Giving a little for a better society

We can all contribute to our recovery, in our communities or for a cause, and it doesn’t have to be financial, writes Frank Flannery

THE charity sector is facing a perfect storm of government cuts, reduction in fundraised income due to the recession and the departure of two of the largest philanthropic foundations, Atlantic Philanthropies and the One Foundation, both of which had a tremendous impact on Irish society.

This has created a “burning plat- form” which underscores the need to address the underdeveloped nature of philanthropy in Ireland. The recession has had a significant impact on charitable donations with charities reporting income drops of up to 40%.

Trusts and foundations invest in excess of €61m a year in Ireland but the majority of that funding comes from two foundations both of which are now spending down. Nor is the drop in income confined to charities; sporting clubs and arts organisations are also struggling to survive in the current environment. Never has the task of encouraging giving and philanthropy been more necessary.

However, there is a strong argument now that Irish people need to consider the way in which we give.

While a quick donation on the side of the street can have an impact over a few days or weeks, an approach that sees people actually plan out their donations can have a fundamental impact over a lifetime.

A new National Giving Campaign, to be launched in the coming months, aims to create the awareness of the difference that a planned giving or philanthropy can actually make.

Philanthropy is not a word that Irish people use that often. In our history we have benefited a great deal from philanthropy. Whether it is from Dean Swift’s legacy, which paid for the setting up of St Patrick’s Hospital, to our time, where Chuck Feeney’s astonishing generosity has played a major role in developing third-level education in Ireland, promoting children’s rights, and improving life for the elderly.

These examples make philanthropy sound like a word that is the preserve of the very powerful or very wealthy. In fact, anybody can be a philanthropist, because it is the intent not the amount which makes someone a philanthropist.

Philanthropy in essence is about committed investing in solving social problems and building a more vibrant civil society. It is a very particular form of charitable giving that is characterised by taking the time to think through how you can best use your resources to solve social problems and make a real difference.

The report of the Forum on Philanthropy and Fundraising set out an ambitious strategy to increase charitable and philanthropic giving by 10% year on year in Ireland from its current level of about €500m per annum to €800m by 2016.

One of the key elements of the strategy is the National Giving Campaign, designed to drive a measurable increase in private planned investment from high net-worth individuals, corporates and the general public and to encourage everyone to give their time and skills to support good causes.

Despite the recession, our research indicates that if properly asked, the Irish people are willing to increase their donations. Our research shows the Irish people respond best when they can see the need and all of us can now see the need in our communities as never before.

In addition, not all sectors of the Irish economy are experiencing a downturn. Irish exports are growing. The multinational sector is doing well. There are still significant private resources which could be released for investment in the public good.

Moreover, our research is showing we want to play a positive part in the nation’s recovery. Investing in civil society can also deliver tangible economic benefits.

The wider not-for-profit sector employs over 100,000 people, in almost every community — which is equivalent to the numbers employed in the ICT sector and pharmaceutical sectors combined. The sector has an annual turnover of €5.7bn, generates €3.7bn in wages and salaries and €290m in employers PRSI per annum.

Investing in the sector will lead to more jobs and a brighter future for all our people. The not-for-profit sector, unlike government and business can can unleash the talents and passion and commitment of thousands of volunteers to create a better Ireland.

Not everyone can contribute financially but we can all pull together to give time to our local communities or to a cause we are passionate about and make a tangible difference, not just for a few days or weeks but for a lifetime.

*Frank Flannery is chair of the Forum on Philanthropy and Fundraising

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