Kids’ Company recently hit the news headlines when Government funding was withdrawn and the organisation closed down. You may remember the high-profile charity whose charismatic founder Camila Batmanghelidjh featured on many TV magazine and news programmes publicising their work. The charity provided a safe place for children and young people to meet, talk to others and to youth workers, get advice and information and generally just ‘chill out’ away from the cares of their everyday lives. On TV programmes it seemed to be the kind of charity that is much needed, but very difficult to fund.
Nowadays, grant funders very rarely fund running costs. They want to fund specific projects which are new in some way, which they can put their brand on and claim as things they have funded. They don’t want to pay staff costs, except to start up: they want to pay for concrete items such as premises or equipment. The charity is meant to raise the funding to run the project some other way.
Normally this can be done by charging for services. A day centre for elderly people can chug along the bottom level by charging a small amount for meals, activities or just an entrance fee. Provided the people they help are not too poor to be able to afford it. To top up the amount, fundraising including sponsored events, fairs and raffles can provide the little extras.
But Kids’ Company was working with children and young people with no income, sometimes abandoned, always on the edges of society. They could not pay admission charges so practically all the funding had to come from grants. Grant funders would have started them off, but eventually that source dries up, and Ms Batmanghelidjh turned to TV appeals for donations and requests for government funding. Her work was seen by the Prime Minister as valuable and the Government agreed to fund it.
Since the collapse, a report has claimed that the charity was given £46m of public money, “despite repeated concerns” and investigations continue amid allegations of child abuse, financial impropriety and mismanagement.
From the point of view of a small provincial charity looking in from the outside, it seemed to us that Ms Batmanghelidjh turned up at the Prime Minister’s door and asked for financial help to keep her service running, which we would all do given the opportunity. The Government should support good causes using public money. That’s its job!
This should not be an argument about the Government giving public funds to worthwhile activity, which is what it feels like for the Charity sector at the moment!
This feels like a red herring deflecting attention when the real issue is the way that the Government did it; responding to individuals as opposed to a fair and transparent process, no matter how charismatic they are, and its failure to support or demand performance improvement where it is insufficient. Government should effectively performance manage publicly funded activity wherever it takes place e.g. Private sector, local Council or Hospital or the voluntary sector, ensuring that every public pound delivers what it should, when it should, and to a high quality.
Perhaps all hard-to-fund charities should do the same. The government may have invested public money in unsustainable service delivery, but there is no other option with those activities. If you want poor, elderly people looked after, if you want children’s services for families in poverty, if you want to help newly-arrived refugees, those people have no money to pay for the help so society must do it. If you live in a humane society, that is what you do, because one day you (or someone you care about) might be in financial difficulties and might need the help of those charities. We can’t all individually help everyone who needs it – we don’t have the time or resources – but the government can help, and since they take their funding from us, then they should help.
Life is not all about profits, and you can’t take money with you when you die, but you can take the goodwill of the majority of people.