Less headline grabbing, more realism: the NSPCC's new seven-year strategy

Andrew Flanagan, the charity's new chief executive, talks to John Plummer about his plans

Andrew Flanagan, chief executive, NSPCC
Andrew Flanagan, chief executive, NSPCC

Ten years ago, the NSPCC began campaigning for an end to child cruelty. The accompanying Full Stop fundraising appeal, launched by the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was the most successful in charity history, raising £250m.

Yet some people thought the charity had set itself an unrealistic goal that was at odds with human nature. A decade on, Andrew Flanagan, who succeeded Dame Mary Marsh as chief executive of the charity in January, says that child cruelty might never be eradicated and that the charity needs to be more realistic about communicating its ambitions.

"Some people thought we were off our heads when we said we were going to end cruelty to children," says Flanagan. "A lot of professionals who have a deep understanding of how intractable some of these problems are had a sense that we were just saying it - that we didn't mean it - and that it was either foolhardy or arrogant.

"People started to get the impression we were intending to do it over 10 or 20 years. We need to be more realistic in setting out what we can achieve in a set period of time. We're certainly not going to achieve it in my lifetime."

Flanagan says the NSPCC will continue to campaign for an end to child cruelty in its new seven-year strategy - but as an ambition, rather than a goal.

"I like the idea of having a vision that is aspirational," he says. "You achieve far more if you have something that is tantalisingly out of reach. But we have to be open and honest about how long a road that is. We all recognise that we might never get there."

The strategy, which will involve the charity shedding 45 jobs but creating 300 by 2016, says the organisation will focus on seven priority areas (Third Sector Online, 5 November).

It also calls for greater collaboration with other charities and statutory organisations. The NSPCC's tendency to do too much alone has created a sense of aloofness and arrogance, says Flanagan.

The reality is that, after the cost of fundraising, we have £120m to spend," he says. "Government and the charity sector spend £7bn on children's services, so we have a relatively small amount of money. If we have any serious intention of ending child cruelty, we have to work with others."

Services and campaigning account respectively for two-thirds and a third of NSPCC spending. Flanagan says this won't change, but adds: "In the early period of the strategy we're going to put more into services and draw back a bit from campaigning because we want our campaigning to be more evidence-based, and the evidence will come from our services."

Flanagan, a father of three and NSPCC donor who was headhunted for the job, lives in Scotland and commutes to London each week. It's his first voluntary sector job. He praises the sector's energy and passion but says it's "less effective and efficient than the private sector".

The NSPCC's income grew by 7 per cent last year, but Flanagan says the overall trend is "flattish" and there will be no "headline-grabbing appeal" this time. Overall, the new strategy appears to involve a recognition that, in Flanagan's words, the charity "can't be everywhere and do everything".


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