Philanthropic four: ‘Irish Times’ writers get ready to give

Four journalists – some regularly charitable, some not so much – will flex their philanthropic muscles by giving their time to a cause of their choice for National Giving Week

Mon, Nov 11, 2013, 15:56

Today marks the beginning of Philanthropy Ireland’s National Giving Week, which organisers hope will spark debate and discussion on the relevance of philanthropy in this country.

Organisers are also hoping the week will show people that the word “philanthropy” is not only about billionaire types such as Chuck Feeney giving their fortunes away.

Earlier this year they launched the One Per Cent Difference campaign urging people to donate 1 per cent of their income or time to a good cause. The idea is that, whatever the state of your bank balance, we can all channel our inner Chuck.

“We need to create a debate about giving in Ireland and the role of the not-for-profit sector in Irish life,” says Seamus Mulconry, chief executive of Philanthropy Ireland. “People who give to good causes and volunteer are happier, healthier and more engaged with their communities. Everyone benefits.”

For the week that’s in it we asked four Irish Times writers to donate their time to a project or cause. Some of them have got out of the habit of giving, some are committed givers, anxious to do more.

They will all report back in Saturday’s paper about how they got on. Let us know what you are doing for National Giving Week on

More details on,

St Vincent de Paul

I have rarely felt as guilty as I did the day I went into my bank to cancel all the charitable direct debits I had accumulated over the decade I spent being a chugger’s dream.

A combination of global economic meltdown and newly arrived children meant I could no longer afford all this accidental generosity, but as the bank teller went through the list of good causes I had decided to turn my back on, I felt awful.

Fast-forward five years and economic circumstances have not improved much for me or the country. I am still not in a position to start making frequent charitable donations again, but I want to do something. And all I have is time. But where can it be of most use? Concern? Médecins Sans Frontières? Bóthar? They all need all our help, as do hundreds of other charities.

But this week I am going to try and do something to help the people in my immediate community. The St Vincent de Paul is the charity on the front line in Ireland’s doomed war on austerity. The Vincent de Paul was the first charity I became aware of as a child, because my dad used to collect for them, and I used to marvel at how much his efforts intensified in the run-up to Christmas.

If I could help give just one family a happier Christmas, I might feel a bit better about all the cancelled direct debits. It’s a start.

Suas Literacy Support Programme

I used to sponsor a child and buy goats as Christmas presents, but in the last few years I’ve got out of the habit of giving. I like to think of myself as the charitable sort, but a quick audit of my actual contribution recently made me feel a bit guilty.

National Giving Week is a reminder in these difficult times of the small ways in which we can make a difference, and in the process flex philanthropic muscles that go a bit flabby if not regularly exercised.

I’m not exactly going very far to do my bit. St Joseph’s Co-Ed school in East Wall, Dublin 3, is just around the corner from where I live. And while I did consider volunteering for something that would take me well out of my comfort zone (there was a tempting slot with a mountain rescue team) I opted instead to mentor students with educational charity Suas.

I take part in the work experience programme in The Irish Times, where I facilitate a writing project with transition year students. I would like to think they get something out of it, but it is certainly one of the most rewarding parts of my week. My Friday sessions with them give me a lift, and I never laugh as much at work as I do with these bright, enthusiastic teenagers.

I’m told by my Suas boss that I’ll be doing “paired reading” sessions with two students in St Joseph’s, helping them expand their literacy skills.

Suas, set up to address literacy issues among young people, works with 5,000 children a year in Ireland, India and Kenya. They partner with corporate, community groups and third-level students to deliver quality education programmes. Reading has been one of the great joys of my life, and the prospect of encouraging others to love books has put me in a good mood even before I’ve even started.

News Four, Dublin-based community newspaper

When I was asked to help the News Four team, who run a community newspaper in the Dublin southeast area, I didn’t have to think long before saying yes.

I previously ran a free journalism course for people looking to get into the industry, called Dancing About Architecture, so this is a bit of a continuation of that: experience and advice-based education that is practical and honest. For the next few Tuesday evenings, in a prefab at the back of the Ringsend and Irishtown Community Centre, I’ll be talking to a bunch of very lovely people about reporting, interview techniques, how to pitch articles and more.

I’d say about a third of all the work I do is pro bono. As a freelancer, that’s not a very good business model, but it works for me. I run a spoken-word night with a friend that raises funds for the LGBT resource centre Outhouse; I DJ for strapped organisations whenever anyone needs me; I’m a member of a collaborative project called Agility, which works with start-ups and social ventures; I’m on the board of the Gaze film festival; and I give free media advice to community organisations.

I’m not blowing my own trumpet, but I realised pretty early on in my career that because journalism can be quite dirty, and you’ll never make much money anyway, you might as well do something good with your experience.

Dublin Simon

Charities value loyalty, regular giving and building relationships. In which case, I’m precisely the kind of volunteer they can’t rely on. I’m an ad-hoc, armchair donor. I give erratically to charity at times of tragedy or natural disasters as a way of assuaging my guilt.

I’ve flirted with the idea of volunteering, but convinced myself that a combination of awkward working hours, chronic disorganisation and – let’s face it – bone laziness mean they’re better off without me.

Dublin Simon, however, begs to differ.

It has some 300 part-time and 40 full-time volunteers ,who are helping to run charity shops, soup runs and other vital services for the city’s growing homeless population. But they’re always looking for more.

They insist that just a few hours per week with their social club – run by part-time volunteers – will play a big role in encouraging people who are homeless and isolated to get involved in activities such as drumming, bingo, table quizzes and art classes.

“We look for a sustainable commitment,” says Aoife Mulhall, a Dublin Simon spokeswoman.

“For things like the social club and soup run, we look for a longer-term commitment of a year, so that volunteers can undergo training and develop relationships with clients.”

A year? I’m not sure they realise just how unreliable I am. If I can peel myself out of the armchair and into the social club this week alone, it should be a success.

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