Kia ora koutou

NCVO champions the voluntary sector and volunteering. They have a diverse community of over 12,000 member organisations – a third of the voluntary sector workforce in England. They aim to help their members thrive by providing expert support and advice, by saving them time and money, and by keeping them up to date with the news that affects them.
Their goal is to help their members make even more of a difference, and have a greater impact.
I met with Sarah Menzies from the Evaluation team who shared her insights about what they are learning, doing and how they are connected. Sarah is also part of Inspiring Impact which I will write about separately – a great partnership initiative.

Key areas of discussion

What are they learning?
The UK charitable sector has been significantly affected by changes in the environment over the last decade. High profile cases of poor practice in fundraising and financial management have rocked public perceptions. On the positive side the government and other funders are interested in seeing greater impact and change in the sector.
NCVO supports, advises, and advocates for their members. 
Capacity building for the sector is a major role, but Sarah says NGOs and funders have to be ready to engage in new ways of doing things for this to be effective.  
Evaluation for impact is seen as an essential tool, and Sarah sees value in investing in capacity building around this. Supporting philanthropic funders with the design of evaluation frameworks is key to supporting good practice in the sector. The income NCVO generates from evaluation work supports other sector development initiatives for their members and allows them to provide free access for small groups.  
Partnership across organisations and sectors can add to effectiveness and shared learning for greater impact. Real time learning, which supports programme and organisation development along the way, is a great approach - like developmental evaluation models in New Zealand. 

What are their emergent practice observations?
• Corporates are engaging in more social value activities in areas such as governance and business development
• Evaluation as a practice is being built into many roles now, to embed thinking and impact measurement, rather than necessarily specialist evaluator roles.  
• Development of hubs or learning networks across agencies and internationally
• Strengthening of networked models and partnerships

What’s on the five to ten year horizon?
• Greater collaboration and shared learning platforms
• Growing leadership in the sector and across sectors for impact work
• Continuing to build capacity of charitable sector
• New ways to promote the sector and its role to address changing environments
• Potential for greater international partnerships to build on what’s already there

What are the wild cards?
• BREXIT has caused uncertainty and disruption and is a distraction from underlying challenges.

Insights and learnings
Evaluation has seen significant growth since I left the UK 20 years ago.
I was impressed with the strength of focus and expertise and the leadership of agencies like NCVO both as a lead membership organisation and as a collaborative partner with others through networks such as Inspiring Impact.
The role of such agencies to work collectively as well as independently to create research and policy advice to influence government and the sector was also inspiring.
Seeing the significance of capacity building approaches as an integral methodology was affirming for me given this is a cornerstone of the Centre’s work and model.
It would be wonderful to see a more robust community and voluntary sector leadership model in New Zealand. If we pooled all the sector membership organisation resources that are so thinly spread across our silos we could really see some significant leadership for impact emerge.   So there is some food for thought!