Charities braced for a drop in donations - again
Charities across the country are braced for a fall in donations in the coming months as a result of the Console scandal.
The Irish Independent spoke to 38 charities about the backlash from the controversy, which charities say has greatly damaged public trust in the sector.
Most said that it is too soon to tell whether it has negatively impacted their donations. However, Merchants Quay Ireland said that some people have already cancelled their subscriptions "explicitly because of the Console scandal".
Charities are concerned about yet another hit to their donations, after already coping with the fallout from the scandals in Rehab and the Central Remedial Clinic in 2014.
Childhood cancer charity Hand in Hand said that it nearly closed due to the drop in donations after the Rehab controversy. A spokesperson added that, although they haven't seen any impact yet due to Console, there "absolutely will be".
Bóthar also said that donations may previously have been affected by the Rehab scandal. "Our annual turnover has gone from €10m in 2008 to €6m today," said a spokesperson. "The decrease in turnover is due to the recession that started in 2008 and was not helped by the charity scandals."
Some charities said it was difficult to pin declining donations on any particular cause, as donors do not have to give a reason for stopping their support.
Sean Moynihan, CEO of older people's charity Alone, said "it's hard to link any ups or downs to a scandal and its effects". But he admitted the Console scandal brought "a really bad week for people who try really hard in the sector".
He added: "Long-term, we all have to use this to go forward, to make sure we reward people in the charities who work hard and that situations like this don't happen again."
A spokesperson for St Vincent de Paul also attributed previous fluctuations in part to the economic climate. "Donations to SVP began to rise in 2007/2008 as the demand for assistance increased. We were always expecting a rebalancing when austerity became less of a public issue."
Some charities called attention to problems with the regulation of the sector, which saw the Console scandal going unnoticed.
"The public quite rightly feels betrayed," said a spokesperson for Down Syndrome Ireland. "We would hope that with the welcomed increase in powers of the Charities Regulatory Authority, the public's trust can be restored."
The Jack & Jill Foundation criticised the Government's delay in enforcing part four of the 2009 Charities Act, which gives the Regulator investigative and enforcement powers. Although it welcomed Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald's announcement that these powers will come into effect in September, it said, "we shouldn't have had to wait this long".
The Peter McVerry Trust called attention to the lack of resources available to the charity regulator.
"Poor governance standards in a small number of cases coupled with the under-resourcing of the charity regulator have the potential to reduce fundraising income and directly impact on the provision of frontline services."
A spokesperson for Amnesty International Ireland also criticised the HSE's lack of awareness of what was going on within Console. "The State needs to be more proactive in implementing proper financial management and control," they said.
Many of the charities voiced their disgust at the Console revelations, and said that this will affect the perception of all those working in the charity sector.
"We are very concerned that this one very particular example of gross abuse of charitable resources will result in further negative generalisations being made about all charities," said a spokesperson for the Marie Keating Foundation. "The trust of our supporters is our most valuable resource."
What major charities are saying
“While donations did drop in the immediate aftermath of the Rehab and CRC controversies, it was a short-term dip. Despite Ireland exiting recession, the fundraising climate is still challenging.” – Plan International Ireland
“It’s affecting the whole of the real charities sector. Charities in general are being swept with the same brush and they are very different.” – Irish Kidney Association
“The public needs to be able to trust charities and have confidence that their money will be spent wisely, appropriately and effectively. If any one charity is felt to have abused that trust, it can damage them all.” – Concern
“IWA has seen increased pressure on our fundraising income as a result of the effects of the financial downturn and its impact on the economy.” – Irish Wheelchair Association
“While these scandals had an impact on people’s trust in the charity sector, the effect on our fundraising income was not as significant as during the recession.” – Trócaire
“Scandals like these damage public perception and affect support for charities, which is why supporters’ confidence and trust in their chosen charity is crucial.” – Oxfam
“The Rehab scandal was a cause for concern. It thankfully didn’t affect our fundraising at the time and it hasn’t affected our donations in the long term.” – Dublin Simon Community
“There are essential and necessary services being provided by charities and organisations in Ireland and overseas that would be severely impacted if donations were to stop.” – Red Cross Ireland
“Our donors’ trust is of the utmost importance to us and so we were very upset and disappointed to hear the allegations against certain individuals given the important work Console do.” – Temple Street Children’s Hospital