THE BLOG

Population Shift: Why NPC established the Commission on the Voluntary Sector and Ageing

01/04/2014 14:18 BST | Updated 31/05/2014 10:59 BST

The Commission on the Voluntary Sector & Ageing this week left its first major mark--a paper we hope will change minds and provoke some serious debate.

Why on earth is NPC mixed up in all this you may ask? Aren't you the guys who go on about theory of change, measurement, shared metrics, use of data and other impact geek stuff?

At NPC we do all our techie work because we want to help the voluntary sector use its resources in the very best way it can. Without understanding what you are trying to do you can't really achieve it; without measuring it to some degree, you can't get better; and without shared metrics you can't learn from anyone else.

But the sector, both funders and non-profits themselves, must also be alert to and respond to change in a positive way to continue to be relevant and harness money and time effectively. And that is we why we were so keen to establish this Commission and drive its work forward.

Like it or not, the world will be different in 20 years' time. Some of it we can only guess at--a human microchip implant, the driverless car, a Nigel Farage led government--but on the demographic side we know quite a lot already.

We will have many more older people overall and many more relative to the young. Working patterns will have changed, and the ethnic mix will have too. And we can be pretty sure that the next generation coming through to older age will have different attitudes to their predecessors. Women who grew up in the baby-boomer period and beyond have a very different view of their position in life, for instance.

The private sector is already thinking ahead. What are the opportunities and threats? How do we change our recruitment and retention policies? What new products and research do we need to produce them?

And, slowly, the public sector has been getting round to thinking this through too. How do services need to evolve if we have a different demographic structure? What does this mean for everything from the supply of teachers and doctors through to transport policy and taxation? And this is on top of the more panicky discussions about affordability of pensions and healthcare.

Politicians are perhaps even quicker than policymakers to sense the shift. The sudden pitch to the old with the un-consulted upon annuities change in the recent Budget shows an awareness of pleasing this fast growing segment of the population, who--unlike the previous older cohort--are willing to change their vote if they like what they are being offered.

Bringing up the rear, however, is the dear old voluntary sector--unsurprising and certainly not meant as a slur. For many charities and community groups, getting through the week and the year is enough of a struggle without worrying about the coming decades.

And this is where we thought we could play a role, by setting up a Commission--brilliantly chaired by charity sector doyen Lynne Berry--to try and do some of the hard preparatory work for the sector.

We have put some of the facts together and brought them to life by constructing scenarios for the future--some positive, and others much more challenging.

We hope it will be used by individual charities and their boards, groups of organisations within towns and villages, sector groups, and funders of the sector, to think through what they might want to do to prepare. That would be extremely valuable and a 'win' for the Commission--indeed its our main aim.

But we are also asking more than that. The sector can also play a role in ensuring that the 'good' future scenarios come to pass as opposed to the 'less good'--that donations increase as the most traditionally "giving" age group grows, rather than shrivel in response to multiple demands on older people and rising dissatisfaction with charities, for instance.

We are asking people to share their thoughts, their fears, their plans and so on. We will then produce a first report in March next year, in the run up to the election, to try and put this agenda in front of policymakers and politicians as well as the sector.

Far from being a distraction, being involved in this Commission may well turn out to be one of the most impactful things NPC has ever kicked off. So much for geeks!