Future growth in the voluntary sector will come mostly at its fringes, rather than in traditional charitable organisations, according to Karl Wilding, director of public policy at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations.
Speaking at a session called "The Road Ahead" at the NCVO annual conference in London yesterday, Wilding said: "I think the sector will grow, but I think the growth is at the borders with the state, with business, with individuals."
He said that this would include responsible business, informal or community-led solutions to local problems and voluntary-public partnerships to create mutuals and spin-out organisations.
"I’m increasingly positive about the future of voluntary action in this country; there is so much coming up from the grass roots as a result of austerity," said Wilding.
One example of this was technology-enabled offers of assistance to flood victims in the UK earlier this year, he said.
But he also noted that voluntary action and the voluntary sector were often not one and the same.
He said that while both the Conservatives and Labour were committed to encouraging voluntary and community action as part of the big society concept, "neither of these two organisations are that interested in voluntary organisations, but they are very interested in voluntary action".
Wilding said the public was not necessarily engaged by the traditional voluntary sector organisations. "I don’t detect a huge amount of public interest in the sector per se," he said. "I wonder how many people see the bigger charities as part of the 1 per cent – the establishment: part of the problem and not the solution."
The role of business in achieving what the voluntary sector wanted to achieve would also grow, Wilding said, in part because of the interests of the younger generation of workers. "Millennials [people who entered the workforce after the turn of this century] are sector agnostics," he said. "They don’t care if they work for the voluntary sector or not; they just want to do good."
Wilding said the role of responsible businesses was also likely to grow through the relatively new community interest company structure, and the growing B Corporation movement.
B Corporations are organisations committed to improved social, environmental, accountability and transparency standards. There are currently 257 in the US, seven in the UK.
"If we want to do social good, should we still be doing it through the old-fashioned organisations?" Wilding asked.
On the voluntary sector’s campaigning role, he said the sector "regularly gets it in the neck" from both those saying the sector does too much campaigning, and those arguing they don’t do enough. "I can’t help but feel that if we’re in the middle we must be doing it right," he said.