By Johnny Chatterton


I think there is definitely a decline in trust, but what we’re finding through our work is that there is a growing hunger to build a fairer and better society. The problem we see is that there’s a disconnect between what people want and what institutions are able to do to respond to those desires.

And what do you think the implications of that are?

I think our democracy, and many western democracies, are in pretty bad shape. I think for the last few decades governments have failed to invest in the basic functioning of how states work which means that people in the most marginalised communities just don’t get their voices heard. So, I think sadly the reality of that is that there’s a democracy gap – the most affluent and privileged people get much more access to democracy than everyone else. The problem with that is obviously huge. It means that government services, government policies are shaped around the most privileged in society and that, I believe, is one of the root causes of the decline in trust.

Do you think that decline in trust in institutions affects charities as much as anyone else? More than anyone else?

I think it does. I think it affects organisations that hold power, that provide services and that people want to believe are looking out for them. I think the principal people to be concerned about this are our government and politicians. But I also think large NGOs need to understand that there’s growing scepticism [about] big bureaucracies and how they behave and what their intentions are.

How do you think charities, campaigning organisations can react to this situation?

By talking to people in marginalised communities, people who don’t get that involved in political life and campaigning, and asking them what their life is like and what they want to see change. In the last year, we’ve launched a training programme in Yorkshire. We launched just after we saw demand for our original programme, Campaign Bootcamp, grow to 7 applicants per spot, which was great but meant we had turn away 6 out of every 7 people who applied. So we’ve launched this new programme in Yorkshire to provide training to people who are in marginalised communities who have not done much campaigning, if any. And what is very interesting to us is that most of the groups of people we talk to don’t know of all the large charities that I’ve grown up with and admired, they’re just irrelevant.

It’s a roundabout way of giving bad news, which is I think one of the big things that big institutions need to recognise is they’re becoming increasingly irrelevant, especially in marginalised communities, and if they really want to challenge injustice in this country they need to change the way they work so that they are present and supportive to people, no matter where they are in the country.

Is your sense that they will change and adapt or that actually new organisations, new campaigning structures will come into being, which will take over that traditional role that big charities have had?

I have hope that they’ll adapt. But I don’t feel like that’s likely. And that’s because large organisations have a lot of internal incentives and processes and history, and that can restrict them changing the way they work. So I think it’s much more likely that it will be new organisations, small charities, small unformed groups even, just kind of people working together that will actually be at the forefront of building a fairer and better democracy.

What will the implications of that new landscape be for the way that civil society operates?

OK, so I think the implications of that could be huge, because it will mean that if these big organisations realise that they are not doing enough to support people in marginalised communities and they manage to change their behaviour to actually get into the communities, things could be great because these big organisations with a rich history will find a new area to work in and new relevance, and that will be good. That’s my optimistic hope.

I think what’s more likely is that small organisations will block buy this space, will do the best they can with limited resources and then gradually, over time, people will start to realise that these small organisations are much more effective and much more relevant to the world we now live in, which in turn would mean the decline of the larger organisations as people will naturally question what the point of them is.

So I think there is a real question to grapple with for larger organisations which is: what do we do? How do we make sure we’re really good at it? And what do we stop doing because we’re not going to be good at it? And my hope is that that these larger organisations will realise that they need to really go out and work with these groups that they’re not normally in touch with, especially in marginalised communities.

Presumably, the implication of that is that it’s an opportunity for smaller organisations to fill a space that previously they haven’t been able to fill.

Oh, absolutely. So I think there’s a huge opportunity for small organisations using new technology, finding crowdfunding and micro grants, to go out there and do fantastic work that would never have been possible when you needed a huge infrastructure behind you.

That question about infrastructure seems a really relevant one: it’s not just the decline in trust that allows that new situation, it’s new technologies and new ways of doing campaigning as well, right?

Right, totally. When I was growing up I thought you needed huge infrastructure behind you – press departments, big budgets, awesome contacts – you just don’t need any of that these days. Social media, basic websites, crowdfunding, you can do a huge amount with just a basic laptop and basic phone. And some of the best change has actually happened from those starts, so that’s both exciting for people who aren’t at big organisations and should terrify especially the leadership of large organisations, because their monopoly on relevance is declining rapidly.

Johnny Chatterton is co-founder and executive director of Campaign Bootcamp. Previously, Johnny campaigned at SumOfUsChange.org38 Degrees and Burma Campaign UK.

The Norwegian Cancer Society used to have a traditional website. It focused a lot on asking for donations. Then it decided to ask Norwegians what they wanted and it was told in no uncertain terms that people wanted information on cancer symptoms, treatment and research. No surprise there.

At the very bottom of the list of reasons they came to the website was to donate. This caused some shock and discord within the society. It worried about what would happen if it couldn’t raise donations. However, it decided to listen to Norwegians and created a new website that very clearly focused on delivering vital cancer information. On its homepage, in particular, it stripped away practically all requests for donations. Donations doubled.

Yes, when the Norwegian Cancer Society focused on its purpose, people gave it more money. It stopped communicating: “Give us money so that we can help.” It started communicating: “Here’s how we help.”

All organisations love themselves intensely. Some try to hide it as well as they can, but all organisations have a lifelong love affair with themselves. I’ve consulted in more than 40 countries. Nobody has ever said to me: “Please help us become more organisation-centric. Right now, we’re too customer-centric.”

The relationship between organisations and customers, supporters, and beneficiaries has rarely been one of equality. The organisation has always behaved as if it is the dominant partner. The organisation decides the strategy, and then everyone else listens, is educated, and follows.

It doesn’t work that way any more. Societal trust for organisations is in severe decline, while trust in peers is growing. More and more people simply don’t trust the system and the organisations that make up the system. Scepticism abounds. People want to see results, not promises. What the Norwegian Cancer Society did was create a website that was useful. Instead of pleading for donations to help fight cancer, it created a website that fights cancer. Today, the rule is: “Show. Don’t tell.”

What is an organisation today? Pre-internet, you could define an organisation based on its offices, its staff, the resources it owned and controlled. Not today. The internet is the organisation and within the internet are a universe of networks, some very loose, some more solid.

There’s a growing realisation that customer experience is key. What this means is: let’s organise around the customer. Let’s put the customer first. Organisations must reach out into the network, learning from their supporters and beneficiaries, developing and adapting with them. We need far more humility, diversity of thought, cooperation and collaboration.

Organisations still matter. But they must focus more now as coordinators and channellers of ideas and actions, rather than centres of power and knowledge. These are exciting times. We have a collective intelligence, we have networks of opportunity, we have the ability to change. The organisations that will achieve the most will be those who can change themselves the most in order to take advantage of these opportunities.

Gerry McGovern is founder and chief executive of Customer Carewords. He is also a writer and a speaker. Gerry’s most recent book is Transform: A Rebel’s Guide to Digital Transformation.

Originally published 12/11/2017 Kunle Olulode, director of Voice4Change, discusses ways to build an inclusive civil society and talks about the importance of focusing on what unites us in an era of identity politics.

Kunle Olulode is director of Voice4Change and a former convenor of Camden Black Workers Group. He has also worked abroad in Spain and in the US for groups such as the Catalan Institute in Barcelona, Tommie Smith Youth Movement and 100 Black Men of Southern California. Kunle is a founder member of the Camden Black History Forum.

Originally published 13/11/2017

By Paul Farmer 

Early on in my time as chief executive at Mind, I asked one of my directors how my arrival had gone down. “You’ll be fine,” she said. “You smile at people and you know their names.”

Leaders can’t achieve their charity’s objective unless their staff and volunteers are right behind them. That means being very clear communicators, great people people, and motivating people to thrive to the best of their ability. It also means being able to ask someone “Are you OK?” and have the time, space and skills to cope when the answer is “no”.

It’s just as important that leaders take care of themselves. We are no use to our people if we are physically or mentally exhausted, not in control of what we’re doing, or have run ourselves into the ground because we think we’re the only person who can do everything!

So, my tips:

  • Take time for yourself – take your full allocation of leave and don’t work at weekends unless essential.
  • Don’t email your staff out of hours and don’t expect them to.
  • Find a peer group of leaders (eg through ACEVO) so you can share your challenges.
  • If you model the right behaviours, your people will notice and they’ll be fine.

Oh, and smile from time to time!

Paul Farmer CBE is chief executive of Mind and chair of ACEVO. He is also a trustee at the Lloyds Bank Foundation and chair of the NHS England Mental Health Taskforce. Paul is an honorary fellow of St Peter’s College Oxford and The Royal College of Psychiatrists.

Originally published 14/11/2017

By Jo Wolfe

Would it be fair to judge an organisation solely on the quality of their coffee? Charities would come in at the budget end: possibly Fairtrade but definitely instant. Startups are all single origin beans, cold brew, extra shots.

If we were creating our organisations from scratch today they would look very different. In the same way that instant coffee was the best of British in 1987, the pre-internet age created charities that invested in face-to-face, community-based services and helplines staffed by experts that were only open during office hours.

So, what could flat-white-swigging, beanbag-straddling startup entrepreneurs teach the charity sector in 2017?

  1. Digital skills are essential.

Job ads for startups don’t specify applicants are “proficient in Microsoft Word” – you might as well include “proficient in breathing”. As digital tools become more intuitive, it’s assumed that employees can grasp anything from content management to social media. Desirable skills range from data analysis to video editing, and new graduates are attracted to roles where these skills are cultivated.

  1. Work can happen flexibly, from anywhere in the world, enabled by tech.

Why come to an expensive building in central London and drink coffee paid for by your employer, when you can work from home with your own cafetière? Or from a co-working space where overheads are outsourced? Or from the beach? Cloud-based collaboration tools help keep you connected to colleagues. Even if you do miss them, you’ll never miss the commute.

  1. Testing, learning and evolving on an ongoing basis helps you grow.

Where charities are often driven by passion and emotion, startups favour “data driven decision making”. Not sure you’ve hit on the right course of action? Build a minimum viable product, test it with your audience and, if it works, develop it from there. If it doesn’t work, that doesn’t matter as long as you fail fast and learn from it.

  1. Change should be embraced not feared.

In the internet age, nothing stays the same. There’s an ever-changing buffet of digital opportunities. We know we have to adapt, but it’s not always clear quite what we’re adapting to. Flexibility, open-mindedness and optimism have to become part of our organisational values.

  1. Provide scalable solutions to real-world problems.

If you’ve ever thought something in your life was annoying or difficult, chances are there’s already a startup trying to solve that problem. And if there isn’t, maybe you should start one. The ability to identify solutions to issues and act on them quickly is one that charities would do well to cultivate. And no, we don’t need a working group for that.

So charities could learn a lot from their tech-savvy counterparts, but is the cappuccino always creamier on the other side of the bar? What could startups learn from civil society?

As Matt Haworth – author of The Digital Fundraising Book, and co-founder of Reason Digital – is renowned for saying, tech innovation shouldn’t be limited to helping people hail a cab or book a restaurant.

Silicon Valley is starting to turn its attention to causes with social impact, but not in the most nuanced of ways – they build wells, give out tablets or distribute micro-financing rather than engaging with countries on new policies for systemic change. This model favours short-term results over long-term progress. For all the talk of data-driven decision making, are they measuring the impact of these interventions?

Closer to home, crowdfunding sites allow individuals to fundraise for themselves, cutting out the charity middlemen. In the wake of tragedies like Grenfell, thousands have been raised for families directly rather relying on organisations to distribute resources. But who decides which family is most deserving of support?

There is a vital role for charities to play in the digital age. If they don’t adapt they won’t survive to carry out that role. But if they do, then there are huge opportunities as well as challenges. And charities can themselves be beacons of doing things differently. An innovation manager from a young, digital-first charity surprised me recently when she told me her office boasted a fancy-schmancy coffee maker. The staff had all chipped in to pay for it and there was an honesty box for the capsules. Turns out there’s more than one way to grind the beans.

Jo Wolfe is managing director for London at Reason Digital and creator of the Third Sector Digital Maturity Matrix. She was previously assistant director of digital at Breast Cancer Care.

Originally published 15/11/2017

By Sarah Highes

I want to caveat this piece by saying: I know I’m not the only working class chief executive. I’m also not offering tips on how to galvanise the resistance. Sometimes people say to me “You’re so real.” I resist the urge to shout back “What does that even mean?”

It can be interpreted as authenticity, that I am able to show my true self. This is something to be proud of. Except that, in my mind, “real” also says something about class or social position. A friend of mine recently joked “Yes, that ‘real’ thing, do people know it’s just an accent?”

I notice the disquiet in some people’s eyes when I reveal I am the chief executive of a leading mental health charity. With some, it’s just a flicker, a small twitch, for others the surprise is palpable. I cruelly imagine what would happen if I burst into a rendition of My Old Man’s a Dustman.

I have been asked whether I think it’s to do with my gender or my appearance (big woman with tattoos I can’t hide). I might be in denial but I have often felt it was something to do with class. I’ve found myself wondering whether class is still a real thing, how much has my class defined my leadership approach, and how my professional life has altered my working class perspective.

One of the female leaders I look up to told me that her mantra is “know yourself, be yourself”. This was a huge relief.

I often consider my immigrant heritage and wonder what my family, particularly my dad, who grew up in such poverty, would think about my new role. Sometimes this leaves me with a fleeting sense of betrayal, but I smile and imagine myself shouting “vive la revolution” and all is right again. It isn’t as flippant as it sounds.

There is no doubt I grew up with a sense of working class injustice. I didn’t imagine when I was a student, drinking into the night conspiring social change, that I would someday be a leader.

I believe there is a sincere shift from traditional leadership ideas about position, status and gravitas to a more contemporary (and one could argue less class-biased) focus on knowledge, authenticity and presence. But I’m not convinced we are there yet.

Sarah Hughes is chief executive at the Centre for Mental Health. Previously, Sarah led Mind in Cambridgeshire and led the research and evaluation of the First Night in Custody project at Holloway Prison.

Originally published 16/11/2017 The power of digital communications has shrunk the world over the last two decades. Simon Gillespie shares his thoughts about whether the future of civil society is a more international one and talks about how organisations can draw strength and support from international connections.

Simon Gillespie is chief executive of the British Heart Foundation and president of the European Heart Network. Previously, he was chief executive of the Multiple Sclerosis Society. Simon is also chair of the Cardio and Vascular Coalition.

Originally published 17/11/2017

By Nicky Hawkins 

The political earthquakes of the last 18 months have brought much discussion of the bubble. Countless politicians, journalists, pollsters and issue experts say they were caught out by their own bubble. Many say they didn’t realise how out of touch with wider society they were – and are.

It’s easy to observe other people being willfully blind to facts and to call out post-truth folly when we see it. But in reality we all seek out and interpret information in ways that confirm our existing views. Psychologists argue that this motivated reasoning is an evolutionary trait. In survival terms, belonging to a group is more valuable than being factually accurate.

Organisations attempting to create real and lasting change need to understand and work in relation to human beings’ tribal instincts. Whether we’re working directly with individuals or influencing policy – or both – we need public support for our existence and our mission. Without it our vital work is vulnerable and any progress is shallow and shaky. Communicating effectively – cutting through, changing hearts and minds, improving public understanding – could not be more central to our collective mission.

The good news is that we don’t have to guess how to do this. There is a science to communicating productively and the right tools and strategies are there for the taking. In the same way that we choose policy and practice recommendations based on evidence, we can choose communications based on rigorous investigations.

The bad news is that we routinely ignore this in favour of untested or poorly tested approaches. We forget that human brains aren’t blank slates onto which we insert our statistics, messages and appeals. When our facts don’t work we shout louder or double down and reach for more facts. We fail to recognise that we are not our audience.

And this impedes our progress, whatever we’re trying to achieve.

Charity communicators (and isn’t everyone a communicator?) need to arm themselves with a better grasp of how human brains work.

In turn, charity leaders need to view communications very differently in terms of strategy, structure and delivery. Communications are not discrete activities – a press release, a series of tweets or, if we’re lucky, a coordinated campaign. Communications should mean everything people hear about an issue.

In Blackpool, work is underway to promote a better understanding of how children’s brains develop. Professionals working with local families are being trained to tell the story of child development – facts brought to life through messages that are scientifically proven to work. By changing everyday conversations we can change the deeply held patterns of thinking that drive decisions and actions.

The ways that we think influence our behaviour and shape the structures of our society. Driving lasting change, improving people’s lives and tackling challenging issues requires us to change our culture. Culture is deep, durable and strong but it can and does change. It changes, at least in part, based on the stories we tell and the ideas we communicate. To do this well we need to re-think what we mean by communications and to invest in better evidence and better practice.

Nicky Hawkins is a communications strategist at FrameWorks Institute and a strategist at Catsnake. She has previously worked for Friends of the Earth and Save the Children.

Originally published 18/11/2017

By Lynda Thomas 

If civil society wants to remain relevant, we need to tackle several fundraising challenges head on.

Public sector cuts mean that the third sector needs to provide more support and services than ever. This means raising large amounts of money in a sustainable way in order to continue to deliver for the people who need us. Many potential donors are asking themselves why they should give to charities, instead of to crowdfunding sites, or direct to individuals. The public is coming forward in huge numbers to give money straight to people who need it, through sites like GoFundMe. I don’t want charities to become unnecessary middlemen.

We live in a 24/7 world where people expect to get immediate feedback from brands and businesses. Increasingly, donors want to know the impact of their gift in real time. A great example of this is when you donate blood in England: donors now receive a text message when their blood goes to a hospital to help a patient. People share those texts with their family and friends and feel proud of the tangible effect that their donation has had.

We need to innovate and offer new experiences to our supporters, donors and volunteers. Charities are still catching up in this area and there’s so much we can learn from businesses and social enterprises.

This year I took part in a Corporate Strategy Programme at Harvard Business School. I didn’t take part in the not-for-profit programmes, because I wanted to have my thinking challenged. My colleagues were from big, global, commercial companies, and I realised that many fundamental principles apply to all sectors.

As a sector, we have a habit of looking at other charities to learn and yes, compete. But to really innovate, we need to look outside. We need to ask ourselves, how can we reach beyond our traditional partners, to learn and work together? Macmillan has been working with the banking sector on new services that support customers who have been affected by cancer. Not only does this give us huge reach to people when they need support the most, it also feels great to be working with businesses towards a shared goal.

By facing these challenges head on, by looking into ways to innovate our offer and by remaining relevant to the public, I think we will be well set to raise the money needed to keep supporting the increasing number of people who need our help, at their greatest times of need.

Lynda Thomas is chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support. In 2014 Fundraising Magazine named her the second most influential fundraiser in the UK.

Originally published 19/11/2017

By Eugene Flynn

Collective wisdom, collective action

The type of movements that are affecting change in countries like Ireland, Spain and Taiwan are those that harness people’s collective wisdom and actions. Movements that get masses of people on the streets and allow people to organise in a local and a distributed way. Similar distributed organising methods are proving successful with movements like the Bernie Sanders campaign in the US and Momentum in the UK.

This type of organising mirrors the way that the web works, reflects the nature of the internet age. The web is a distributed network of individuals and groups connected together by threads of thought and conversation. This is how people are becoming used to collectively communicating and organising.

Meanwhile, many NGOs are still broadcasting and issuing controlling messages. As a result, they’re not having deep and meaningful conversations. They find those things difficult because of their structure and their history; they’re more familiar with tools like direct mail and television: one-way forms of communication.

Distributed networks require radical transparency and inclusivity. NGOs’ structures and culture generally don’t allow this.

Collective intelligence

There’s a collective intelligence in society that can be tapped into through distributed organising. Solicitors, psychologists, artists, writers, all bring creative ideas about how to understand how people are motivated and how to bring about change. All these kinds of people have been involved in decentralised movements in Spain.

Organisations, on the other hand, are typically hierarchical structures that don’t embrace this form of crowdsourced intelligence and knowledge. They hire people in, but often after the organisation has decided what path to take. As a result, experts that are brought in often advise on how to take a predetermined path, rather than suggesting different, innovative paths.

Digital crowdsourcing

Digital technology allows things such as crowdsourced knowledge and funding. This is already working really well online, and it’s in line with how people act and think in the internet age.

In Spain, crowdsourced information about banking and political corruption is leading to prosecutions. Interesting things are happening with cooperatives: New Internationalist is owned by its workers and 3,600 investors. Right2Change in Ireland is exploring a new citizen-owned news outlet using crowdsourced information as well as crowdsourced funding.

NGOs’ reluctance to change

NGOs’ reluctance to embrace distributed organising and communication is largely driven by the fear of losing power and control. Hierarchical structures, with top-down decision making, planning and communication are at risk of losing connection with supporters, if they haven’t done so already.

NGOs are often funded by governments, providing services and receiving funding to provide these services. This hierarchy of relationships and dependency can influence and control how NGOs behave. Their language becomes all about forming partnerships with these interests, rather than challenging them. This limits their ability to campaign or mobilise in an effective manner and rules out the type of decentralised, localised, bottom-up organising that can be effective at creating change.

Listening and learning, not controlling

Many treat conversation as a metric of their influence rather than a way to listen and learn. Too often, listening means finding out how to present what we want to deliver in ways that makes it acceptable to our audience. Most see power, control of narratives and messages as things to hold onto rather than impart to supporters.

NGOs fear losing control, but with online campaigns, when you’re losing control, that’s when it’s really working. It means people are engaged, doing their own thing, interacting with each other. People creating their own actions means they own the issue, but that’s often a worry for established organisations.

Some organisations are embracing crowdsourced, distributed ideas and techniques. Greenpeace, for example, has done interesting things with crowdsourced, decentralised ways of organising campaigns. But to bring about change, most NGOs need to focus less on the benefits to their own organisation and more on actively empowering those who support them.

Eugene Flynn is director of possibilities at 54 Degrees. He is a digital campaign strategist and a user experience designer.

Originally published 20/11/2017

By Jessica Taplin

Young people are now the age group most likely to give up their time to help others. 42% of people aged 10-20 in the UK took part in meaningful social action in 2016. Engaging and inspiring young people is vital, not only for their own development and wellbeing, but for the communities they live in, too.

Young people have a natural passion, enthusiasm and desire to make the world a better place. Last year, v•inspired helped 31,439 young people do 460,611 hours of voluntary work. That’s a £2.3 million contribution to the economy. There is a powerhouse of skills and knowledge waiting to be tapped.

Maya Williams, 21, devised, organised and hosted an open mic night in South London. She created a relaxed and safe space for young, queer, black artists; a night where creative artists and audiences can network, perform and see themselves in art.

“We are bombarded by hate. The experience I aimed to create was one that uplifts, and lets this community see their identity as something rich and worthy.”

A new generation is engaged in consistent, ongoing volunteering. But often they’re not catered for with appropriate opportunities. Their needs are not always properly understood or met. We should be helping them build social capital, expand their networks and strengthen their communities from the inside.

Over the last decade there has been an explosion of organisations involved in youth social action and volunteering. This is partly due to the advice and findings of a cross-organisational review called the Russell Commission over a decade ago. The framework set out the need to increase the level of community participation by young people across the UK, to the point that volunteering becomes a common feature in their lives.

No one has come up with a better, more coherent proposition to date. It champions a simple user journey for young volunteers.


Engagement is the start of the journey, involving things such as citizenship in schools and national campaigns.

2.Inform does an excellent job of giving young people everything they need to get involved. There is significant ongoing investment in the digital infrastructure.


There are many excellent, if mostly underfunded, local Councils for Voluntary Service and volunteer centres doing their darndest to deliver this despite the funding vacuum, and doing it very well.

4. Give opportunities

It’s important that there are varied and diverse options for young people to get involved, and that funding is made available for these.

5. Benefit

Volunteering is about give and take. By giving a little time young people:

  • meet people and make new friends,
  • feel good about themselves and help others,
  • learn new skills,
  • help themselves get better jobs,
  • go to new places, and
  • build stronger communities.

None of this has changed since the Russell Commission report was published. But there is a lack of stability that can make it hard to focus on these principles. Stop, start, stop, start, another new minister, and it’s all change again.

Baby-out-with-the-bathwater funding decisions, and a desire among many funders and parts of government to come up with the next big thing, mean that there is a lack of long-term vision. And the sector is often forced to acquiesce and jump through the latest project-shaped hoops.

Instead, what we need is focused, strategic investment in continuous improvement, enhancing and improving core systems.

Those who work with young people understand what needs to change. But we’re too often disregarded in the desire to start over. The cycle of churn means constant organisational death and renewal. We need to evolve, but not in a simplistic survival-of-the-fittest way. We can take a collaborative approach that goes beyond brand and looks at what elements we need in order to provide a strong and robust whole that best meets the needs of young people, now and in the future.

Young people have the most amazing capacity. Let’s put the tools in their hands and support them to thrive not just strive.

Jessica Taplin is chief executive of v•inspired. She was previously chief executive at Get Connected, prior to merging it with Youth Net to create The Mix. Jessica also previously managed partnerships and public engagement at The Big Lottery Fund.

Originally published 21/11/2017

By Debra Allcock Tyler and Patrick Olszowski


No. Charities exist because there is need and support for them. The needs are many and varied hence the myriad of diverse organisations. When either the need or the support disappears so does the charity.

More charities means more choice: for beneficiaries, donors, funders and volunteers.

It means more challenge to established orthodoxies.

To argue that there is more efficiency in having a smaller number of larger charities is to misunderstand the true benefit to society of voluntary endeavour and the fundamental nature of civil society.

Even if the efficiency argument were true (it isn’t), a principle of a free democracy is the ability of folk to come together in service of something they care about in whichever way they choose. There is room for us all.


UK charities do heroic, irreplaceable work, stepping in to help people where governments and markets can’t or won’t.

In an ever more complex and interconnected world, the problems charities work on require sophisticated approaches. This demands money, expertise, excellent leadership, and an ability to measure impact, collaborate and try things. I believe we have too few charities that are able to consistently excel in all these areas.

I believe we need fewer, better run, braver organisations, who give power to those they serve and network by default.


Some charities do heroic, irreplaceable work indeed. But the vast majority do frankly unheroic but also irreplaceable work. Work that feels small in scale and scope but is huge in transformative effect.

Getting an old lady to her diabetes clinic; sitting with the family of a terminally ill child; running the youth club; counselling traumatised victims of domestic violence in their mother tongues. They do it well because they are connected at a local level; because they are awesomely well run; because they maximise every resource and are deeply rooted in their communities.

Because there are lots of them there is greater reach.


I’m agnostic about size. I believe we need more brilliantly run charities. More that deliver impact rather than chase money. More who develop coherent strategies and tactics. Ask many charity staff and “awesomely run” would not be the words they use. Burnout is endemic.

The scale of the challenges that our beneficiaries face, such as the rollback of state support, austerity, climate change and restrictions on charities mean that we have to continually challenge ourselves to respond faster and smarter.

In principle I am all for mergers of charities, providing the leadership do less, better. Fewer charities doing less stuff could equate to a far greater impact.


I do agree with you that there are big challenges and that we need brilliantly run charities to meet them.

My argument is that they already exist and having fewer won’t make their delivery better. It is not my experience that quality and quantity are mutually exclusive.

In terms of doing less stuff, what would you stop? Local community transport groups? Prioritise cancer research and stop palliative care? Restrict women’s refuges to provision of safe accommodation and drop counselling? It seems to me that we mustn’t confuse what seems efficient with what is actually effective.


Having too many charities creates fissures for the state to exploit. Fissures which open as we are encouraged to compete with fellow charities or when legislation like the Trade Union and Lobbying Act or restrictions on legal aid are brought in.

Each of these take time, money and effort. The state’s divide and rule tactics are making charities less confident in advocating robustly for change, in the public interest.

I want to see a strong third sector, which I believe is an essential bulwark of our democracy. Having fewer, more focused charities that have the capability to constantly listen, rapidly innovate and respond, without fear, to these challenges, offers the best chance for the maximum good for the most people.

Membership bodies can be great. Or they can lead to a lowest common denominator approach. I want to see coalitions that assume consent and so are able to move fast and take risks.


Governments want a small number of large charities because they think they will find them easier to deal with and manipulate with promises of access and funding. Charities in their thousands are harder to control. Which is why you would find many ministers agreeing with you.

Because there are so many charities there is a vital need for coalitions and umbrella bodies. When you are small and local you are very focused on your cause and your beneficiaries which means you often have to rely on networks, such as ACEVO, to make sure that your voice is being heard in the right places at the right time.

Myriad charities means myriad voices and finding a cohesive voice is not always easy. But skilled bodies know how to support and represent diverse voices. The problem is that no-one wants to fund them. If I were in government I would prioritise national and local infrastructure bodies – they’re one of the most powerful and useful tools for understanding and engaging local communities.

I don’t object to mergers and acquisitions in principle. But my experience is that they often don’t achieve in practice what they set out to. Too often parties go in wanting the core values or brand of both to remain – and invariably one disappears.

Importantly, we should think about what the public want. They fund, support and volunteer for all the charities we currently have. Who has the right to take away their choice? And which ones would you close? There are the exact right number of charities. Not too many, not too few. The mix changes – that’s all.


The best charities combine all the information they get from their supporters, donors and beneficiaries with their own expertise to come up with new fundraising approaches, set the best opening hours for helplines, decide whether to oppose new legislation, and ultimately remain relevant.

It won’t be me deciding which charities thrive, it will be those we serve and delight.


Well you’re certainly right that it won’t be us deciding which charities thrive and which do not. The fact is that those that aren’t delivering for their beneficiaries or can’t attract funding or support don’t survive. They either get closed down or lie dormant on the register. That’s the beauty of a democracy.

If people care about something, they are able to come together to fix it in any way they choose. The cold hard facts are that around 6,000 charities die a year and around 6,000 are born. The register is incredibly stable in absolute numbers. Its magnificence is its range, depth and variety. How big a charity is, or how big the register is, does not dictate how effective any individual charity is. Ineffective charities simply don’t survive in the long term. A form of voluntary sector natural selection if you will. So the answer to the question “Are there too many charities?” is still “No. There is the exact right number.”


My position remains that we need fewer, more capable charities. We need people, money and new thinking flowing to those organisations that are best at tackling the biggest problems the world is facing right now. While these resources don’t flow to the most effective charities, there is an opportunity lost.

I want charities led by those they serve, able to try stuff rapidly and speak out as our national and international debate coarsens. This will demand courage and constant listening. It won’t be easy but if we can reclaim our radical roots, the world will benefit.

Debra Allcock Tyler is chief executive of the Directory of Social Change. She is an author and a trustee of In Kind Direct. Debra was a co-founder of the Small Charities Coalition.

Patrick Olszowski is the founder of Outrageous Impact. He’s previously worked at charities including ShareActionStroke AssociationMencap and Action Medical Research.


Originally published 22/11/2017

By Sean Dagan Wood

Seán Dagan Wood talks about forging a deeper connection with supporters through membership and explains how member-centric models can create resilient organisations.

Seán Dagan Wood is the editor-in-chief of Positive News and co-founder of the Constructive Journalism Project.

Originally published 23/11/2017

By Tracy Frauzel

We are experiencing an acceleration of technology, production of goods, the spread of ideas and information. Social interaction and the pace of life has also sped up in many parts of the world. We need to increase the pace at which we plan and implement our work in order to match the speed of change in the world.

Long planning cycles are no longer an option if we want to make sure the progress we’ve made isn’t rolled back and if we want to address society’s biggest problems. This means transforming the way we work so that we can spend less time planning and more time getting work out the door.

Solving complex problems

Our work is driven by a desire to create positive change, to find better solutions to society’s problems. Unfortunately, these problems are often part of complex and interconnected systems and, as Einstein said, we cannot solve these problems with the same kind of thinking that created them.

Complex systems behave in unpredictable ways. We need a better approach to finding solutions, one that recognises there is more than one possible solution.

Design thinking, also called human centred design, puts the practices and methods of designers into the hands of non-designers to solve problems and to innovate.

Design thinking is solution-focused. By prototyping early, exploring multiple solutions, testing them, and adapting them based on feedback, we can gain a greater understanding of the problem than by reducing the problem into its component parts through analysis.

Putting people at the centre of planning

As well as iterating solutions, design thinking espouses an empathetic approach to people – our constituents, supporters and stakeholders – and encourages their participation in the problem-solving process.

The aim is to put us in direct contact with the people we serve or wish to engage. It is only by making these personal connections and understanding the challenges, needs and desires of people that we can really empathise with their perspective.

Design thinking helps us challenge our own assumptions and beliefs about people and begins to break down some of the barriers between “us” and “them” so we can understand the problem from their perspective. It is this connection and empathy that allows us to create solutions that meet people’s needs, tap into their motivations, and ease some of the pain and disruption of change.

By putting people at the centre of our planning we will engage a wider section of society in the work we do. We will also gain insights that lead to entirely new ways of thinking about the problems we tackle and more innovative solutions.

Increasing collaboration and participation

The most immediate impact of taking a design thinking approach in our work is an improved culture of collaboration. The methods and tools of design thinking bring together diverse skills and perspectives within organisations to develop solutions through participatory exercises.

Integration is baked in. This approach to planning and implementing work helps to break down organisational silos and create greater team alignment. Design thinking helps grow skills that increase collaboration in the long term.

And collaboration extends beyond the front doors of the office. Implementing design thinking requires greater interaction with the people we serve and engage, through research, by testing early ideas or even inviting people to a be a part of the creative process. Through co-creation, staff work alongside constituents and supporters to create and test solutions.

Becoming a learning organisation

Practising design thinking offers organisations a practical step towards becoming a learning organisation.

By implementing design thinking, staff begin a new journey of learning, one that challenges assumptions.

Design thinking is not just about learning a new process and methods to apply to your work, it is about learning how to learn from feedback throughout the planning and implementation of our work.

Evolving ways of working

Design thinking offers us an approach and toolbox for working in a non-linear and iterative way. It means we spend more time learning in the early stages of planning. By taking our ideas to constituents before they are polished, we can get feedback that allows us to better determine what is going to work, adapt to feedback and scale ideas based on what is working.

By recognising up front that ideas will change between planning and rollout, we allow for the evolution of ideas. Design thinking means that we can invest more resources in the work that has the most impact.

Tracy Frauzel is learning designer and lead facilitator at MobLab. She was previously head of digital communications at Greenpeace UK.

Originally published 24/11/2017

By Julie Dodd

We’ve been talking about digital transformation for a while now, says Julie Dodd, and some charities are doing great things with digital. But is change happening fast enough?


Change is never happening fast enough in my book! I think it’s interesting we’ve got to a place where we’ve moved from, maybe two years ago, talking about digital transformation as a new thing on the horizon, to it being a regular topic of conversation, so: what does it mean to be a data-led organisation? What does it mean to be an organisation that really embeds technology in the services it delivers or the way it engages with supporters? But is that really felt and real?

I think in some organisations – and maybe including my own – we sometimes comfort ourselves that because we’re having the conversation we’re actually delivering a change. I’m not convinced that that’s true yet and we need to get on and deliver the change.

What’s fantastic is that there’s a huge raft of examples of fantastic digital transformation happening across our sector whether that be organisations… traditional organisations like ours… So you look at something like the British Red Cross trying out a new Alexa skill to help people do first aid when they need their hands free. That’s really exciting.

You can look at organisations like Friends of the Earth who decided they needed more technical nous in-house but weren’t sure how to invest in staff to do that, so they made a program bringing in tech startups and housing them so they could tap into their expertise in exchange for some free resource in space. I think that’s a brilliant and very digital way of looking at things.

So yes, I think there’s lots and lots of examples of great transformation happening. I’m not sure yet I’ve seen one organisation who is fully transformed in our sector.

I think there’s definitely a sense that there are a group of digital technology people who will save us from this problem. And the truth is actually we all need to save ourselves from this problem. It is not a small team of people who can transform an entire organisation. An organisation and an entire sector needs to grasp the nettle and change itself.

That means it’s going to be uncomfortable. And I think if people think they’re doing digital transformation well and they’re not feeling uncomfortable then they’re lying to themselves.

I think for an organisation not to embrace digital transformation or to think that it can wait… there is a really high risk of becoming obsolete. Not just because there will be new young upstart organisations stepping on your toes – that’s already starting to happen – but actually because people are starting to find ways to solve their own problems through technology. That’s a really exciting prospect and I hope that we will become obsolete!

I think the phrase “digital transformation” is tricky. It’s certainly going through that phase of “the buzz is over”. Are we getting a bit tired of it? Yes!

I think the bit that’s useful in it is the “transformation” word and we can’t forget that this is a big and serious change. And the second we start thinking this is business as usual then we’re lost.

I think a digitally transformed organisation in the new reality is a facilitator, an organisation that continually takes the best of technology and helps make sure it gets into the hands of people that need it. So where I will say that I think people will find answers through technology for themselves.

There will be still lots of people who… the answers are there for them but they don’t know that they exist. And so I think there’s a role for organisations like ours to understand the needs and link them up with the solutions, because those solutions might be created by commercial companies who don’t understand their needs and will never know how to get those products into the right hands.

I think we will always be needed as facilitators of the change we want to see. I think the biggest challenge around digital transformation is making space for it. Because this is too big to tackle alongside business as usual.

I think [there are] two critical things that organisations like ours in civil society need to really think about. One is around the strategic approach to data, so we all have databases and we all are thinking about GDPR and how we manage people’s personal contact data. But there is a bigger data picture here and I want us to be an organisation that’s answering the question “How can data solve Parkinson’s?” Because I think it can.

The other big question is about the HR side of things and I think the relationship between the people leading this change and your organisational development teams – of which HR is a critical one – if they’re not working and really strongly strategically aligned then it’s not going to happen.

Transforming staff so that they feel confident and capable to deliver this change at the pace that we need it to go is where huge investment needs to go.

So for me, if there are barriers that need tackling it’s that: we have to invest in a strategic approach to data and we have to invest in our people to be able to move at the pace we need to move.

I think when you look at the pace of change in general across civil society there is probably a truth in saying that change doesn’t happen fast in lots of ways.

What gives me hope is that we learn a lot from each other in this sector. So all it takes is a couple of big examples and you start to see the domino effect happening.

So I think one big step on this way actually was what government did outside of civil society. Government, GDS, Government Digital Service program, really moved on the conversation a lot.

And I think the next change is coming from civil society. There will be some leaders – hopefully Parkinson’s UK! – who demonstrate a way forward that makes it feel really tangible and possible and then everyone will start moving faster.

Julie Dodd is director of digital transformation and communication at Parkinson’s UK and author of The New Reality.

Originally published 25/11/2017

By Aya Chebbi

To make a difference in the dramatically changing world, we need to be able to navigate narratives, privilege and power.


For the next few decades, the world will continue to be constructed around narratives.

Who shapes the narratives? And whose voice is heard?

Take young people as an example. Last year I researched youth radicalisation, carrying out a comparative study between Al-Shabaab’s recruitment in Kenya and Daesh’s recruitment in Tunisia. My most important finding was that the victimhood narrative of marginalised youth is contributing to youth radicalisation. The victimisation narrative is used by extremist groups to recruit and sustain support. Many young people have internalised the idea that they are marginalised and are perceived to be heroic when they join these violent groups. We need to start asking ourselves, are we contributing to narratives of empowerment or disempowerment? Do we offer counter-narratives, or create new narratives about youth leadership, participation and agency?

There are currently two ways the development sector talks about young people – as the beneficiaries of “youth development” or as participants of “youth-led development”. It is often not clear whether as a group, young people are portrayed as the problem or the solution.

The number of young people will double in the next few decades. The first step to youth empowerment is to change the narrative, from young people being subjects of development to them being drivers of development.

More widely, we are regularly exposed to narratives of misogyny, violence and exploitation, sometimes without any alternative world view. Narratives become a place of belonging and identity to many. It is crucial to provide alternative narratives to the current challenges and the unknown future. For instance, how can we manifest dignity in the narratives that degrade human beings?


If you are reading this, it means you are one of the 52 per cent that is privileged to be online.

Forty-eight per cent of the world’s population is offline. We can talk about digital transformation as an innovative force but digital is also a privileged, closed, elitist space. Information is power and that power is vastly unequal, depending on who can access information and control connectivity and who cannot.

Those who are disconnected can be invisible outside the radius of the digital revolution. Those of us online have a responsibility and opportunity to make a difference. Making our voices heard doesn’t mean speaking on behalf of people. Instead it means elevating and amplifying the voices of the most vulnerable. The online space can be a breath of freedom, especially in repressive societies and civic spaces. Therefore, we need to anticipate when the digital divide will grow or close. And what are we doing about it in relation to gender? Or development? What are the online and offline spaces we need, to ensure that privileges of accessibility become rights for everyone? It’s like making culture available to everyone and not just to those who can afford festivals.


To make a difference, we need to believe in people’s power. Their power not to watch and blame the system, but to change it. Their power to better humanity not destroy it. Their power that leads from a place of love to bring about healing and mend the broken spaces of our world.

The most powerful power of our time is transnational solidarity. There is political power, economic power and there is the power of working together to accelerate change with the tools and talents we have acquired. In the globalised world with shades of oppression, our voices will only be effective if they are unified and collaborative.

While the world is becoming a global village, border policing is increasing, painting an insecure future. The bond of solidarity can be forged or destroyed. Therefore, the more we build on the power of solidarity, the more we will be ready for the future. The struggles of the next decade will require transnational solidarity.

Aya Chebbi is a pan-African feminist activist and blogger. She is the founder and chair of the Afrika Youth Movement.

Originally published 26/11/2017

By Danny Sriskandarajah


We spoke to Danny Sriskandarajah as a follow-up to his article for Civil Society Futures. Listen online above, download the podcast, or read the transcript:

Danny, you’ve said that you think that this is the beginning of the end of the charitable sector as we know it, and that we need to find new ways of nurturing and supporting the next generation of social leaders. What do you think that might look like? What are those ways?

Well, I think the first thing to realise is that the assumptions we made about what each sector looks like, and therefore what good leadership in each sector of government, business and civil society looks like, will have to change.

In one way I think it’s going to relatively easy, which is we need effective leaders that can transcend these boundaries of sectors who can run an effective organisation using excellent business principles, but be clear about the social change or social good that they seek, be open and accountable.

So in some ways we want to be build that cross-sectoral or trans-sectoral leadership, but I think that there’s a peculiar set of challenges for those of us who lead organisations within civil society, non-profits, charities if you will, and that’s how do we make sure we can adapt our own organisation to this coming reality that the trust, the funding flows, the operating environment, the conditionalities facing charities in particular, are changing to an extent that if we don’t adapt, my fear is many a well-respected institution in civil society will go under.

You’ve talked about new models of democracy, that democracy will change, that democracy will look different. What do you think that will look like?

My understanding of what’s going on in terms of the rise of populism, the Brexit vote in the UK, is in a large part driven by the frustration that many people feel about a lack of voice in what is otherwise a well-functioning democracy. My hypothesis is that’s because we’ve relied on a set of political institutions – elections, political parties, parliament – to conduct democratic life for us, and that’s no longer good enough. Voting every few years isn’t enough of an act of democratic participation; political parties that are supposed to channel our view and wishes are no longer trusted in the same way that they might once have been. And so we need to find new ways of channeling citizen voice.

And I think there’s a leadership opportunity here for civil society, because we should be at the vanguard of amplifying and channeling citizen voice, of canvassing, campaigning, of engaging people in more meaningful ways as well in conversations about the society around them, about how they’d like to shape their own communities and their own future.

We need, I think, to pilot, or experiment with new ways of democratic life, everyday democracy, what Neil Lawson calls “liquid democracy”. I think that’s the future and the quicker we get to it, the better I think for all of us.

And what do you think existing leaders need to do now to make sure that we can get there?

The most important thing for me for civil society leaders is about living up to much more serious commitments around accountability and engagement. An Indian friend of mine says that charities are good at accounts ability, but not accountability, that we’re good at filling out our accounts so that donors and regulators are happy, but horrible when it comes to actually having meaningful relationships with the people we claim to be serving: they don’t appear on our boards, they don’t really have a say on what management does, and we only rarely – and often tokenistically – consult them in the way that we operate. And that all needs to change.

So if you think about new forms of democracy, or new forms of accountability, dynamic accountability, then I think it’s critical that to be seen as legitimate and effective actors in society, charities themselves need to adapt to these new ways of operating.

Is there an element therefore in what you’re saying that existing leaders are focusing too much on survival, on survival of their own organisations, survival of the sector as it exists at the moment?

I think there’s a huge risk that the bigger charities, the ones that have sophisticated operations, large operations, that have become sort of corporate-like in their behaviours, end up being almost no different from businesses.

Sometimes when I do meet the leaders of big NGOs I fear that they’ve become slave to the brand, that they have lost sight of their ultimate purpose, that they’re stuck on a hiding to nothing when it comes to accepting money from government contracts or subcontracts through corporate consultancies.

We’ve backed ourselves into a corner where we’ve become second-class citizens in the political economy around us, and that needs to change, because if we start to resemble corporate entities, always looking for growth and protecting our brand and market share, then we’ll competed out by those guys.

When it comes to government contracting, already we’re seeing in this country, for example, that procurement is status blind: procurers are looking just for value for money or bottom-line, not really interested in the status of the organisation that wins the bid. And so, I think there is a real danger, at least in some parts of the sector, that this corporatism is killing the spirit of civic life.

You’ve said as well that you think there will be a hybridisation of the existing charity sector and other forms of power; other forms of private sector power. You’ve said that maybe that isn’t such a bad thing. Are there risks in that as well though?

Yes of course there’s huge risks.

A lot of the social enterprise washing, if you will, businesses pretending that they’re now all about the triple bottom line or social good. There’s a huge risk of that.

But the point that I make, which I know is contentious, but I do it deliberately, to remind ourselves of the fact that the current order, the current sectoral split, the current idea that there is this thing called a registered charity, is only relatively recent.

It may have been in a concept in the UK for a while but it’s certainly not a long-standing concept in many other parts of the world. And we need to always keep asking the question: “Is this the way that we should set up society with businesses seeking profit, governments delivering public services and charities picking up the pieces and providing community services?”

It need not be that way. If, for example, we say that it’s no longer socially acceptable for any entity in society to simply be pursuing profit. That’s what has got us to where we are with with climate change with extreme inequality with growing insecurity. And in fact no formation in society can be driven by profit alone. And in fact all formations in society start to resemble social enterprises or B-Corps and have to have elements of social good written into their functioning, into their business model and in their accountability to both the regulators and members of the public.

And so it may sound a bit like wishful thinking but increasingly I hear arguments from very different angles that come to similar conclusions. People talking about the singularity principle in all social formations; the rise of social enterprises; the fact that many bigger NGOs, or some bigger NGOs, are asking themselves the question “Do we still need to be a registered charity?” It comes with a lot of hassle but not not a lot of gain… And so there are there are several arguments that take us to challenging the assumptions that underlie the current sectoral split that we’ve come to live with.

And you talk about young dreamers, young people who are thinking about their future and thinking about how they want to affect the world. You’ve said that you think it’s unlikely that any of those are dreaming of becoming charity chief executives. How can we change things so that those people do want to be involved in whatever civil society looks like in the future?

For me this has been one of the most challenging realisations, because when I was young my dream was to work in civil society. I don’t think I’ve ever really worked in anything but civil society and it’s because I assumed that there were these things called NGOs that would have large professionalised workforces, that I could make a living doing good in whatever form, within these organisations and of course that’s likely to continue for some time. But my argument is we’ve probably seen the peak of the sector in the operating environment.

But more importantly when I meet young people very few of them want to go and get a salaried job in an NGO as part of their aspirations, especially in the global south where the sort of entrepreneurial young folk hold many NGOs in contempt and instead think that the answer lies in some form of social enterprise, of doing good and doing well. And so their sort of inclination (and it’s a huge generalisation I recognise) but I think there is a growing inclination that truly sustainable modes of social action are unlikely to be driven by the NGO model that we’ve built in recent decades.

The promising thing is I don’t think there’s any shortage of interest in the sorts of things that I care about and most people in organised civil society care about. So I think that we have to take that and work with it to create opportunities and avenues for young people who do care about these things to deliver on that potential and that interest.

Now that may not be applying for and getting a salaried job in a registered charity, it might be about saying well, here are some new formations that might help you pursue what you want to do. It might be voluntary. Many people are saying that the future of work is going to change so dramatically with automation that the provision of universal basic income and similar programs will actually mean less work for many people but more time. In which case civil society leaders need to be thinking about how do we use that time that people may well have on their hands for social good, for strengthening communities, for pursuing common good.

So I think that the channels by which people will manifest their active citizenship need to change or will change and we need to anticipate those changes and we can no longer assume that somehow the professionalised, salaried bits of civil society have the monopoly on social good or are at the vanguard of driving social good.

We’re important parts, we’re important institutions, we need to be sustainable, accountable institutions, but our responsibility is to facilitate and stimulate wider social action that may go well beyond our own staff, our boardrooms and our own objectives.

And is there an implication of that for organisations like CIVICUS, and I guess organisations like ACEVO as well, for what that sustainability therefore looks like in the future?

I think there’s a huge implication in the sense that… CIVICUS has members in 180 countries, in very few of those are there well functioning support mechanisms for civil society. The networks, the platforms, the infrastructure bodies that are so essential to give collective voice but also to support each other to think through some of these issues, are weak or nonexistent. And I think it’s really important that we invest in that infrastructure that can then drive innovation, effective leadership, new forms of accountability for the sector as a whole.

And so I think that’s a responsibility that all of us have, especially the better resourced bits of civil society.

So that again comes back to this idea that no longer can an effective charity leader, I think, simply be responsible for pursuing their own organisation interests at almost all costs and it’s got to be about acting for the wider interests. Which also I suppose goes to the boards of these organisations, to the trustees of these organisations who have to push their leaders to not just think about organisational interests but the broader interests.

So to wrap up, this future that you talk about, are you optimistic about it? A civil society that isn’t anything very much like existing civil society, that’s hybridised, that’s more social, that’s more networked… Do you feel positive about that change?

I feel worried about a bunch of things including the sustainability of some of those organisations that have been so important in civil society in recent years. I worry about the dangers of getting it wrong when it comes to these new forms of engagement… That growing frustration of people will lead to a further regression in political momentum around the world. There are huge risks around the new technologies and tools that we have to hand around privacy and liberty.

But on balance I am hugely optimistic. If you believe that civic action, active citizenship, is what we’re about in civil society and that we’re here to nurture social and civic life and support it for the common good, then we’ve got tools that are so amazing when it comes to the ability that we have to organise, mobilise, take action, pool resources, hold institutions and power to account, that it’s never been easier to do the sorts of things that we’re interested in. And I have a sense that there is this thirst for participation. In general the sort of people I meet, especially younger people, want to be more active and engaged citizens. They’re just frustrated about the avenues and mechanisms they have in place.

So I think it all comes down to whether we can build the mechanisms and institutions that can channel citizen voice in positive, constructive ways. And if we can do that then I’m really optimistic about this century. In fact I often say that what’s at stake is whether we can make the 21st century the century of the citizen. In many ways the 20th century was the century of the consumer. And before that for most of human histories we were simply subjects so the great emancipation if you will is this move from subject to consumer, ultimately to citizen.

And I really hope that civil society institutions and organisations can help facilitate that, can drive that change. That may need very new forms of organising, very new forms of leadership. But I think it’s in our hands to make that process real and to drive that process. And maybe I’m now being far too optimistic and idealistic but I think that’s what’s at stake here.

Danny Sriskandarajah is secretary general of CIVICUS and a member of the Independent Inquiry into the Future of Civil Society.

Danny sits on the boards of several organisations, including the Baring FoundationComic Relief and International Alert.


Originally published 27/11/2017

By Olly Buston


The social, economic and political impacts of artificial intelligence are going to be absolutely huge.

We’ve just put out a report this week which looks at the impact of artificial intelligence and automation on jobs across the UK; we’re seeing job losses in the range of 20 to 40 percent. That’s going to potentially generate great inequality across the country. In turn, that’s going to have a profound political and social impact.

There are brilliant ideas: amazing computer scientists working in Africa finding solutions to diagnosing crop disease in Uganda for example or diagnosing malaria in Nigeria… finding patterns in data, making predictions and recommending action, AI is absolutely brilliant at.

It’s also going to help deliver education even in the most remote places with very limited infrastructure. AI could deliver high quality, very personalised education. So there’s an incredible amount of good that this stuff can do.

So AI’s going to increasingly replace cognitive tasks… initially simple repetitive cognitive tasks. So if you think about the work that civil society organisations do: some of marketing, fundraising is really automatable using AI. Some logistics work… it may be very easy to replace people with machines in that area over time.

So lots of aspects of civil society work could be improved using AI. And then the question is: “So what do the people do?”

And ideally what this means is that people are freed up to do more of the more creative work that civil society groups do. And also the more interpersonal side of things: talking to real people, human contact. Those are the things that machines are going to be less good at for longer: things that involve creativity and things that involve talking and communicating with real people and empathising with real people.

Ideally, you have the perfect mix of human and machine where the machine is helping you target, understand and shape your communications. But there’s a real person that’s delivering the message in a way that is able to really empathise with the person at the other end of the conversation.

Potentially we’re on a path where there’s a high degree of automation across all sectors of the economy. There’s high levels of unemployment, which means communities are fracturing, it means individuals’ sense of purpose is blown apart. And it means people consuming… mass consumption of the lowest common denominator culture and a general sort of malaise and unhappiness for the majority of people as a few lucky people become extraordinarily rich.

That’s perhaps the line of least resistance. But there is a path where we use AI to massively increase the net wealth of our society and that that wealth is well shared and the people are perhaps doing less work. But they are freed up to spend time on more creative things; things that make us truly human and they’re leading really fulfilling lives in a society that’s increasingly prosperous but where that wealth is well shared.

So there is an optimistic scenario here but I think it’s going to require a huge effort from… particularly from civil society organisations to get us onto that positive path.

Olly Buston is founder and chief executive of Future Advocacy. Olly was previously Europe director of ONE and director of the Walk Free anti-slavery movement. He has also worked for Oxfam International.

Originally published 28/11/2017

By Jen Shang

The phrase “philanthropists of tomorrow” does not refer to those giving away large sums of money. At least I hope it doesn’t! Neither are they individuals who are wedded to solving our world’s problems by predetermined means, be it venture philanthropy or social entrepreneurship, setting up a benefit corporation, a charity, a new eco-system, or a particular kind of social impact investment. Rather, the philanthropists who will lead in the future will be the individuals who care enough about making a difference that they can set aside pre-conceived notions of how to help address the issues and instead choose the most appropriate means for delivering the desired impact.

Our research suggests that the future of humanity may take a turn for the better if those who lead the future of philanthropy can sustainably experience, express and grow love for humankind based on the latest and most relevant knowledge and good thinking.

These philanthropists may, for example, choose for-profit enterprises for their philanthropic initiatives as opposed to not-for-profit ones. They may choose to give up their personal and long-held ideals for universal free healthcare or free education in order to deliver large-scale immediate benefit to those in need now. They may also choose to resist the urge to build a new organisation and instead volunteer their talent and resource to help the best of the existing organisations to become even better. They may even choose to go one step beyond what any existing initiatives have deemed possible, requiring an unprecedented vision and appetite for risk.

The way we find these people is not by looking through a list of the world’s most wealthy individuals or by scouring million-dollar donors research, but rather by getting into the right network of problem solvers who are at the cutting edge of applying new science, new technology, and new ways of thinking. If we follow the latest innovation in how we define a social problem, how we understand its root causes, and how we deliver large scale yet sustainable solutions, we will find them.

If they are not the people implementing the solutions, they are either the people who are testing the solutions out so that others can sustainably scale them or they are the people who are teaching others using what they learned from their own testing and implementation. All these people may exist in traditional channels or forms of philanthropy. The individuals shaping the future in the way I describe may well be presidents of five-generation family foundations, board members in century-old international NGOs, or investors on the boards of new academic centres. What matters is not how much money they have or where you find them, but who they are and what they choose to do with their lives.

The way we work with these people is not by asking what we need to fulfil our mission or even what our beneficiaries might need. Rather, we should be working together to think in a smart and iterative way about the nature of the problems we are trying to solve and the particular parts of the wider issues that we are most equipped to address. We can then think about the most appropriate structures and (if appropriate) organisational forms that might help us to forge and demonstrate solutions that we or others can subsequently bring to scale.

Professor Jen Shang is a philanthropic psychologist and director of research at the University of Plymouth Hartsook Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy at Plymouth Business School and at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University.

Originally published 29/11/2017

By Richard Hawkes

Passionate advocates for the charity sector have found recent years more than a little depressing. There are tremendous examples of organisations doing amazing work, but as a sector we aren’t doing as well as we should be.

Civil society should be vibrant and dynamic, entrepreneurial and disruptive, constantly changing and reinventing itself. It should be the sector of choice for young people wanting to have a brilliant career and change the world. And above all it should be admired, supported and loved by the public. It should never be in doubt that charities are brilliant, efficient, effective and trustworthy organisations.

If only this were the case.

We can only really blame ourselves for the way the sector has been portrayed in the media in recent years. We’ve tolerated bad practice, by individual organisations and across the sector. We’ve stood by while public trust has been eroded rather than being bold and proactive. We’ve become almost afraid of saying anything controversial in case it causes a backlash or the introduction of yet another form of regulation. The result is a rather meek sector that talks a lot to itself, has too many squabbling sector bodies, rarely influences government policy and secured the grand total of zero mentions in the main party manifestos at the recent election.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. It wouldn’t be that difficult to make the public think much more positively about us.

We can’t con the public. So, we have to get our own house in order first. We should be bolder about calling out bad practice – and much bolder and more confident about speaking truth to power. We need to communicate relentlessly how brilliant we are, directly and through the media.

But we can only do this if, as a sector, we are far more effectively led and coordinated, especially from a communications and media perspective. The sector does amazing work that transforms the lives of millions of people, but collectively we just don’t communicate this very well. A collective media strategy that can both rebut quickly and ensure regular positive media peaks would help us to be more proactive and more coordinated. I don’t know a sector chief executive who would not sign up for that.

For the sector to be successful, public trust and support is vital. The media can destroy this – or they can play a crucial role in building it up. But that is up to us.

We must sort ourselves out, stop bad practice and improve sector coordination. We must be bold, be exciting and engage. This will lead to more trust, more support and more funding. We can have brilliant organisations, a powerful and loved sector. We can change the world together.

Richard Hawkes is chief executive of the British Asian Trust and chair of Motivation. Previously, he was chief executive of Scope. Richard has also worked at VSO and Sense International and been the chair of Bond and of the Care and Support Alliance.

Originally published 30/11/2017

By Justin Cooke


The work mindset of routine and fixed procedure is over. We need to become better at retaining our inherent childhood ability and propensity to adapt and evolve, topping up skills on demand.

Critical thinking

We need to spend more time learning how to ask the right questions and less on how to answer them. If you can critically analyse and question the cause, you are one step away from solving the problem.

Communicate, code and debug

To lead, we have to understand the technology that drives the way we communicate and innovate.

Initiative and entrepreneurship

Initiative and entrepreneurial skills will move from the sidelines of leadership to the core, inspiring a new generation of doers and innovators who seek out new opportunities, ideas and strategies for improvement.

Creativity and curiosity

Einstein famously said “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” With automation affecting one in five jobs, the world’s information at our fingertips and algorithms making decisions, it will take a powerful imagination to envision breakthroughs and then execute them.


Domain knowledge and hard skills will become commoditised. History will show that the more empathetic the leader of an organisation is, and the better their ability to communicate this empathy across a plethora of channels, the higher its growth and productivity rates will be.

Collaboration and influencing

With a contingent workforce made up of non-permanent and remote workers working in the cloud at locations across the planet, tomorrow’s leaders will be less about top-down command and control and more about being adept at influencing diverse groups, collaborating towards a common purpose.

Justin Cooke is vice-chair of Unicef UK. He founded digital media agency Fortune Cookie and was chief executive of Possible UK, before becoming a venture partner with Northzone. Justin’s non-executive experience includes being a digital advisor to the government, the British Museum and Age UK.

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