In the charity sector, let’s not punish the many for the sins of the few
Opinion: If charities are to raise money successfully, they need to professionalise
If people refuse to support the CRC’s work it is children and adults with disabilities who will suffer. Photograph: Dara MacDonaill
In the book Connected: the Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives, Nick Christakis and James Fowler trace the fascinating ways in which we are influenced by others. For example, a “knocking on doors” project urging people to vote for a recycling initiative was likely to win the support of 10 per cent of those who answered the door. Interestingly, the partner who did not answer the door was 6 per cent more likely to support the recycling initiative, simply from chatting to the other partner about it.
Perhaps that’s not so surprising. The authors conclude that, far from being atomised individuals, we are more like flocks of birds who, without any apparent central controller, swoop and climb in unison. That’s why something like the salary top-ups and the controversy surrounding the Central Remedial Clinic (CRC) are so damaging: they ripple out to all charities.
It is not logical, because only a tiny minority of charities are so big that they function almost as arms of the State in providing services. On a logical level, people also know that if they curtly refuse to buy the Santa bears sold to support the CRC’s work it is children and adults with disabilities who will suffer.
However, people give to charities primarily because of emotional reactions, particularly empathy. But just as positive emotions spur giving, negative emotions such as disgust or dislike block it.
Lack of resources
Tom Clonan argued passionately on RTÉ’s Prime Time last Tuesday that there is a political element to this scandal, because just as hospitals were saying that they can’t cope with any more cuts, these revelations about top-ups were leaked, and meant that all attention was deflected from the lack of resources.
In a similar way, he argued that the culture of politically influenced appointments to boards and elsewhere is toxic. All of this may be true but it leaves the problem of how to mend the damage.
Ironically, after numerous attempts over decades to frame legislation, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter decided last July, long before this controversy, to begin a phased introduction of a charities regulatory authority. Charities want regulation. They had been to the forefront in demanding it. While waiting for legislation to commence, a voluntary code for charity fundraising was framed by ICTR, the representative body for Irish charities. The code came from a coalition of charity fundraising practitioners, donors, auditors and lawyers, along with support from the Government.
The core principles in the statement of guiding principles for fundraising are respect, openness and honesty. In a sector that depends completely on securing public trust, these values are vital.