Questions about whether a particular charity fulfils its aims are being asked with increasing frequency these days, and quite right too. It’s no longer enough for a charity to have good intentions. They need to show that they’re putting those intentions to some sort of use because money is tight and need is high. There is an important point here about how we judge the kinds of services that are delivered by charities.
The general assumption is that it is rather hard to judge how a charity performs. There is an absence of standardised and comparable measurement, and the evidence from evaluations is of poor quality. Some charities go so far as to say that evidencing the value of their work is simply impossible. One such charity is Kids Company, a charity founded in London in 1996 by Camila Batmanghelidjh, which has an unusual model, a significant media profile and influence beyond its size. All of this makes it an interesting organisation to assess, via public information the charity shares on its website, the media and its annual reports.
The charity’s view is that ‘measuring the true impact of Kids Company is not possible’ because ‘society has not developed evidencing tools which capture the potency of hope, the rekindling of imagination and returning children to dignity’. That’s a characteristic bit of Kids Company rhetoric. It plays on the emotions but doesn’t give us much detail to go on. At the same time, indeed in the very same report, the charity does give us success rates, of 80-100 per cent. What do these percentages convey? That is a very good question. One I go into in more detail in a longer article here. The short answer is, much as the charity itself suggests, not very much.
Dr Genevieve Maitland Hudson is a researcher and consultant. She works with the consultancy Osca focusing on evaluations, user feedback and standardised measurement of social impact. She has previously worked at the Young Foundation and Kids Company and was a lecturer at the Universities of Oxford, Birkbeck, Roehampton and the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris.