December 12, 2022 - 4:00pm

For a certain sort of charity, publicity is a double-edged sword. While a higher profile can help bring in donations — or exert pressure on local authorities and grant-giving bodies — it can bring unwelcome scrutiny in its train.

The founders of the Captain Tom Foundation learned this to their cost; when online sleuths started looking at their records, the result was an ocean of bad press and a formal investigation by the Charity Commission.

Now it looks as if Sistah Space, the charity run by Ngozi Fulani — who is currently waging a high-profile campaign against the Royal Family after an incident at an event at Buckingham Palace — might be in for a similar ride, having just paused its operations in the wake of the Lady Susan Hussey affair.

In an eye-popping thread, a Twitter user known only as ‘James’ claims to have done a deep dive into the organisation’s records and practices and uncovered a litany of issues. 

These include: trustees posing as independent examiners to sign off the accounts; accounts being drawn up on the wrong basis; a 4703% year-on-year increase in administrative expenses; the use of donations to buy wares for sale in the charity’s shop; the use of unsubstantiated (and suspiciously round) numbers in grant applications; and much more. Of course, this is on top of the usual stuff about close links to businesses run by family and friends. 

It’s important to note that, at present, we have not seen all the documentary evidence ‘James’ appears to have collected, although they have made a start on showing their working in a second thread. It may be that some or all of it is mistaken, or that a formal investigation finds good explanations for the supposed discrepancies.

But unless the charge sheet has been invented out of whole cloth, it is remarkable that an organisation in a regulated sector could conduct itself in this way, and only get rumbled because its leader secured saturation coverage in the national media.

Charities often enjoy a halo effect with the public and politicians. But their failure to turn a profit too often blinds people to the fact that they provide numerous other avenues for personal enrichment, whether that’s a bloated payroll or the purchase of ‘consultancy’ services from companies run by those involved. 

After a story like the Captain Tom Foundation, or Kids Company, the focus is usually on end-user charities. And there does seem to be plenty of scope for better regulation there, be it restrictions on buying services from connected companies or stricter governance on pay.

But even a better-resourced and more active Charity Commission can’t be everywhere. There ought also to be a stronger duty on the sort of organisations that hand out grants both to do due diligence on the parties receiving their funding, and to make sure money is handed over with a clear plan for how they will be spent effectively, for which charity bosses can be held to account. Sistah Space, having evaded public scrutiny until its CEO found herself on the cover of national newspapers, now has its financial affairs under the microscope. She may now regret ever stepping into the spotlight in the first place.

Henry Hill is Deputy Editor of ConservativeHome.