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NCVO road ahead 2022 helps charities chart route to 'new practicality' amid constant uncertainty

The voluntary sector will have to accept a level of constant uncertainty in 2022, but should still be optimistic about its ability to provide dignity, purpose and hope for society, says NCVO’s Road Ahead 2022.

The annual analysis of the operating environment and trends affecting the sector in the coming year says that charities can play a vital role in bridging divides in a society gripped by the so-called ‘culture wars’; should feel confident about speaking up on key issues; may need to upskill to play their part in achieving net zero; and will have opportunities to contribute to the ‘levelling up’ agenda.

The NCVO Road Ahead 2022 is published today (Tuesday 18 January). Members and non-members alike are invited to join a free event this afternoon, featuring report authors and guest panellists.

The report, which encourages voluntary organisations to reflect on what they do and how they do it, is developed using a PESTEL analysis to highlight the key drivers shaping the sector in six areas: political, economic, social, technological, environmental and legal. For the first time, NCVO engaged external stakeholders in the development of the report, including through members' assemblies and workshops with infrastructure partners.

Key report findings

Key political drivers include the continuation of the culture war – the report argues that public opinion “has proved to be more nuanced” on many issues than the standard ‘woke versus anti-woke’ narrative would imply, meaning that charities will be most successful when they attempt to bridge some of these divides and create consensus. It also notes that charities and social enterprises may find “significant opportunities” to contribute to ‘levelling up’.

Economic considerations include high inflation and rising living costs, as well as a labour market in flux, putting increased pressure on the finances of both households and charities. The emergence and exacerbation of inequalities is also a key social trend.

The section on technology reflects on questions about which services should continue to be delivered digitally; the importance of charities having the right cybersecurity and remote working arrangements; and the opportunities for charities that embrace artificial intelligence, machine learning, 5G and other new technologies.

The environmental chapter highlights that responses to the covid-19 pandemic have provided some valuable lessons in how to respond to crises such as climate change, and sustainable practices already introduced by many charities. A number of changes to charity law arising from a new Charities Bill are among the legal trends explored.

Alex Farrow, head of networks and influencing at NCVO, comments:
“As we start 2022, we’re once again in the grip of uncertainty as the pandemic continues to twist and turn. But, though it might feel like it, the start of 2022 is not the same as January 2021. A new practicality is emerging across charities and communities, bolstered by confidence created by the speed of the scientific response to the pandemic.

“Despite everything, there are decisions and choices to make. All those running charities still have agency and power – both in what they do and how they do it. Our analysis is here to help leaders, trustees and communities make informed decisions about their future and find that new practicality.”


Notes to editors

For media enquiries including interviews with Alex Farrow, contact Sam Burne James on or 07848 380 394.

The embargoed version of the report sent to press is not final – outlets wanting to see or upload the final, designed version of the report should contact Sam using the above details.

The report will be available on the NCVO website from 09.00 on Tuesday 18 January.

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