The RSPCA just don’t get it – even when they realise that their brand has become toxic

When news of the internal RSPCA memo leaked to the Times started to break it was obvious that although the RSPCA were beginning to realise that their brand had become toxic they were still in denial about the reasons for the public’s disquiet, even though the author, Paul Draycott,  warned that the RSPCA will not be around in ten years time if it does not address the way it is perceived by the general public.

In the past, the RSPCA’s first instinct has been to try and silence their critics.   Copies of the leaked memo have now been removed from James Barrington’s blog  by request, although he does not state by whose request.  Inevitably, all that this has achieved is the clandestine circulation of the memo among critics and the boosting of its popularity on social media.

The author of the report is right to be concerned but wrong to look anywhere but the RSPCA itself for the reasons behind the current downward spiral.

The downward spiral is not the result of a campaign of villification against the RSPCA orchestrated in conjunction with the Countryside Alliance,  nor is it the result of a lack of support among other campaigning groups.  The fault is not the arrival of Gavin Grant and his ‘in yer face’ political campaigns, although they may have hastened the decline.

For many years the RSPCA has been the ‘golden boy’ of the British media.  Criticisms were either ignored or drowned out by a tidal wave of ‘fluffy bunny’ stories.  The problem for the RSPCA was that in order to keep their media presence they always had to be saying something.  And that something had to be both new and at least slightly upsetting for its target (the donating) audience.

Somewhere in the scrabble for column space the RSPCA discovered that busy journalists rarely had time to check the facts and figures provided in RSPCA press releases .  The figures the RSPCA released began to misrepresent the facts.  Prosecutions became more controversial.  Vulnerable people and groups who would normally be seen as supporters of the RSPCA were perceived as being targeted to raise the numbers of successful prosecutions.  People who were the subject of RSPCA investigations and prosecutions committed suicide and even went missing.  Even those who went on to win their cases and who came out of court with a ‘Not Guilty’ verdict found they had no animals left.  Small sanctuaries, popular among local people, found themselves prosecuted.  Supporters claimed it was because they had attracted donations the RSPCA believed were rightfully theirs.

It did not need glamorous media campaigns driven by the Countryside Alliance to  change the public’s perception of the RSPCA.  The RSPCA achieved it all by themselves.

New ideas which are a complete reversal of generally accepted facts take time to become accepted by the public.  To some extent it is a bit like a nuclear reaction.  It doesn’t matter how agitated or active any individual becomes, unless the people they interact with are prepared to accept those ideas and pass them on, nothing happens.  But when lots of people know someone they don’t think should have been prosecuted, or know about an animal they think was killed unnecessarily, then just like a nuclear reaction that has gone out of control the public viewpoint changes.

There have been lots of warnings over the years that should have alerted the RSPCA to what was happening.  They were ignored.  Having gained a  special position, not only in the eyes of the public and the media, but in the prosecution system too, the RSPCA appears to be unable to accept any criticism or to understand that they only have friends because their friends approve of what they are doing.

Mr. Draycott is correct in worrying that millions of pounds in sponsorship from companies could be lost, but if it is lost it will not be because of political campaigning.  It will be because those who care about the animals in their lives are appalled at the high kill rates and the targeting of vulnerable people.  These people, who fear for their own animals’ safety, are telling companies that they will not patronise those who donate to the RSPCA.  The SHG has been asked to publish a list of companies with links to the RSPCA so that people know who to avoid.

Again, the potential for people changing their wills is a real possibility.  But the reasons are varied.  Even ignoring the horror many people feel at the way the RSPCA treats both animals and the vulnerable, why would anyone leave property to the RSPCA when they fail to follow the wishes of the donor and bulldoze the wildlife haven he left them?   When they go to court to wring more out of the family and friends of the person who left them the money?  Or when they even auction the childhood toys of a daughter who was ultimately successful in challenging her parents’ wills?  If the RSPCA is receiving reports that people are reluctant to leave them legacies they only have themselves to blame.

Legacies and donations fall when people do not believe in the core values of the organisation.   The RSPCA has moved so far away from its ordinary supporters that when it finally realised there was a problem and sent an employee to join internet forums to interact with members, the wave of anger and opposition drove the RSPCA to disappear from the forum, which has now run to 166 pages of posts.

A measure of how angry and disillusioned the public is about the RSPCA is the success of a government e-petition asking for an investigation into the RSPCA’s activities and infringements of civil rights,  which has currently reached nearly 10,000 signatures.

The Draycott report concluded that the RSPCA was “fighting too many battles on too many fronts” and that it needed to regroup and resolve its most urgent problems.  The trouble is that when problems are left to fester they tend to multiply.  The RSPCA has a major problem looming that was only touched on in the report.

The report states:

The Charity Commission has just responded to our latest response to the complaint letter from the NFU.  The fact that they have requested a meeting with the Trustees is worrying.  We need to make sure that when this takes place that all the Trustees are aware of the potential risks involved.  It is quite clear that the stakes have now been raised.

The stakes have been raised far higher than the RSPCA realise.

The Charity Commission recently  published revised public benefit guidancePart 4 of that guidance requires a charity to identify risks of harm, minimise those risks of harm, and to make sure that any harm that might arise is a minor consequence of carrying out the purpose.

The issues and concerns mentioned in this article are the tip of the iceberg in terms of the harm done by the RSPCA.  Can they justify that harm as a minor consequence of carrying out their purpose?  Perhaps the real question is:

How many horses are worth a man’s life?

Will there be a £3 million defecit in the 2013 accounts?  Will they be gone in ten years time?  That is up to the RSPCA itself.