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Column: Tarring all charities with the same brush hurts vulnerable people

Worried about how your charitable donation is being spent? Don’t cancel your contribution, ask where it’s going – and expect a straight answer, writes CEO of Fundraising Ireland Anne Hanniffy.

Anne Hanniffy

THE TOP-UP REVELATIONS over the past week are having a disproportionate and unfair impact on the funding efforts of 99 per cent of charities – and, more importantly, on the vulnerable people so reliant on those funds.

This is all the more frustrating because the issue at the centre of the story – top-ups to salaries already paid by state funding – has absolutely nothing to do with the way in which the vast majority of not-for-profit organisations are funded or operate in this country.

The last week has been a difficult one for the not-for-profit sector, have no doubt. The media spotlight on CEOs in the health and disability sector has dominated headlines. The spotlight has exposed how vulnerable the work of fundraisers can be to issues that are completely out of our hands, and completely removed from the projects we are working to raise money for.

If we are all tarred with the same brush, there can be a sense of panic that all donations are at risk of taking circuitous routes. The reality for the majority of charities is far less intriguing – to the point of being boringly predictable. The route from donor to recipient is very straight-forward and much closer to home than even donors might imagine.

The power people’s donations

I saw first-hand the power and immediacy of people’s donations when I worked with GOAL for over eight years, initially in Kenya and Niger and then with Haven in Haiti following the devastating earthquake in late 2010.

Within 48 hours of the earthquake that killed over 250,000 and left up to three million people homeless, we were waiting on the runway of Port-au-Prince airport for the first shipments of life-saving food and non-food items. This was directly due to the generosity and rapid response of the Irish public to this disaster. Their money was making its way to Haiti directly and within hours.

It is people’s donations that often fund those first critical hours and days in an emergency response. State aid and longer-term grant aid often kick into action down the line.

This 24-hour rapid response approach also exists in the work of home-focused not-for-profits. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul will spend most of its Christmas appeal money over the holiday time. Focus Ireland and Simon will spend most of the money that they raise helping people and families without homes now, not next year.

Charities should be measured on the level of their achievements

Transparency, accountability, and regulation are vital to any healthy institution. Charities have a responsibility to ensure that the work we do is well-managed and effective. We owe it to you as donors that your money is used for the hospital wards you want to see renovated or the irrigation projects they want to see developed. Integral to this work are the people who bring these projects to fruition. So, you should also expect that a proportion of a donation goes to fund these people and supports. But, you need to know this, from the start. No surprises.

Ongoing analysis and discussion of how donations are raised and where donations go is healthy; it is welcome. But, let’s have the discussion in context and in full. As fundraisers we believe that charities should be measured on the level of their achievements – the difference they are making for people, the effectiveness of their responses.
We can’t lose sight of the big picture. Otherwise, sick children, families in stress or older people will be the big losers.

Anne Hanniffy is CEO of Fundraising Ireland, the national organisation for professional fundraisers in Ireland.

We’re interested in your ideas and opinions – do you have a story you would like to see featured in Opinion & Insight? Email opinions@thejournal.ie

Read: Ross calls for immediate resignation of CRC Board over salary top-ups

Read: ‘Ministers knew’ about top-up payments for senior health staff

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Anne Hanniffy

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