In partnership with:

NCVO, ACEVO and Starfish logos

Back in February 2021, at the height of the third national covid-19 lockdown, Becky Hewitt wrote an article in Third Sector about the challenges of working flexibly as a charity chief executive. Her article struck a chord with many people across the voluntary sector, including each of us.

We got in touch with Becky to ask how NCVO and ACEVO might support in addressing the issues around flexible working in the voluntary sector. Starfish Search generously offered to fund a piece of work to explore the topic. We recruited a fantastically knowledgeable working group who volunteered to support and deliver the work, and the flexible working project began.

Growing interest in flexible working

We each have our own experiences of flexible working – as individuals and as leaders supporting our teams to work flexibly in order to support inclusion. We know from these experiences that there is no magic formula for successful flexible working: it’s different for each organisation and individual. It’s not always easy to make it work. What’s most important is to start somewhere.

Increasingly, ACEVO and NCVO members tell us that they’re interested in implementing more flexible working arrangements in their organisations. The subject is now particularly important given the changes to the way we organise work brought about by the pandemic and the need for a more inclusive culture. As this report explores, the voluntary sector culture does not currently lend itself to flexible working. As leaders of infrastructure organisations, we feel a strong responsibility to work alongside our members to change this.

Starting the conversation

Much has been written about flexible working. In preparing this report we’re grateful to have been able to draw on the expertise and resources of organisations and movements such as Working Families, Jobshares Work, and Mother Pukka.

Flexible working is a very broad topic. While wide-ranging in scope, this report does not pretend to be complete in its overview of the challenges and opportunities for flexible working in the voluntary sector. For example, it does not cover important topics such as flexibility for volunteers in detail.

Instead, we hope to:

  • start a conversation
  • build momentum
  • understand more about what each other is doing
  • grow a shared understanding of what good looks like
  • encourage organisations to experiment with new ideas
  • break down stigma
  • build our collective confidence and knowledge.

The report includes many practical tips, which we hope will support leaders, managers and individuals to approach flexible working in their organisations. Yet this report is just the start of a conversation, rather than the solution to flexible working in the sector. Plans are afoot for phase two of this work, which might include more in-depth training and toolkits to support voluntary organisations to implement flexible working.


A talented working group of voluntary sector professionals has led this project, each with their own individual experience of working flexibly. The working group has hosted focus groups and undertaken interviews with dozens of people across the voluntary sector. We are hugely grateful to the group for their hard work and enormous contribution, and to everyone who has taken part in the research that has informed this report.

We would like to thank the working group and Becky for authoring the report, Gemma Davidson for editing and copy-writing support, and Rache Bowie for her design work. Thanks go to the teams at NCVO and ACEVO for their work on this project – especially Joanna Gray, Emily Peters, Sean O’Brien, Heloisa Righetto and Nabila Kassim. Finally, we’d like to thank Becky for having the vision, passion and determination to make this report happen.

We want to create a culture in the voluntary sector that values and champions flexible working. Flexible working promotes wellbeing in the workplace, and it increases productivity. It’s critical for inclusion. It’s important for attracting and retaining a talented, diverse pool of staff. Put simply, flexible working for our teams will help the voluntary sector deliver more for the people and communities we support. We’re looking forward to working with our members to make flexible working in voluntary organisations the norm.

Vicky Browning's signature

Vicky Browning

Chief Executive, ACEVO

Sarah Vibert's signature

Sarah Vibert

Interim Chief Executive, NCVO

This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 24 April 2023