A year in focus

As ACEVO’s annual report and accounts are published, CEO Vicky Browning reflects on 12 months of achievements and challenges.

I began working as CEO of ACEVO at the end of January 2017, towards the end of a financial year in which the charity’s income fell for the sixth consecutive year. As ACEVO publishes its annual report covering my first full year in post, I want to share some of the decisions we’ve made and outcomes we’ve achieved in order to stabilise and reinvigorate the organisation.

I believe the sector needs ACEVO. Investing in our leaders – whether through encouraging peer support and sharing good practice, offering leadership development opportunities or reinforcing leaders’ mental health and resilience – is an effective way of both protecting and increasing the impact of civil society.

Like many charity CEOs, I have been determined to focus on our core purpose – in our case connecting, championing and supporting our sector’s leaders – and cut out non-core activities. And again like most CEOs, I’ve not compromised when addressing our cost base.

Having closed our loss-making business consultancy service, our overall income is lower, but the organisation has delivered a surplus for the first time in five years, allowing us to replenish reserves in line with our reserves policy.

While membership numbers fell from 1,165 to 1,105, this was an expected (and planned for) drop due to a number of one-year promotional membership bulk deals coming to an end, meaning that our membership income remained stable. And most encouragingly of all, our membership engagement levels have risen dramatically, evidenced by a rise in our renewal rate – the most fundamental indicator of member satisfaction – from 64% to 80%.

Behind the headline numbers, the staff team and trustees have worked together to refresh our vision, values and purpose which has allowed us to recommit to being a member led organisation that listens and is responsive.

Other highlights of the year include:

  • 33% increase in the number of new members joining
  • Providing bespoke support to 90 members in need
  • Launching four new member services
  • Delivering 25 CEO forums in seven locations
  • Refocusing our policy voice on five key pillars: regulation, commissioning, diversity, campaigning and Brexit.

This is not to say the year has been without its challenges, many of which continue into this year and will be familiar to all those running small charities. After a year of stabilisation, we would now like to deliver a net growth in the number of members. Such an increase would not be growth for growth’s sake but in recognition that our network is our biggest asset and the more leaders in it, the more support we can offer. It is important that any growth occurs slowly, to enable us to retain a focus on providing high quality support to all those in the community.

But it’s not the numbers that make me want to get out of bed in the morning or drives our trustees’ considerable enthusiasm. It is not income growth that generates a buzz in the office. It is when our members tell us things like this:

“I feel really energised when I come away from ACEVO events and ready to face my challenges!”

And this:

“The support I have received via ACEVO membership has meant I have come through such a difficult process more positively than otherwise would have been possible.”

Knowing the positive impact we are having on our members and, through them, their organisations, is a powerfully motivating force.

We are also aware that many of our members who do not live close to the cities in which we hold our regular regional forums (Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Leeds, London, Manchester and Newcastle) want different ways to engage with ACEVO. We believe the answer to this lies in developing a more sophisticated and interactive digital offer. Work on developing our website will be a priority and we will also be looking at other areas of development raised in our feedback survey, which include:

  • Greater personalisation of services and communications
  • The encouragement of local networking events organised and led by local CEOs with relevant expertise
  • A review of ACEVO’s brand framework and visual identity.

I hope that our members feel as proud of being part of the ACEVO community as I do. Our greatest strength is our network of fantastic members, supported by our corporate partners and funders.

If you are inspired by our vision and want to join our network, you can find out more here. Equally, if you’d like to work with us to reach our goals then please do consider applying to be our next chair

Thank you for your support and I look forward to another year of working with existing, returning and new members.

You can download the 2017-18 annual report and accounts here.

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