Peter Cardy: Do not play softball with Kids Company

Sector veteran Peter Cardy offers answers to your workplace dilemmas

Peter Cardy
Peter Cardy

Q. Don't you think the Insolvency Service's intention to bring disqualification proceedings against the former trustees and chief executive of Kids Company is breaking a butterfly on a wheel?

A. Sorry to disappoint you, but I think it's exactly the right thing to do, and similar sanctions should be used against charities more often, rather than playing softball. Charity is serious work for our society and stark reminders are needed from time to time. It will be a bonus if the case also clarifies the ambiguous position of chief executives as shadow or de facto directors, though the result may be more sleepless nights for already stressed chiefs. My deepest regret is that no sanctions have been used against the irresponsible ministers who acted like payday lenders and kept raising the charity's credit limit to burnish their own reputations, despite warnings from civil servants about its solvency. Where are they now?

Q. I have been successfully raising funds for a small charity for years, mainly from trusts and members of the public. But I'm starting to get uneasy that projects never turn out quite as expected, and I don't know whether to insist that the charity return some of the donations. Your advice?

A. First, look back at the applications to see how tightly you defined the request, then at the donors' letters to check whether they had more or fewer restrictions than the application. Most major donors have some latitude in their giving and, provided that the gift was spent for the broad purpose intended, will not be too worried about the small print. Indeed, for many large donors having a grant returned is an accounting headache. But it is right for you to raise the issue: donors are entitled to know that their grants were spent for the purpose intended and, if the mission drift you describe is serious, the charity could be in trouble.

Q. What do you think about this statement from an annual report? "X joined us in April 2016 from (another big non-profit) where he was also chief executive. His mission is to inspire colleagues to remain true to our social purpose using the power of the collective to improve people's lives. X is passionate about our purpose."

A. A masterpiece of vacuous insincerity, and in fewer than 50 words. If I never hear another chief executive claiming to be passionate or excited, it won't be too soon. Why isn't it enough to say that you support the cause, find the job interesting and are going to do your best?

Q. Do you think Scope's plans to transfer all its adult care and children's services to other providers are too radical?

A. "Radical" scarcely cuts it. With a vision rather than a blueprint, the chief executive Mark Atkinson is planning to rebuild the entire plane, in flight, taking off the wings and tail and putting them onto a different plane. For that kind of project, you'd usually employ an engineer who has rebuilt some other big planes and lived to tell the tale. His trustees must have great confidence in him and themselves. I hope they have properly assessed the risks of the whole machine falling out of the sky because of apparently minor failures such as an IT virus, a data security breach, an HR challenge or cash-flow problems. My advice would be: don't bet the farm - it doesn't belong to you.

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