Blog – The Good Exchange reports back from the 2018 ACEVO Conference

The Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO) conference took place in London on Thursday 18th October. The one-day event explored different aspects of impactful leadership and offered diverse perspectives on key issues that not-for-profits must face.

One of the highlights was a speech given by Dr Pippa Malmgren, co-author of the recently published ‘The Leadership Lab: Understanding Leadership in the 21st Century,’ on the importance of understanding what leadership means today. The theme was very topical given the social and political uncertainty affecting virtually every NGO. The main takeaway was the urgent need for a shift in the way we think. Dr Malmgren argued that as a society we should abandon the binary ‘either/or’ approach which has been prevalent in the 20th century. Instead, Dr Malmgren encouraged the audience to truly embrace diversity of thinking.

Another important point made during the speech was on the importance of preparedness, not prediction. As proved by the results of two major public votes in the recent years, the Brexit referendum and 2016 US Presidential election, precise answers cannot be found in analytics and numbers.

When considering the fear that the current digital revolution would cause huge job losses and rising unemployment, Dr Malmgren pointed out that people said the same thing about the 1st and 2nd industrial revolutions and that each created more rather than fewer jobs.  According to the latest Charity Digital Skills report, the demand for digital skills continues to grow.

Recent comments made by Geoff Mulgan, chief executive of Nesta, were also raised during the panel discussion. Mulgan argued that charities must respond better to tectonic digital shifts. Indeed, in the light of the ongoing tech revolution, there is increasing pressure on management and boards to become fluent in digital tactics.

In a subsequent breakout session, Fozia Irfan, CEO at Beds and Luton Community Foundation, shared her initial experiences on joining a third sector organisation and its strikingly archaic internal and external processes. Lack of digitisation might be viewed as one of the reason of the widening distance between foundations and the communities they are meant to serve. Irfan explained how cloud services, more user-friendly websites and curated social media presence can lead an organisation to increased credibility, responsiveness and resilience.

Another very insightful contribution was made by Steve Ford, CEO of Parkinson’s UK. He described how a decision to move away from a central digital department to decentralised roles across the organisation may help support communities more efficiently and enhance overall communication.

From the technical point of view, it all seems simple to apply. However, a question arises – how non-profits can help less digitally-savvy workers overcome the fear of using the innovations available? The debate was concluded with a unanimous opinion that successful implementation of a digital-first attitude among staff requires managers to lead by example. If senior employees feel comfortable with digital functionality and embrace the opportunities it brings, cultural and process changes can be achieved.

Over the coming weeks and months we’re looking forward to working with every type of charitable organisation that has taken inspiration from this years’ conference!