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Charities need help to comply with new guidelines on fundraising

Organisations facing a growing number of additional regulatory and reporting requirements

The welcome publication this week by the Charity Regulator of guidelines for charitable fundraising is the latest in a series of regulatory and compliance initiatives designed to underpin public trust and confidence in charities.

Irish charities fundraise in excess of €800 million every year and donors have a right to expect that the money will be raised responsibly, used for the intended purposes and in the most effective way. The Regulator’s new Guidelines clarify exactly what is expected of charities in terms of fundraising and address every aspect of charitable fundraising, from the role of trustees to the behaviour of individual fund-raisers.

The message to charities is clear: good governance and transparency in all areas of a charity’s work is not an option - it is a requirement. This is as it should be.

Charities are adapting to this new environment and are putting in place or updating controls and procedures to ensure best governance practice. As a sector, charities have long sought regulation and indeed campaigned in recent years for implementation of the Charities Act 2009, including the establishment of a Charities Regulator. While charities are embracing these requirements, there is an associated cost of compliance. Yet no additional statutory resources or supports have been provided to assist them to cope with these significantly increased costs, often understood as additional administration costs.

The majority of charities in Ireland are established as Companies Limited by Guarantee, and have had to submit annual reports and audited accounts to the Companies Registration Office over many years. Equally, charities have for many years had to obtain Garda-vetting for their volunteers and staff. However, over the last couple of years, charities have also had to fulfil a growing number of additional regulatory and reporting requirements including:

- Registering with the Charity Regulator, submitting annual reports and accounts, and complying with the regulator’s growing stock of guidelines documents, including the recently published Guidelines for Fundraising. These contain over 60 suggested actions for a charity to observe and report against for its volunteer trustees, managers, fund-raisers, finance staff and volunteers.

- Completing the Register of Lobbying if they do advocacy work.

- Preparing to comply with the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) which will come into force next May.

- Complying with extremely detailed ‘service agreements’ if funded by the HSE, Tusla and other statutory bodies.

- Submitting detailed annual service plans and reports to many different state bodies, funders and agencies - often with very similar information, but required multiple times.

Regulatory bodies to which charities now report are, quite rightly, being increasingly resourced, with dozens of dedicated staff and increased back-up to process issues related to charities - yet no similar investment has been made to support charities in meeting the significantly increased compliance costs of these new requirements.

Donors and the public instinctively contribute to supporting a cause or service - not meeting administration and regulation costs. The essential and often innovative work of charities requires appropriate spending on administration to ensure the highest governance standards. It is not a ‘cost’ to be minimised or eliminated. If we want to continue to benefit from the person-centred responsiveness that characterises the mission of charities, we need the state to commit to adequately resourcing and supporting their work, including meeting the additional new costs they incur in complying with regulatory and reporting requirements.

State authorities also need to recognise that the large amount of form-filling and repetitive administrative work now required of charities by different oversight bodies is diverting resources from the core work of charities and needs to be streamlined to minimise duplication. We need to see a concerted initiative by relevant state authorities to work together to streamline the regulatory and reporting requirements that charities face. If we can address these two issues, we will fully reap the positive benefits that can flow from a well-regulated, well resourced, charity sector.

Many thousands of people countrywide freely volunteer their time to their chosen charity, contribute as unpaid volunteer directors and trustees or, as employees, work enthusiastically for long hours on wages usually significantly below those on the open market. Their core motivation is not business considerations, but service to the community. This work deserves to be recognised and adequately resourced.

Deirdre Garvey is Chief Executive of The Wheel, the national association of charities, community and voluntary organisations.