Many charities all too dependent on State aid in an uncertain climate of shrinking resources


ANALYSIS:BARNARDOS ISN’T alone in facing financial difficulties.

Many charities across the State are experiencing a double whammy of reductions in income just as demand for services is soaring.

After expanding in an era where Government funding and public donations seemed plentiful, much of the sector is adjusting to an uncertain world where shrinking resources and survival are the name of the game.

Many may not last the pace. That was the chilling conclusion of Grant Thornton’s 2012 Not-for-Profit Survey. Based on a survey of 990 charities earlier this year, it concluded the number of charities and non-profit organisations in Ireland was likely to drop in coming years, with one in 10 at risk of folding as they did not have the funds to plan beyond the next six months.

Many were dangerously dependent on State aid. Of the groups surveyed, Government funding was nearly twice as important as voluntary fundraising. Some 60 per cent said their funding mainly came from the State and 34 per cent from voluntary contributions.

Aside from planning for the future, financing current activities was a significant concern for the charities surveyed. Nearly one in three cited day-to-day funding pressures as the most challenging issue facing their operation.

Why does this matter? For one, many of these charities and non-profit bodies play a vital role. In all there are an estimated 7,900 charitable, community and voluntary groups of all kinds scattered around the country.

In many cases they deliver public services for children, older people and those with disabilities on behalf of the State, ensuring vulnerable people have a minimum level of income and have access to the type of supports that allow them to live with dignity.

The Wheel, a support organisation for hundreds of charities, community groups and social enterprises, says the sector is under increasing strain and expects to see significant changes in coming years. Chief executive Deirdre Garvey says many will need to explore new ways of cutting costs such as collaborative working and sharing of costs.

This may be a blessing in disguise. Take suicide prevention charities, for example. There are hundreds of such groups, dozens of different counselling services, numerous different support phonelines and websites. The scale is impressive, but it is also deeply fragmented and isolated.

Many groups are very often not sharing their experiences or working together to improve support or training, meaning State funding for suicide prevention groups – about €5 million this year – may not be delivering the value for money it could be. Most of all, it means we are not being as effective as we could be in reducing the number of people taking their own lives.

As a result, the Health Service Executive’s national office for suicide prevention has been prioritising funding for groups willing to work in partnership with others. We’re likely to see more of this kind of approach for State agencies in years ahead.

If the economic situation is bleak, at least it’s encouraging to see that we’re still – in relative terms – a generous country. Figures released earlier this year showed Ireland was ranked the most charitable country in Europe and the second most charitable nation in the world.

The World Giving index, compiled by the Charities Aid Foundation, found some 75 per cent of Irish people donated money to charity, while almost 40 per cent volunteered their time each month.

There are simple steps that charities can take to help ensure they not only survive but operate more effectively. A report into fundraising in Ireland by the not-for-profit consultancy group 2into3 found charities which invested in good corporate governance were faring particularly well, despite the challenging circumstances.

Its advice to other charities? Strengthen boards of management, realign fundraising strategies in line with new economic realities and invest in fundraising.

Below are salaries from a selection of organisations:

Amnesty International Ireland chief executive Colm O'Gorman €115,832;

Barnardos chief executive Fergus Finlay €113,315 (in 2011 he donated €35,000 in other earnings to Barnardos);

Concern chief executive Tom Arnold earns €132,000;

Goal, outgoing chief executive John O'Shea. His salary is not known but 2010 accounts show two executives were paid some €100,000;

Irish Hospice Foundation chief executive Sharon Foley €101,350;

ISPCC chief executive Ashley Balbirnie. A board decision was made earlier this year not to release the figure;

Simon Community head of national office Patrick Quinn, €75,000;

St Vincent de Paul national director Kieran Murphy €115,000-€125,000.

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