Christmas is a time for giving, a welcome change from the rest of the year, which most of us treat as a time for giving out. Charitable acts are an expression of our finest instincts and we should be proud of the fact that Ireland remains a golden goose for fundraisers.
The World Giving Index recently reported that Irish people are still more likely to donate to charity than people in any other country. However, there is a pungent, curdling agent floating within this milk of human kindness: the greed of the charity industry.
Last week, a newspaper survey revealed that 40pc of Irish charities pay their chief executives €100,000 or more. Despite a sharp drop in available resources – and income has fallen by two-thirds at some charities – the bigshots at the helm of the alms trade are still demanding boomtown salaries.
The fat-cat level of remuneration highlighted by the survey reveals only part of the story. Many charities simply refuse to disclose information about their executives' salaries, and can legally do so under antiquated financial reporting rules. It is reasonable to assume that some of these CEOs are pocketing well in excess of €100,000.
As in other cosseted corners of the economy, a shrinking bottom line clearly does nothing to deflate the high-fliers who believe they deserve a privileged combination of top dollar and top secrecy. By their own lights, after all, these professional humanitarians are the very best of the great and the good; the deserving rich.
There is no doubt that charities and non-profit bodies constitute what amounts to big business. The sector employs tens of thousands and manages an estimated annual revenue of €6bn. Charities provide an invaluable public service, both for recipients of philanthropy and donors.
Goodwill to all men is a catchy slogan but, even at Christmas, it's impractical. The number of worthy causes out there is dizzying and growing every day. Consequently, we depend on charities to make eye-catching and informative pitches on behalf of the disadvantaged. Yes, there is something distasteful about this process – whereby the poor, the sick and the homeless effectively audition for our sympathy – but it's the most efficient aid mechanism yet devised.
However, the need for a business-like approach by charity administrators does not excuse the drift towards corporate depths of self-indulgence. Public faith in politics and organised religion has been decimated, thanks largely to scandals exposing the hypocrisy and entitlement of the top brass.
The charity industry could well be the next pillar of society to come tumbling down – and justifiably so, if its leading lights are seen to be living high on the hog while relying on donations from ordinary citizens who are themselves struggling to survive.
Charity begins at home, and so does fairness. Unless charity bosses are seen to give more than they take, they could find that their golden goose is well and truly cooked.