Excuse the tabloid-esque headline, but I was a little shocked to find Camila Batmanghelidjh, erstwhile social entrepreneur-founder of Kids Company, on page 3 of the Sunday paper, pleading with government for money. Kids’ Company are widely recognised as a hugely successful organisation delivering exactly the kind of outcomes that society and government want: helping teenagers and children who have been neglected or abused, and helping them avoid getting into further trouble / into a cycle of crime and exclusion.
Batmangehlidjh’s desperation certainly comes across in the article, referencing her own personal commitment / risk (re-mortgaging her house twice, running the organisation for 11 years) and detailing how much she wants to return to the front-line of helping the children. As she puts it:
"The kids and staff want me back at street level. What am I doing,
walking around going to cocktail parties and doing handshakes and photo
opportunities for money?"
Which is something that scale / profile can bring to an organisation…problems as well as benefits. It is translating the higher profile and recognition (which Batmanghelidjh has raised incomparably) into funding and benefits to the organisation that is so important and, sometimes, so difficult. And using the media in this fashion is an interesting tactic: how will the government react to "a long-term funding package" being demanded of them in such a public arena? Particularly, as their spokesman puts it, "We are in the process of finalising the budget for the next three years. These concerns are a little premature." (aka, we’re pretty likely to fund them anyway). Given that countless charitable organisations are trying to close a deficit for the end of the financial year / next year’s budget, and they would all like a long-term funding package from government, some might ask why should Kids’ Company be a special case? Or, to be really cynical, is this as much about keeping the profile high?
You will get no disagreement from me that the organisation should be supported: its work and its leader are widely recognised as delivering effectively, and having a real, tangible impact. But will the Observer do a supporting editorial for every charity/social enterprise in a similar position, many of whom have nothing like the profile? Lobbying government is different from trying to badger or bully it and, as some of the comments underneath the editorial suggest, it could raise questions about the organisation, however unfair (is she the only person out of 181 staff doing any fundraising, and asking over 20,000 sources on her own?). As well as raising questions about this method of campaigning: as one comment puts it: "if this leader reflects the direction that the discussion is heading,
I’d advise fundraisers put aside their lottery application forms and
simply phone Max Clifford instead"
On the flipside, there will be those that argue that this is the most effective way for the organisation to translate its and its founder’s profile into sustainable funding, and that lots of charities use the media to campaign and challenge government on a regular basis. It’s also putting a very relevant debate on the table (fundraising / bureaucracy / complex funding sources / local vs central govt etc) for wider discussion and awareness. Which is welcome. And maybe the criticism comes from organisations which would love a similar profile and reputation?
Ultimately, we’ll see how it turns out; I’d imagine they will get another 3-year government funding package, particularly given their work hits one of the key priorities, and given the evidence from the evaluations that have been conducted into their impact. But I wonder if the long-term effects of this move might not be wholly positive.