It’s hard to imagine a better time to become board chair of Save the Children (STC), the international humanitarian organization whose U.S. headquarters is located in Fairfield, according to Brad Irwin.
“The organization is really healthy,” the New Canaan resident, whose election was announced on Jan. 2, said. “We’re just wrapping up our final numbers for 2018 and it looks like we’re going to see double-digit revenue growth.”
While he declined to specify what those digits might be, the fact is STC finished 2017 with $807.4 million in revenue — a 16 percent increase over 2016’s $696.3 million. Assuming a 10 percent growth over ’17, if the group’s projections are correct, that would mean total 2018 revenue of $888 million.
According to the Giving USA Foundation, which publishes data and trends about charitable giving around the country, such giving by American individuals, bequests, foundations and corporations to U.S. charities totaled $410 billion in 2017, a 5.2 percent increase over 2016 and the first time such contributions topped $400 billion in a single year.
In addition to being able to capitalize on that trend, Irwin credited STC’s leadership team, including President and CEO Carolyn Miles, for maximizing the group’s fund-raising efforts.
The timing of Irwin’s appointment is also auspicious because STC is observing its 100th anniversary this year. Founded in London on April 15, 1919, by sisters Eglantyne Jebb and Dorothy Buxton to address the issue of child starvation in Germany and Austria-Hungary during the Allied blockade of World War I and its aftermath, the organization has since expanded its operations to over 120 countries. In 2017, its mission to promote children’s rights — including providing relief and other areas of support for those in need — reached more than 155 million children.
STC’s U.S. operations began in 1932 in Manhattan. It moved to Norwalk in the 1960s and to Westport in 1974 before taking its current space at 501 Kings Highway East in Fairfield in 2014.
A longtime STC board member, Irwin’s resume includes being CEO at packaged goods company Welch’s for nearly 10 years before his retirement last year. Prior to that he was president of Cadbury North America, preceded by a stint as president of Mott’s Inc.
It was during his time at Mott’s that the company decided to become formally involved with a child-focused humanitarian organization. After asking employees to vote on a handful of candidates, “Save the Children won in a landslide,” Irwin said.
Irwin has visited STC’s early learning programs in rural Arkansas, Kentucky, South Carolina and West Virginia as well as child health and nutrition programs in rural Guatemala and the agency’s programs to discourage and prevent child marriage in India.
“Continuing to grow and evolve as a U.S. and international organization is the priority right now,” he said. “We want to focus on how we can be even more efficient and effective in the implementation of our programs that are happening overseas.”
Irwin identified three main areas of focus for the next several years: improving the worldwide child mortality rate, which he said has been reduced by half since 1990; increasing children’s access to education, including those living in refugee camps in such locations as Syria (more than 90 percent of children in the developing world are enrolled in school, according to the organization); and increasingly protecting children living in dangerous areas, particularly where conflicts are taking place, such as in Syria and Bangladesh.
The organization faced a serious challenge last year when hackers gained entry into an employee’s email account, allowing them to issue fake invoices and undertake other means to direct about $1 million to a fraudulent entity based in Japan.
“We have taken the appropriate steps to train our colleagues and tighten up our cybersecurity efforts,” Irwin said. “What has been underreported is the fact that we received almost all of that money back through our insurance coverage.”
As for the anniversary, Irwin promised a series of events this year, including a gala dinner to be held in New York City on Sept. 12.
And there is the fund-raising. “Given that it’s our 100th year, we thought it appropriate to set a special goal this year of raising $100 million,” Irwin said. “And I’m happy to say that we’re already halfway there.”