Ireland is continually ranked as one of the most charitable countries in the world by the World Giving Index. Yet when it comes to philanthropy we are seriously lacking, according to Frank Flannery, chairman of the Forum on Philanthropy and Fundraising.
The forum was established by the Government in May 2006 and tasked with increasing the level of philanthropic and charitable giving.
The public-private partnership has set a target for increasing philanthropic giving from its current level of about €500 million to €800 million by 2016.
Philanthropy is an altruistic concern for human welfare and advancement, usually manifested by donations of money. What distinguishes it from other charitable efforts is that it takes a long-term view and envisages a long-term engagement.
“We are one of the highest giving countries in Europe,” says Flannery. “However, we are emotional givers as opposed to planned givers. We respond very well to crisis situations and tend to donate to charities and relief funds, rather than to philanthropic organisations.”
He notes there are about 800 philanthropic foundations and trusts in the UK. “On a pro-rata basis, you’d expect 500 in Ireland. We don’t even have 30.”
Short- term vision
While philanthropy tends to refer to a long-term vision, Flannery points out that short-term vision is just as important. As a result, the forum extended its mandate to cover fundraising.
“You have to meet the needs of the short term and the long term. You can’t neglect the needs of the present to meet the needs of the future.”
He says the role of charities and the not-for-profit sector should not be overlooked. “The wider not-for-profit sector employs more than 100,000 people in Ireland. It generates €3.7 billion in wages and salaries and €290 million in employers’ PRSI per annum,” he says.
The campaign to increase philanthropic giving “is costing us €2.5 million, half of which was raised from philanthropic sources,” Flannery adds. “This is not a lot of money to spend if we can raise an extra €300 million a year. The spend is nothing in that sense.”
The report of the forum calls for a 60 per cent increase in corporate giving by 2016 and a €10 million social innovation fund.
“A McKinsey report said the top 500 companies in Ireland give 0.1 per cent of their profits to philanthropy whereas UK companies give 1.2 per cent. We want every company in Ireland to give some money from their profits to philanthropy or not- for-profit organisations.”
The report’s four key recommendations are:
establishing a national “giving campaign”;
improving the fiscal environment and infrastructure for giving;
developing fundraising capacity among not-for-profits;
creating a national social innovation fund.
“If we can ingrain this kind of thinking into the Irish psyche, it could have a transformative effect on Irish society,” Flannery says. “There will be less focus on the accumulation of wealth and more consideration into social spending doing more for social causes.”
Now is the time for national reflection in Ireland, according to Flannery. "People need to decide what they are going to do with their money and wealth. Instead of leaving it in a will, they should use it for socially advantageous causes.
“There was a huge tradition of philanthropists in Ireland in the 1700s and 1800s. The landlord class built a lot of hospitals, etc, but they have since disappeared from Ireland. The wealth in Ireland is very much IDA-led now.”
He says the public should be prepared to do more than the law demands of them.
“If you don’t have money to contribute, give time or talent. Philanthropy isn’t just about money and the last thing we want to do is ask people with no money or people already in arrears to give more.
"We could free hundreds of billions over the years through tax breaks for large charitable organisations."
Flannery criticises inward investment companies that have headquarters in Ireland, saying they don’t do much in terms of philanthropy in the country.
“They do their philanthropy elsewhere such as the US.”
He also believes the public is often overly reliant on the Government: “We started becoming very dependent during the second half of the 20th century. That said, the Forum on Philanthropy and Fundraising is not an excuse for the Government to chicken out on its role to provide a socially cohesive society.”
He says the thinking behind the forum is to generate additional investment in the not- for-profit sector; it is not designed to substitute for Government investment. He believes increased private investment in the sector will generate more jobs throughout the country.
“Every citizen can get involved in some way in assisting the recovery of Ireland,” says Flannery.