Anne Hanniffy: Before you stop donating to charity, just find out where your money goes
THEY say a week is a long time in politics. It is an even longer time in fundraising. The charity top-up story which has been running now for over a week, is having a disproportionate and unfair impact on the funding efforts of charities – and more importantly, on the people so reliant on those funds.
This is all the more frustrating because the issue at the centre of the story – top-ups to salaries already paid by state funding – has absolutely nothing to do with the way in which the vast majority of not-for-profit organisations are funded or operate in this country.
Disability agencies or voluntary hospitals receive government funds through what is known as Section 38 funding, for the provision of services on behalf of the HSE. Other charities fortunate enough to be still receiving very reduced levels of government funding get their money specifically for programmes and projects.
In other words, there is simply nothing to top up from for the vast majority of not-for-profit organisations.
Yet, all charities are being unfairly pilloried and wrongly associated with an issue that is miles from their reality. Our members, who are working day and night this Christmas to raise funds for homeless people or sick children tell us people are cancelling donations daily.
But instead of reaching for the phone to cancel your donation, ring up your charity and ask instead, where exactly does my money go to? Blind faith is not enough. People who donate to Irish not-for-profit organisations must be able to do so in assured faith that their money is going exactly where they intend it to go.
This assurance is at the heart of the statement of guiding principles for fundraising, a guide devised by the not-for-profit sector to offer donors and potential donors clarity on what they may expect from a charity, its representatives (whether voluntary or paid) and its management.
This statement will be greatly strengthened with the introduction of the long-overdue 2009 Charities Act and the new Charities Regulatory Authority in 2014 (which not-for-profits have been campaigning for for six years now). In addition, Fundraising Ireland will be introducing Ireland's first Code of Practice for Fundraisers in 2014.
But, the reputation of the not-for-profit sector shouldn't, and doesn't, rely on the introduction of a state regulatory body, guidelines or codes. The buck begins and ends with the sector itself. Donors are our lifeblood.
Transparency, accountability, and regulation are vital to any healthy institution. We have a responsibility to ensure the work we do is well managed and effective. We owe it to donors that their money goes directly to the hospital wards they want to see renovated or the irrigation projects they want to see developed.
However, in order to deliver those hospital wards or those irrigation projects, we need people – people who have to be paid. So, some of your donation will go towards salaries, lighting bills and heating bills.
Over the past week, we've also seen all types of commentary about where donations go. It's easy to sit behind an office desk and be a sceptic, to paint pictures of donors' money being used to fund fancy landrovers, paying off warlords or lining the pockets of politicians. The route from donor to recipient is much more straightforward and much closer to home than even donors might imagine.
I saw first-hand the power and immediacy of people's donations when I worked with GOAL for over eight years, initially in Kenya and Niger, and then with Haven in Haiti following the devastating earthquake in 2010.
WITHIN 48 hours of the earthquake that killed over 250,000 and left up to three million people homeless, we were waiting on the runway of Port-au-Prince airport for the first shipments of food and non-food items. This was directly due to the generosity and rapid response of the Irish public.
This 24-hour rapid response approach also exists in the work of home-focused not-for-profits. The Society of St Vincent de Paul will spend most of its Christmas appeal money over the holiday season. Focus Ireland and Simon will spend most of the money that they raise helping people and families without homes now, not next year.
Ongoing analysis and discussion of how donations are raised and where donations go is healthy; it is welcome. But, let's have the discussion in context and in full. As fundraisers we believe charities should be measured on the level of their achievements.
We can't lose sight of the big picture. Otherwise, sick children, families in stress or older people will be the big losers.
Anne Hanniffy is CEO of Fundraising Ireland, the national organisation for professional fundraisers in Ireland.