Newsmaker - Think small, act big - Deborah Cameron, chief executive, Addaction

Nathalie Thomas

Brings a defiantly small-charity approach to a growing organisation.

Take one look at Addaction's recent financial history and it's easy to presume that it is the kind of high-income public service delivery charity that is adored by Acevo and abhorred by big-charity critics such as Iain Duncan Smith MP.

Addaction's turnover has gone sky high in the past five years, increasing from £4.5m in 2000 to £24m in 2005. According to Deborah Cameron, who took over as chief executive of the drug and alcohol addiction charity in January, turnover is still climbing.

No one can deny that Addaction is a service delivery body - it now runs 70 services nationwide. Its work with the Alder Hey children's hospital in Liverpool recently won it praise from Tony Blair at the Three Sector Summit: he held it up as an example of how the voluntary sector can help deliver user-focused public services.

But what makes Addaction stand out is its chief executive's small-charity mentality. Cameron is willing to stem the flow of Addaction's rapid expansion in favour of delivering services and running innovative projects that fit the bill - even if it means losing out on high-value contracts.

"That's the point of working in a charity - you may as well stay in the statutory sector otherwise," she says. "If all you do is deliver contracts for statutory agencies, that's a pity."

Although Addaction trustees and staff have big ambitions, Cameron is keen not to get caught in the trap of gobbling up every contract on offer.

Earlier this year, the charity held back from bidding to deliver two major services. Cameron admits that when Addaction wasn't interested, a few eyebrows were raised.

"Rumours immediately spread that we were losing contracts and were collapsing," she says. "The contracts didn't fit with what we wanted to do, which was to focus on some existing services."

The drug and alcohol sector is a competitive environment, Cameron admits, but that doesn't make her want to build fences. Instead, she is bent on breaking down what some perceive as a divide between big and small charities and to work with local groups for communities that Addaction would otherwise find it hard to access.

In Liverpool the charity already works with a group based within the Somali community to offer local drug services. It is hoping to do similar work with community groups elsewhere in the country.

Cameron says: "In the big cities now there's such a diversity of population that, even if you had one member of staff from each community, you wouldn't reach the whole range - so we're interested in small local partnerships to achieve that."

Cameron's local outlook also extends to human resources. Since her arrival, she has been circulating executive briefings to all of her staff across the country, and she encourages replies. She admits employees were reluctant to respond in the beginning, but the ideas and feedback have since been flowing in.

The organisation is already reaping the benefits of this 'small town' feel to internal communication, and when Cameron said she wanted to set up a new strategic group looking at women's services, she had plenty of experienced volunteers.

Cameron is also in the midst of developing a staff award. "It's an excellent performance award," she explains. She originally had prizes such as theatre tickets in mind, but employees said they were more interested in job exchanges.

"Our staff are so serious," Cameron says.

Keen to ensure that this seriousness will not be lost, even in a charity of Addaction's size, Cameron is determined to meet all of the staff and, as a newcomer herself, is keen to benefit from their wisdom.

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