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Monday, November 02, 2009

NSPCC Annual Council Meeting

The NSPCC is one of the charities that TCL supports, and our support is more than just some donations of money. It's a charity that is very important to me personally, and one where we try to help them as much as we can. So this year I joined the Exeter Business Group, which helps the NSPCC to raise funds and network in the area. We've got some tough targets to meet, but it's going well. As part of my involvement I was lucky enough to be invited to attend the NSPCC Annual Council meeting in London. It gave me a chance to meet some people, see the launch of the strategy for the year and to get more of an understanding of how things work. It was a great experience.

So, this annual council thing. What is it? It's like a company AGM (annual general meeting). They vote in the new officers. They hear about the performance and successes last year and they hear about the strategy for the year ahead. Members get to vote on things, and there is open floor debate on any issues required. Quite a PLC AGM type thing. There is a huge difference though - it's not about money when you come to the NSPCC, it's about the very deeply held beliefs, values and vision of a huge number of people who believe that cruelty to children isn't right and can be stopped. This is a passion. This is a hugely driving force. It is quite something to see 400+ people in a room with such a passion. It got them from all corners of the UK to a council session in London. It provides them with the inspiration for the fundraising, and the work with children that many of them do. It's quite something to see.

As an observer I was given a brown ticket. This was important because if you have a green ticket - a member of the council - you can vote on stuff. As an observer I could speak if I wanted to - pose questions to the top team etc, but not vote. A weird experience for me - not having the ability to make a decision in the room!

The day was well structured. It had a clear agenda. It's production value and organisation was a little questionable at time - note to TCL team : we do a better job of organising our parties :). It had a diverse group of people presenting including the NSPCC Top Team, The Talk to Trustees group (young people from around the country who are directly engaged at the top level to provide insights) and guest speakers such as Floella Benjamin.

So, here's the top 5 things I learnt on the day:
  • Purpose - the common purpose that binds the NSPCC is quite something. The behaviours it brings out in people are amazing. The passion and compassion that binds such a large group together is remarkable and quite inspiring to experience. While a great many people are paid to work as part of the NSPCC a lot also do things for free and happily donate of their time and energies to further a cause in which they strongly believe.
  • There's not enough money - £160million is what the NSPCC raised last year. A lot of cash. The UK government spend >£6BN on child services each year though, and that shows how little the NSPCC can do with their £160million. Most importantly both lots added together, along with all the money spent by other childrens charities, is still not getting the job done, and everyone agrees they don't know what it would take to do it all. All they do know is that they can make a difference for some people and some children with what they do, and so they get on with it.
  • Charity vs Business - The NSPCC seems to be very well run, and a high percentage of its money goes directly into work that helps children. They run it like a business and have a high calibre top team to keep it under control. Interestingly, the top team are all equally passionate about the work of the charity.
  • Floella Benjamin is a legend - Giving the closing address Floella was an absolute legend. Employing all her skills and training as an actress she commanded a room of 400+ people with emotion and energy. No notes for the talk that lasted about 20 mins. It was told as all good presentations should be, in the format of a story - with a begining, a middle and an end. But Wow! what impact! Everyone left the room engaged and inspired and amazed. I was lucky enough to meet up with her a few days ago here at the University and was able to tell her how cool I thought the presentation was.
  • We can do more - there's a lot we can't do for the NSPCC here at TCL. We aren't trained counsellors for instance, and indeed some of us couldn't or wouldn't enjoy that kind of task. We can do more though. We can donate some time to help them with IT issues. We can go to more events and raise more money. We can volunteer to help at different things and we can, as they encourage us to do, take personal accountability and if and when we see things like cruelty to children we can report it and we can help stop it.

The most difficult part of the day for me was in listening to the new strategy for the NSPCC for the year. They said it like any business would....they said ' we recognise that we can't do everything and that we have a cause we believe in. We therefore want to do the most with what we have available to us, and to that end we recognise that some of our services and operations are not efficient enough, and by changing what we do, removing some services and re-organising the way we operate we can have more impact. So, next year we are closing or relocating some centres, phasing out some services and diverting our resources to several key campaigns. We are going to concentrate on awareness and education, and removing the root causes of child cruelty.'

So, I'm sitting there and I hear this, and I am split. One part of me - the businessman - thinks this is all very reasonable and the right thing to do. It will achieve greater results and that is very valuable. The other part - let's call him the human being - thinks this is not good enough.

If there is one place you should be able to do everything it should be when it comes to protecting children. Removing services leaves kids at risk and can lead to disasters. Closing down centres takes vital volunteers out of the loop and asking people to do more than they are already doing is probably going to prove to be difficult. I want them to seek out the wrong, and to shed light into the darkness for children who can't stop what is affecting them, and to do so with infinite vigilance and infinite capacity. But it just can't be that way.

So, I am left with a dilema. I finally see a charity running itself very professionally, but it doesnt make me feel good to see what it has to do to achieve that!

Then comes the engagement. The open panel of the top team. The open debate. The voicing of concerns. You start to appreciate that these decisions have genuinely been hard. That people feel the same anxiety that I had done. That the top team had felt the same anxiety too. But they could see that to do more with what they had was better than doing the same, or in believing that it would get better without them changing. They knew how far they could stretch £160million and they knew how much of a gap it left. They had found what was realistic for them to achieve. It was a very good session. I still didnt 100% feel comfortable with it all, but I did clearly recognise the value they were trying to create and that their intentions were good.

And so where does this leave me? I've come from the annual council meeting inspired to help them more. In understanding their needs and vision for the NSPCC I have seen ways in which I, TCL and indeed everyone can help them and I intend that we do so.

I've already engaged with someone to join our team to specifically own and drive new initiatives with the NSPCC and St Michaels Small School and I've stepped up my committments in 2010 to helping them raise funds. Part of the new Charities Officer role that Cheree O'Melia will be taking on will be to engage more with both the charities and everyone in TCL and to facilitate more endeavours across the organisation that support the works of the charities. She'll also be getting more information out to everyone and publicising more of what we do, and the benefits it brings. I hope too that by the start of next year we will also have updated our policy on Corporate Social Responsibility.

I hope that when reading this you recognise some ways in which you too can help, and look forward to speaking with you about those. I'd like to thank those of you that have already signed up for events like the Great West Run, and also to those who have expressed interest in getting involved next year. It is much appreciated.

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