State of philanthropy is ‘scary’ as funds from Atlantic Philanthropies disappear

People like Chuck Feeney ‘come along once in a lifetime, once in a generation’

The state of philanthropy in Ireland was a "really scary thing" as donations from Atlantic Philanthropies were disappearing, Caitriona Fottrell, vice president and director at The Ireland Funds has warned.

She was speaking at a seminar in the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin, to mark the launch of the Benefacts second annual report in on Thursday.

"How are we going to replace those [donations] in Ireland?" she asked. "My guess is we will not replace them with another Chuck Feeney. Those people come along once in a lifetime, once in a generation. We need to replace them with a load of Chucks. And how will we find those Chucks? How do we grow those Chucks, how do we encourage them and facilitate them?"

In 2016 philanthropic institutions contributed just €105 million to non-profit organisations in Ireland, or less than 1 per cent of a sector worth €12.1 billion.


Of that €105 million, €62 million came from Irish philanthropies which in 2016 overtook donations from international philanthropic sources (€41 million) for the first time that year.

The Irish non-profit sector employs 158,000 people and receiving 8 per cent of current Exchequer spend. The Government remains its biggest source of funding at €5.5 billion, two-thirds of which is fees for services.

The figures were provided in the Benefacts second annual report, launched in Dublin by Minister for and Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe.

Benefacts is a new database of civil society organisations in Ireland. Besides charities, this includes philanthropies, sports bodies, political, human rights and advocacy organisations, business and trade associations.

Mr Donohoe said great strides have been made in trying to deliver and create a more transparent environment in Ireland “whether it be protected disclosures legislation, whether it be the work of organisations like Sipo, whether it be the various enhanced regulators we have in place or whether it be the work of organisations like Benefacts.”

He said an increase of 50 per cent in the number of downloads from its website was a “tangible sign of the growing centrality of in helping our citizens understand how investment is made on their behalf.”

The number of Irish non-profit organisations is 29,000 but when full data is available, Benefacts estimates that number will grow to 40,000 or more.

Ms Fottrell said, “The findings from the Benefacts report today are a crucial piece of the development of an infrastructure here that will help philanthropy to grow” and she noted how in the US, of the top 50 donors last year 11 were tech entrepreneurs.

The Benefacts report disclosed that excluding those 69,000 people working in about 330 quasi-public bodies on public service remuneration terms, fewer than 1 per cent (less than 750) of the 89,000 people working in Ireland’s independent non-profit sector earned more than €70,000 a year.

Benefacts managing director Patricia Quinn said this meant, for example, that more people received higher remuneration in two voluntary hospitals in Dublin, Beaumont and St James’s, than in all the independent nonprofits put together. She said this distorts the picture.

These two hospitals were “funded by the State. Their employees are, to all intents and purposes, State employees” but as they were voluntary they were on the data base.

Institutional philanthropy was “very low in Ireland”, she said, but pointed out that “a huge source of philanthropy are the churches. We think in Ireland of philanthropy as a secular thing but of course it is not a secular thing alone.”

The religious had “all filed their accounts with the Charities Regulator, they’re all charities.” Benefacts were “just waiting for that bloc” to be delivered to them.

What she would love to see is “some co-operation from the bigger voluntary bodies in sport. That would be a very exciting partnership for us,” she said.

However, though sport was mainly voluntary and “a huge thing in Ireland” it was “outside the definition of a charity,” she said.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times