There's hardly a celebrity that doesn't want to be associated with it in some way or other, giving out awards or auctioning off works of art, which has made it outstandingly effective at fundraising and secured its reputation as virtually unassailable. Few are willing to criticise the NSPCC: so successful is its brand positioning that to do so is to risk being labelled as in favour of child abuse.
That said, challenges are occasionally mounted in the press, and internet chatrooms teem with vitriol. This is usually political - right-wingers muttering about the 'anti-smacking agenda' - but it has more traction when it concerns the effective use of donations. When the NSPCC's Full Stop campaign closed earlier this year, having raised more than £250m since its launch in 1999, the reasonable question was: how will it actually spend this generously donated money? Or does it raise money only to raise more money?
Now the thoroughly impressive and impressively thorough New Philanthropy Capital has brought out a report that, by carefully saying very little about the NSPCC, has said a very great deal. It claims that campaigning to change public attitudes, as the NSPCC does, has its place, but there's no evidence it results in less child abuse.
"Improved attitudes to abuse," it says, "seem to have very little bearing on whether a sexual offender chooses to abuse a child when they have the opportunity to do so in secret." The NSPCC has worked hard to find ways of valuing that which it is not possible to quantify, but the report makes it clear that charities focusing heavily on transforming public attitudes or behaviour change should be considered a low priority for charitable giving.
When big sums of money are involved, it's right to ask big questions. Would other organisations spend the money better? A commitment to combating child abuse is not the same as a commitment to the NSPCC. Surely the aspiration is undermined if we aren't prepared to assess the actual results that are achieved in practice and to compare them with alternatives. To make a moral commitment and then not consider alternative ways of reaching it is irresponsible.
To say nothing is to throw the stones of silence.
- Nick Seddon is an author and journalist