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(LtoR) Adrienne Regan (Davy), Ian Duffy (former chairman of the board at Benefacts), Éilis Murray (Philanthropy Ireland) and Kingsley Aikins (Diaspora Matters) pictured at the launch of the inaugural annual Benefacts Nonprofit Sector Analysis in the Royal Irish Academy on Friday, 28th April 2017. This benchmark report by Benefacts is the most comprehensive analysis ever undertaken of nonprofit organisations in Ireland, including registered charities. View the report at www.Benefacts.ie/analysis.

Éilis Murray welcomes benchmark information on Philanthropic giving

“Philanthropic giving accounts for at least €83.4m annually.” #BeneFACTS17

Philanthropy in Ireland is in its infancy. It is a small, young yet extremely productive sector. The majority of funds and organisations have only been set up in the last 25 years.

For the first time, the Benefacts Nonprofit Sector Analysis provides us with reliable data derived from available published sources on the status of philanthropic giving in Ireland. This is very welcome because it serves to highlight the role philanthropy plays in supporting civil society and the range of causes therein.

The published figure of €83.4m for 2015 is acknowledged to be an underestimation of the real level of philanthropic giving in Ireland, restricted as it is to the contributions from incorporated institutional philanthropies. Benefacts’ report notes that the figure does not include the giving of unincorporated philanthropic organisations which are registered as charities, but whose financial statements are not yet publicly available from the Regulator. Similarly, this figure does not reflect individual philanthropy or corporate giving. When these additional elements and sources of giving are included, they will contribute to painting a somewhat different picture of the sum of philanthropic giving in Ireland.

What is critically important, however, is that we now have a baseline of information.

The full picture can be developed and analysed further over time. This is essential not just for the nonprofit sector, but also for funders and donors, enabling them to better understand the profile of the sector they are operating within, and supporting them in making informed decisions.

Until now, a key challenge in the development of philanthropy in Ireland has been the limited amount of quality data to help people understand the value of the sector’s contribution to civil society so the Benefacts report is a wonderful starting point. If augmented and further developed to include all strata of philanthropic giving, it will serve to build a substantively informed and rounded picture of the role and value of philanthropy to civil society in Ireland.

Éilis Murray is CEO of Philanthropy Ireland, a member and knowledge-based organisation for the philanthropic sector. She has over 25 years’ experience in the Not-for-Profit Sector working with and for several small teams. A Director of Oakfield Trust, Éilis is currently completing a Masters in Philanthropic Studies.

 

Read the Benefacts Nonprofit Sector Analysis 2017 here.

Mary Sutton on why detailed data is essential for informed discussions about nonprofits

‘It’s importance will grow year-on-year-it’s a really important input into an informed conversation about where we want to go’

Mary Sutton, Country Director for the Republic of Ireland at The Atlantic Philanthropies, attended the Sector Analysis launch and commented on the timeliness of this information, and how the detailed trend data will help inform discussion about nonprofits, charities and philanthropies in Ireland.

Diarmaid Ó Corrbuí considers governance structures of ‘quasi-public bodies’

“Many nonprofits provide services to the public, but a small number operate on special terms with government, inasmuch as their voluntary boards don’t exercise control over the remuneration of their employees because these are treated as public sector workers.” #BeneFACTS17

In the latest edition of the Benefacts Perspectives blog series, Diarmaid Ó Corrbuí, CEO of the Carmichael Centre, considers whether the existing governance and legal models for large charities are fit for purpose.

Recent public controversies over three of Ireland’s largest charities – National Maternity Hospital, St Vincent’s Healthcare Group and St John of God Community Service – has generated a lot of debate and questions over the ownership, control, accountability, independence, ethos and values of these organisations. In 2015, these three organisations combined received more than €400 million from the State for the provision of these services. The scale of this funding raises some very legitimate questions regarding the level and nature of government control, accountability and oversight of these monies and the services commissioned by the State. Indeed, questions about the level of control and accountability go beyond the actual provision of the commissioned services and extends to how the organisations are governed and managed.

The recent Benefacts Sector Analysis report on the Irish nonprofit sector has identified the concept of “quasi-public bodies”. These “quasi-public bodies” are all in the main nonprofit organisations operating as companies limited by guarantee with no share capital and/or as registered charities. These are nonprofit bodies that provide services to the public, but operate on special terms with government in as much as their voluntary boards do not exercise control over the remuneration of their employees.

Benefacts has identified 347 of these quasi-public bodies. They account for just 2% of the 19,505 organisations included in the Benefacts Database of Irish nonprofits, but they receive more than 70% of the reported income from government by all nonprofits which in 2015 amounted to €5.3 billion.

‘Quasi-public bodies’ are governed by voluntary boards of directors and trustees. The duties and responsibilities of these voluntary directors and trustees are comprehensive and onerous. The level of oversight and control that these board directors and trustees are required to exercise is raising the question of the suitability and effectiveness of our current governance and legal structures for the delivery of large scale and complex health and social services. For example, how much time do we think is necessary and appropriate for the unpaid voluntary non-executive directors/trustees of a hospital or disability services provider to devote to meeting their legal and governance responsibilities of leadership, control and accountability? Is 10-15 hours a month or a week sufficient? What are the skill sets and supports that need to be in place? Is there a sufficient pool of people available with the required skills and experience who also have both the ability and the willingness to commit the necessary time to take on the governance responsibility for these important but very complex organisations?

Given the complexity, the depth of responsibilities, the time commitment and the range of risks including the risk to one’s personal reputation, are our expectations and ask of these volunteers excessive and unrealistic?

In the UK, there is an emergence of a debate around the concept of having both non-executive and executive directors on the boards of larger charities and nonprofit organisations. It is quite a controversial concept. One that has its advocates and opponents. A mix of executive and non-executive on boards is the accepted governance practice in “for-profit” private sector organisations, but it is still very much a taboo topic in Ireland for nonprofit organisations.

In light of recent controversies and concerns over the governance of Irish charities and nonprofits and the increasing complexity and depth of responsibility being required of our own volunteer directors and trustees, I am becoming increasingly of the view that our current governance and legal models are no longer fit for purpose. I believe it is time to have a look at their suitability and practicality.

Diarmaid Ó Corrbuí is the CEO of the Carmichael Centre. Prior to joining Carmichael Centre, Diarmaid worked as a management consultant for over 25 years. Diarmaid has extensive experience working with boards and providing governance support and advice. He is a board member of the National Advocacy Service for People with Disabilities, a former Chairman of Acquired Brain Injury Ireland and Ruhama. He is a member of the Governance Code Working Group and a graduate of Trinity College Dublin and the Institute of Public Administration.

 

Read the Benefacts Nonprofit Sector Analysis 2017 here