'Culture wars' a key political driver for charities in the year ahead, NCVO predicts

Charities will be most successful in dealing with government culture wars when they work to create consensus, a report by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations has concluded.

The Road Ahead 2022, published today, is the latest edition of the NCVO’s annual analysis of the changing operating environment for the voluntary sector. It identifies key political, economic, social, technological, environmental and legal issues that are likely to affect charities in the next year. 

It identifies the continuing “culture wars” as being a key political driver in the year ahead, pointing out that charities have been criticised by politicians for their stances on issues relating to values, identity and culture.

“Politicians are likely to continue to seek dividing lines where they feel there is political advantage in doing so, so we should expect that culture wars will be a part of our political environment in the years ahead,” the report says. 

It goes on to say: “Charities ultimately must do what they think is right in support of their charitable purpose, which will inevitably sometimes mean taking unpopular stances.”

But the report points out that the public’s opinion on many cultural issues is more nuanced than the political and media narrative suggests. 

“Charities will be most successful when they can work to create consensus on these issues,” it says.

“Charities have to think beyond public opinion and will want to take a principled approach towards engaging with a range of issues, though clearly it will be easier for them to do this if it is backed by at least a significant section of the public.”

In terms of economic concerns, the report warns charities to “keep a close eye on inflation”, which it warns could affect “staffing and service delivery costs as well as the cost of living and level of need in the communities that charities serve”.

It also calls for charities to consider how their service users might be affected by an uncertain labour market and increased barriers to finding work, and think about how, as employers, they can hire more marginalised people and provide good-quality jobs. 

The report identifies socioeconomic inequality as being a key social issue and the new requirements introduced by the Charities Bill, currently going through parliament, as a key legal issue, warning that charities will need to keep an eye on Charity Commission guidance as technical changes are introduced. 

In terms of technology, the report says charities will need to consider how much of their operations will continue to be carried out remotely following the pandemic, and warns that charities need to think about the cyber security risks of remote working. 

On environmental issues and climate change, the report says charities can play a role in holding national and local governments to account on environmental issues, but that the diversity of the sector may present a challenge to finding common ground across organisations with different priorities. 

In a statement accompanying the report, Alex Farrow, head of networks and influencing at the NCVO, said: “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.”

Farrow said he hoped the analysis would help leaders, trustees and communities make informed decisions about their future.

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