Campaigning: Applying the lessons of history

The announcement that the NSPCC is winding up the appeal for its Full Stop campaign to end cruelty against children came in a week when the nation began to focus in earnest on the bicentenary of arguably the greatest human campaign ever undertaken - the abolition of slavery.

Although 200 years separate them, there are parallels between these two campaigns in the way they were planned and executed, using persuasion and political savvy. Full Stop has been, without doubt, the NSPCC's most successful initiative.

Launched in 1999, it had the backing from the outset of senior politicians, royalty and headline celebrities. It has raised significant awareness of the problem of child abuse and generated record levels of funding - £250m, to be precise.

The key device used in the campaign - asking the public to sign a pledge to do something to help - proved highly effective. A direct mailshot of 23 million items reached every home in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. This not only ensured saturation but created huge media coverage.

Of course, the modern media, with TV, radio or newspaper support often ensuring success or failure for a campaign, were not available to Wilberforce and the abolitionists. Nor, indeed, was the door drop.

It took Wilberforce 20 years to win over a hostile and often aggressive Parliament. But when he did, the legislation that resulted changed for ever the way our society views and seeks to protect those who are most vulnerable.

Wilberforce was passionate about his cause and astute enough to know that convincing others, particularly recognised opinion formers of the day, was the only way to bring about success. He never pointed the finger of blame at individuals. Rather, his approach, like that of the NSPCC, was one of collective responsibility, making it easier for people to sign up to the cause.

He was ahead of his time, devising fashion brooches - early forerunners of charity ribbons or wristbands - for ladies and gentlemen of the day to show their support.

These were two great campaigns, but sadly neither has achieved its ultimate goal. To the shame of 21st century society, child abuse still exists.

And although we will celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act on 25 March, the reality is that slavery blights our world today.

So what do we do? Through passionate debate and reasoned argument, we carry on, of course. No one said campaigning was easy. But history has shown that the tougher the challenge, the bigger the reward.

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