The Road Ahead 2024: Opportunities and challenges for the voluntary sector

NCVO have released their The Road Ahead 2024 report and posted the following on their website here:

This year is certain to have more than its fair share of political, economic, and social change. But we’ve also entered a year of choices, challenges, and opportunities.

Our latest Road Ahead report analyses major trends and issues for 2024 to help chart a path through the year.

As well as helping you and your organisation to make decisions, this analysis also demonstrates how we at NCVO deliver – and adapt – the support and guidance we offer to our members and the wider voluntary sector.

It will come as no surprise that we’re predicting another year of considerable change for both our sector and our society.

We believe our sector will play a big role in this transformational year, particularly by raising our collective voice about the issues that matter and the realities facing our communities. This can be seen in the work we are doing with our partners at ACEVO to develop a voluntary sector manifesto which will be presented to all political parties.

We expect the resilience and innovation of the voluntary sector to shine through once again in 2024. But we also need to see a renewed partnership with government to tackle the issues facing our society. This requires greater collaboration in the voluntary sector to navigate the challenges ahead and create the most impact for the people and communities we support.

An election year brings uncertainty – but also opportunity

It’s no secret that we’re expecting a general election in 2024 that will likely lead to a change in government, if we rely on current opinion polls.

This will have wide ranging implications for our sector, including the potential for a better relationship with government – Keir Starmer recently told a voluntary sector audience that the sector is ‘essential’ to Labour’s vision for Britain and for a ‘society of service’.

There are also local and regional elections taking place this year which will be important to our communities and to charities delivering local services.

All voluntary organisations must consider the wider impacts of an election year. For example, it’s highly likely that an election will cause delays in decision-making for contract tendering processes and organisational finances.

There will also be increased focus on what charities are saying and campaigning about. Organisations should consider the potential risks of engaging in campaign or advocacy work – particularly where an issue may be likely to cause disagreement – and make sure to follow electoral and charity law.

This increased scrutiny will almost certainly play out on social media, so it’s important organisations follow available guidance and make sure of organisational buy-in on the issues shared through these channels.

We are clear that the voluntary sector shouldn’t shy away from raising our voices on the issues that matter to the communities we support during this important year. You can read our support and guidance on campaigning, developed in partnership with ACEVO, here.

Tough economic times set to continue

Politics isn’t the only game in town in 2024. We know the economic situation is a far more pressing concern for voluntary organisations navigating the continuing Cost of Giving Crisis. Keeping vital services going is the priority.

We predict the current tough economic climate for charities will continue through 2024. Both high inflation and interest rates will present challenges for organisations already juggling increasing operating costs and record demand for services.

Increased pressure on household budgets will negatively impact charitable giving – which makes up almost half of the sector’s income – while the dire situation in local government across the country will have knock-on effects for charity contracts and public sector funding.

Its unlikely we will see much economic respite in 2024, and this makes collaboration more vital than ever – between funders and voluntary organisations, but also between voluntary organisations.

Adapting to the big social, environmental and technology shifts

The challenging nature of the current climate means many people are looking for positive alternatives and ways to build a brighter future and better communities.

We anticipate charities will be at the heart of renewed efforts to shift power beyond voting in elections and into the hands of communities. We support greater local decision-making and community empowerment, and our sector will need to keep pushing for increased funding of local government and civic infrastructure.

Encouraging greater local participation will mean adapting how people can get involved in voluntary action. This includes increasing the flexibility and accessibility of volunteering. The 40th anniversary of Volunteers’ Week and return of the Big Help Out offer fantastic opportunities for organisations to engage their communities.

Voluntary organisations will also need to adapt to the once-in-a-generation shifts being created by AI and the climate crisis. Here, our sector will have a vital role in advocating for a greener and equitable future for everyone.

AI will continue to reshape how we live and work. Developing plans and strategies to make sure your organisation gets the maximum positive potential from these and other technologies will be crucial.

Similarly, the continuing climate crisis is already having a direct impact on the work of voluntary organisations – both in terms of the impact on the communities they support and the design of services. Organisations must continue to adapt their operations and consider how they are contributing to the achievement of climate targets.

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