Camila Batmanghelidjh’s primacy in Kids Company’s work and its relationships with funders has seized much of the spotlight around the charity’s tragic demise. Her organisation was, as one commentator put it, ‘synonymous with her image’.

Having a founder at the helm for a long time can be problematic in many ways, most of them far from the extremes reached by Kids Company, but there are nonetheless lessons to be learnt from this high-profile example.

Founders or long-standing chief executives naturally have a strong sense of ownership over a charity’s vision, direction, and the means of achieving it. They are often intimidating forces – that’s why they’ve been in post for so long of course – and the organisation will naturally be grateful to them for getting it to where it is today. They will most likely hold a lot of the strings, and a lot of the relationships that are intrinsic to operations, be they with funders, partners, or influencers (including journalists and politicians). All this can and does deliver huge benefits for a charity, but a tipping point can be reached when those benefits are counter-balanced by the limitations they place on things, and the risks they pose for the future. Even if your founder or chief executive is doing an amazing job, and you just want it to carry on forever, it won’t, and there’ll come a day when you need to be able to rely on other faces for your organisation.

Clearly responsibility for addressing these issues sits primarily with trustees and senior management, but responsibility for managing the face of your organisation sits with communications. If your leader is in danger of swamping your charity’s brand, if your organisation’s name has become inseparable from the individual, communications has a fundamental role to play in mitigating the associated risks and creating a better balance.

There are lots of things you can do to add more faces to the charity, starting with identifying those from across the organisation who might be well-placed to hold strong associations with the brand. Commonly, these will include members of the senior management team or department heads who have strong specialist expertise or interesting personal connections, trustees with particularly strong profiles, senior staff, and even service users and volunteers to some degree.

Here are a few of the things that work particularly well, all of which offer broad value for your organisation while also helping you address the implications of your leadership issue.

  • As a minimum, make sure a range of senior staff and trustees have their own professionally-focused social media platforms, and are using them to the best value for the organisation. They should be as well connected (or almost) as your chief executive.There’s some great advice on engaging trustees available on CharityComms.
  • Make sure you have a range of ‘expert commentators’ or spokespeople profiled in a media centre on your website, so journalists and producers can be more easily convinced to talk to someone who isn’t your chief exec or founder.
  • Invest in training for those spokespeople, so you and they feel confident taking up interview opportunities when they arise.
  • Place staff profiles in professional and special-interest media (also a great way to boost recruitment and staff morale!).
  • Embark on a concerted thought leadership programme to put senior experts from across your staff team into the spotlight with speaking opportunities, by-lined opinion pieces in relevant media, webcasts and blog posts on your website, Q&A sessions on Facebook and so on.
  • Build a strong case study library to allow you to push the stories of individuals and families (not just beneficiaries, but volunteers, fundraisers, partners and staff members) to sit alongside comment from your go-to spokesperson, helping to widen the sense of what you do.
  • Establish and promote a service user council. This can act as a great vehicle for telling the stories of engaging and engaged individuals on the other end of your work, who are playing an active role in governance.

All this has value not just in the extremes of dominant leadership, of course, but also as good practice for succession planning. Wherever you are along that path, don’t leave it too late, and don’t underestimate your job within it all as a communications professional.