You would have to have been living under a rock to have missed the headlines regarding the young people's charity Kids Company in recent weeks. There have been plenty - and they have not been positive.
Here are 7 truths about the charity - that you aren't seeing in the media - compiled by notdeadfish Director, Anita Kerwin-Nye.
1. Charities run a lot of services that most people would think are/should be delivered by the State (whether those people believe in large public sector or small). They always have. They always will...
Much of the discourse has centred on why Kids Company were running services for vulnerable children rather than the local authority. That – like so many of the issues raised in this sad affair – is a question worth discussing, but to feign surprise that it happens, is to misunderstand the role of charities in this country’s history.
2. ...and they run these services with funding from a range of sources – not all of it from the public sector
There are very good questions about value for money for Kids Company’s work that need to be explored. But alongside government funding, they – like so many others – subsidised services that could/should have been delivered by the public sector with private and voluntary funding and volunteer time.
Nurses for cancer patients (funded by Macmillan in part using the very call centres that The Daily Mail ‘exposed’ as ‘greedy moneymakers’); speech and language therapists for children who cannot speak, protecting our national homes and heritage via the National Trust, lifeguarding while our children swim in the sea – these are all services that we take for granted as part of our infrastructure. Yet all are funded to a large degree from non-statutory sources. There is a good chance that if you have a cardiac arrest tonight, the first person to your door – and the one most likely to save you – will be a volunteer.
In the hysteria about how much state money has been given to Kids Company, an analysis of how much other resource the charity brought to the cause would be helpful.
3. Organisations fail – it isn’t always about bad management
We don’t know for sure what happened at Kids Company – but lots of organisations from all sectors fail and it isn’t always about mismanagement. A change in income streams, a new competitor, something that removes the need for the product – all these things happen. Yes, good management can help mitigate the impact, but sometimes closure is inevitable and if we created a charity culture that accepted this, trustees might make earlier and better decisions (and regardless of what happened there is no doubt that the Kids Company closure was messy and damaging for young people and employees).
Compare the car crash that was their exit with BAAF. The organisation had a clear message – organised plans for users, clarity for staff, and a sense of control rather than panic in their last moments that will help to secure a legacy for their work.
4. Funders are allowed to attach conditions to their funding...
Shock and horror from the charity sector that the government imposed restrictions on their funding, including that that the CEO stepped aside, is unrealistic. This is not a new or unreasonable practice and if the funder wants to impose restrictions that they think are necessary to protect their investment – they can. In other charities, these have included making an appointment to the trustees, attaching business advisors to charities, asking for staff training and – on occasion – changes to staffing structures.
The trustees can refuse to accept these conditions – that is their right and Kids Company could – assuming negotiations otherwise failed – have simply said no to the government’s requests if it felt them unreasonable.
5. …but making those conditions public is not really good form
Who said what, when, is really not clear – we are now in a phase of spin and counter spin. But if it was the government who leaked their position on Camilla, then it is clear that this was not really their place to do so.
6. Funding is not an exact science
There is no perfect algorithm, no infallible decision-making tool. Funders are human. Funders take risks – without risk there is a little chance of innovation and development. Some things that the government funds will fail – in all or part. Some of them will fail on a massive scale (the NHS IT infrastructure project, anyone?). Caroline Fiennes writing in Third Sector makes a good case for random grant allocations making the ‘randomness’ attached to grants a formal part of the process.
Good funders reduce the risk of failure with robust health checks, transparent processes, by being open to challenges and by matching the scale of funding to risk. The most effective grantmaker/grantee relationships are developed over time and allow honesty about risks. Many charities are frightened of discussing problems or failure with their funders and this prevents clever people from working together to create clever solutions.
7. Kids Company did good things
Yes, there are questions about governance, leadership, value for money, etc. But from the media and beyond you’d think that they had been torturing cute puppies and running Fagin-style gangs. I know one of the Headteachers who had a Kids Company service in his school –he is the savviest, most child-centered school leader going and he thought it worth giving them space and time. Across the piece, some of the most vulnerable kids in our society talk about Kids Company as their family – the one thing they can rely on.
Leaving aside the need to find replacement services for these children and young people, we need to stop the hysteria (and rather unpleasant joy in some quarters at the felling of a tall poppy) and learn not just what they did wrong – but also what they did so right.