Etherington urges bold pre-election action from charities

National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) chief executive Sir Stuart Etherington today urged voluntary organisations to move on from recent difficult times and “campaign with confidence” in the weeks leading up to the general election, which was announced this week.

He was giving his state of the sector address at the NCVO's annual conference in central London. British prime minister Theresa May announced this week that there will be a general election on 8 June 2017.

Alluding to the scrutiny the charity sector underwent following widely reported scandals about governance and fundraising, Etherington was defiant. He said: “Charity is changing and that is thanks to bold leadership. That we are listening to the public’s concern is increasingly evident in how we fundraise.”

He also referred to the revised charity governance code produced by the sector and recently approved by the government as an example of leadership from the sector. "The Charity Commission is sufficiently confident in the new code that it has withdrawn its own guidance on the hallmark of a good charity,” he said.

NCVO is the umbrella body for the voluntary and community sector in England. It has more than 12,000 members, including many social enterprises. Etherington paid particular attention to the work required by those members given political challenges in the weeks and months ahead. 

I didn’t join this sector to cower or plead and I doubt whether you did either

He urged delegates to be bold in their approach to lobbying politicians: “Now is not the time to tell ourselves that we are under threat. I didn’t join this sector to cower or plead and I doubt whether you did either.”

What is at stake for charities and voluntary organisations is the EU funding that will disappear post-Brexit, amounting to £350m per year, according to Etherington. He urged members to offer solutions to politicians who now have heavier workloads because of Brexit.

“Our agenda as a sector cannot and must not focus on what some externally might view as self interested, narrow agendas on massive, never before seen change. We need bold thinking when lobbying governments for replacements that they currently receive from the EU,” he said

“Simply asking a British government for these funds will not work. We instead need to set our our vision of what a post-Brexit Britain can and should look like.”

Etherington also suggested that politicians could use the idea of backing social contributions by the public as a way to improve their standing with the public. 

“Society is the place where giving, volunteering and social action in all their forms are valued. It’s the place where charities and voluntary organisations are engaged and involved.

“Politicians of all stripes should heed this message, particularly if they want to rebuild the trust that is sorely missing from the public.”