A change in direction for the NSPCC

April 22 2009 - Mark Phillips

There was a piece of news that seems to have sneaked under the radar in the last week or so, but could be the first step of a change in fundraising practice that will influence a whole range of charities.

It did get a mention in the charity press, but the real story was in the Daily Telegraph and The Times.

Andrew Flanagan, the NSPCC's newly appointed chief executive was talking about his new role and how his commercial skills would transfer to the charity sector.

The NSPCC is facing difficult times. Legacy income is down by £2 million and the closure of offices in Derbyshire and Norfolk have been announced – all accompanied by redundancies.

Unlike other large children's charities, the NSPCC doesn't have a raft of government contracts to fall back on. It relies on the generosity of donors for 85% of its income and as the recession bites, it is changing out of necessity.

And Andrew has been very frank about where those changes will be:

"I think we may have tried to advance on too broad a front. We need to move forward on a more methodical basis now."

The "broad front" refers to the charity's campaigning work. Most notably the Full Stop Campaign which raised £250 million between 1999 and 2007.

"We raised the money, and spent it wisely on good things, and people's lives changed as a result. But I don't think it advanced us towards the goal of ending child cruelty in terms of the expectations at the beginning."

What we will now see is a different approach where the NSPCC will put high-profile campaigns on hold whilst the downturn continues.

Just as companies like Coca-Cola, IBM and Shell are implementing recession survival strategies, so it appears is the NSPCC.

And the first strategy on any list is placing the focus on core business.

To Andrew, this is ensuring that the expansion of ChildLine goes ahead and other services such as their Caring Dads programme and the support provided for abused children going through court cases continues.

By concentrating on this type of innovative work, he hopes to encourage the government and local authorities to take note of the outcomes, engage in the programmes and expand them, presumably adding balance to the NSPCC's sources of income.

But, importantly for us, it looks like it could also mean a move to a new approach to fundraising.

I remember a piece of research that Bluefrog undertook a number of years ago on attitudes to children's charities. The NSPCC dominated people's thoughts in the discussions. The participants tended to see the charity as a rescue service protecting children at immediate risk, but they didn't really know what happened next. If I recall correctly, one person put it rather well.

"You can imagine the NSPCC knocking doors down, but after that…

…they (the children) are probably handed over to social services or something".

There was a definite gap in the charity map that the NSPCC hadn't filled that it looks like the projects that feature in Andrew's strategy may well cover off. And if they do that, I can see the NSPCC coming out of the recession stronger than when it started.

But perhaps more importantly, it may start other charities thinking about how they communicate with donors during the economic downturn. The NSPCC has a huge amount of experience and a very powerful voice. Fundraisers the world over listen when they speak and if they are moving away from campaigning work, other charities may well follow. And they are likely to raise more funds as a result.

At Bluefrog, we have already seen this change start to appear in briefs as the focus moves towards generating income and loyalty rather than on building brands. And we are not alone.

It was put very well by Derek Humphries in a recent tweet. 

"brand-literate fundraising is on the up. About time."