Opinion: Third Voice - Time to think about where we want to be in ten years

Stuart Etherington, chief executive, NCVO

We should never underestimate the contribution the voluntary sector has made and continues to make to society.

It has been through the work of voluntary and community organisations that attitudes to HIV and Aids have changed, that environmental issues have become an important part of the political agenda and that crucial services, such as hospices and the Citizens Advice bureaux, have been developed.

Our sector has grown enormously over the past decade. We have the Compact, a tax system that underpins giving, the forthcoming Charities Act and unparalleled access to the most senior levels of government and the major political parties.

But we must not rest on our laurels. Tomorrow, 22 September, the National Council of Voluntary Organisations launches its Strategic Agenda: A Vision for the Future. After extensive consultation with the sector in partnership with the National Association of Councils for Voluntary Service, we identified five key areas where we believe we can best support our members: values, engaged citizens, relationships, governance and resources.

Some of these areas are the same ones we have worked in for many years.

What will differ is the ambition and attitude of these aims and projects.

We have a number of aims. We want to bring about a comprehensive understanding of the distinctive value that the sector brings, ensure that voluntary and community organisations and their beneficiaries play the fullest part in civil society and to redefine, develop and improve relationships and partnerships, both within the sector and with the other sectors. We also want to ensure that all organisations can access appropriate information, advice and models of good practice and to help voluntary and community organisations gain access to the information, resources and personnel they need to achieve their mission and to make the most effective use of those resources.

NCVO's hope is that, in ten years, the voluntary and community sector will no longer be calling only for recognition or a year's funding, but focusing on what it does best - enabling voluntary action, contributing to community cohesion and helping the most marginalised and excluded individuals and communities in society.

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