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
That is also why it is so important that the regulatory authority works well. It was initially delayed because of the recession and because of the Government’s obsession with getting rid of quangos. The compromise is that the authority will be staffed by 20 civil servants. It is essential that this body has appropriate expertise and resources, because if it fails to restore public confidence, it will be disastrous.
People also need to become more realistic about charities. There is often a sense that all work for charity should be done on a voluntary basis. Of course, much of it is and the sector could not survive without the input of more than 560,000 volunteers and some 50,000 people serving on nonprofit boards.
However, the need to employ staff is a sign of success. Just like businesses, many charities are set up and fade away rapidly. Those that thrive need to professionalise, however, and part of that is paying fair wages.
The public tends to want every cent donated to go directly to the cause, but if you give someone €5 for your favourite cause you should know how that money is spent, and that costs money. Some administrative costs are inescapable.
The key point about expenditure on salaries and administration is that they should be transparent.
If all charities followed the example of organisations such as Concern and the Jack and Jill Children’s Foundation, and were absolutely open about their finances, the public could judge whether they wanted to donate or volunteer to any particular charity.
While some would prefer to see all such services delivered by the State, that attitude ignores the social capital generated by small groups of passionate people coming together to find solutions to difficulties.
Charities often do something unique: they connect relatively privileged volunteers with the reality of life for people facing poverty, illness, disability and many other challenges. That experience softens people and makes them more supportive of social justice. So you see charities such as the Society of St Vincent de Paul not only helping people out of immediate difficulties, but also lobbying for structural change to create a more equitable society.
The cynic believes everyone is corrupt and motivated by selfishness, but that corrosive attitude is no more realistic than naivety, and has far greater negative consequences. Realism rather than cynicism should prevail.
Let’s not punish the many for the sins of the few. Dig deep this Christmas. Your charity needs you.