In his recent piece Civil Society editor, David Ainsworth, looks at the case of the charity founder who mistakenly paid herself £31,000. He rightly states that it throws up a lot of questions for charities. Some very interesting ideas concerning charity governance and a means of identifying charities whose impact is minimal.
A public benefit assessment is a good idea, Charities are required to report on public benefit in their accounts. However, I see so many of these statements that appear to have been drafted in a manner intended to simply satisfy the regulatory requirement. Advisors should be recommending to charity trustees that public benefit statements go beyond the minimum level required and really tell a story about the impact the charity has had.
Unfortunately, the Charity Commission's resources are so strained that any meaningful consideration by the regulator of a public benefit statement is unlikely. The onus really falls on trustees to acknowledge that they have "absolutely no prospect of success" - something that is perhaps just as unlikely.
I share Mr Ainsworth's sympathy with Wendy Watson. Whilst there must be more to it that has been reported, her advisors must share part of the blame. Watson states that she asked if she could be paid, and the answer from her advisors was "yes".
The charity is a damaging failure, essentially, but one where there appears to have been no malice. Watson is the picture of a good-hearted charity founder who suddenly discovered she was outside the limits of her competence. She still appears unclear about what she actually did wrong. I feel rather bad for Watson in this situation – just as I feel a little bit for the trustees of Kids Company. If you try to do good and fall over your feet, you are judged much more harshly than if you just sat on your hands and did absolutely nothing of any use to anyone. That feels wrong to me.