Tuesday 23 January 2018

State of play - the not-for-profit sector in Ireland

Ivan Cooper
Ivan Cooper

Orna Stokes

Throughout the years, the not-for-profit sector has demonstrated tremendous power for good in our communities.

As a volunteer-led sector, the importance of appropriate supports for those active in it has never been more important.

Ulster Bank have been proud to support the work of The Wheel in bringing best practices to the not-for-profit sector.

Orna Stokes, Ulster Bank spoke with Ivan Cooper, The Wheel, to find out about good governance in not-for-profit organisations, and what people should consider when they are donating, volunteering, or working with not-for-profit organisations.

What is the size and impact of the not-for-profit sector in Ireland?

Community, voluntary and charitable organisations are an essential part of the social fabric of our country, today.   They play a major role in delivering health, social & community services – not to speak of environmental protection, advocacy for disadvantage people and community development work. They are also the places where people come together to make a contribution in their local communities and we should celebrate  and encourage everyone to become involved in this great national movement.

We are a nation of volunteers – over 1 million people in Ireland support Not For Profit organisations, as volunteers each year (source CSO “Central Statistics Office”). 50,000 volunteers give their unpaid time as trustees and board members to direct the work of Ireland’s charities (source www.benefacts.ie), controlling over €5.7 Billion in income every year. The unpaid work volunteers do translates into a value of over €2bn each year.     

19,000 not-for-profit organisations are listed on www.benefacts.ie; 12,500 are registered with the Charities Regulator.

Ivan, can you tell us a little about the Wheel ?

The Wheel is Ireland’s support and representative body for community, voluntary and charitable organisations.  

The Wheel’s role is to ensure the sector is recognised & respected, resourced effectively and sensitively regulated – what The Wheel refer to as the “3 Rs for charities”

The Wheel, with 1,200 member organisations, provides training, advice and information to charities on a range of areas including governance & risk management, strategy, fundraising, and impact measurement. It also represents the shared interests of the sector to Government and other key stakeholders. First and foremost it’s a network where people who volunteer with or work for charities come together to support each other in their essential work on all our behalf.

What are the key issues faced by the not-for-profit Sector in Ireland at this time?

Funding has always been a challenge for not-for-profit organisations. Public funding cut-backs over recent years have made not-for-profit organisation more reliant on generating new sources of income and on donations from members of the public to keep their much needed services going.

But in the years since 2008, the level of public donations fell significantly. Recently, there have been positive signs that donations are picking up again – and we would ask people to continue to support causes that are important to them and their families.

There are issues of trust and confidence in the sector, which make it particularly difficult to raise funds from private donations and fundraising activities. The Wheel are asking people not to generalise, but to assess each charity on its own merits  – our charities do key work in every community in Ireland – and they simply cannot continue to do this without the support of the public.

The sector now faces a particular challenge of restoring trust and confidence. Not-for-profit organisations must demonstrate the highest standards of governance practice, to maintain trust and confidence in the sector. I have more to say more about that below!

How can people fundraising or donating to charities be sure they are supporting a well run charity?

A special online resource www.goodcharity.ie has been developed by The Wheel with partner organisations, to address the questions members of the public should put to all charities they are looking to support.  www.goodcharity.ie provides answers to many questions put to us by the public, and guides you through areas you should get comfort about, before you donate or volunteer with a charity.

What should people on boards of charities do to be sure their charity operates well?

Charity board members face particular challenges – if you are on a charity board, you should ensure the organisation and board of trustees apply the 5 principles of good governance relating to

• Leading the organisation

• Controlling the organisation

• Being transparent and accountable

• Working effectively as a board

• Behaving with integrity

All charitable organisations should adopt the governance code - www.governancecode.ie (or a similar code) to ensure they operate to an acceptable standard.

What should people associated with charities ask, before committing themselves?

Before deciding whether to support a charity or not, you should ask some questions such as:

• What problem is the charity trying to solve?

• Does the charity’s approach to solving that problem make sense?

• What has the charity achieved to date?

• Is the charity signed up to any professional standards?

• Does the charity make information on its finances publicly available?

These and other questions are covered on www.goodcharity.ie

If you are involved with a not for profit organisation/board, where can you go for training/support?

The Wheel provides specialist training workshops, events and conferences to support those involved in Irish community and voluntary sector organisations. The Wheel also provides training on aspects of management such as charity regulation, finance, governance, fundraising & leadership – for more information see here.

If you have concerns about how an organisation is operated, who can you raise your concerns with?

First of all report your concerns to the board of the charity – and if your concern isn’t dealt with by the board- or if it is serious in nature – then you should report your concerns to the Charities Regulator.

Looking to the future?

The positive effort of the many organisations and volunteers who support the not-for-profit sector, in many ways, characterises our country – a country where people have always seen the importance of getting actively involved in shaping the future of our communities.

We want to make sure that this great national asset is protected and supported with appropriate governance tools going forward. 

We call upon Minister Coveney; The Charities Regulator; community, voluntary & social organisations and everyone, as individuals, to take action to protect this powerful force for good in our communities.

What would you ask of  Minister Coveney at this time?

The Programme for Government commits to producing a strategy for the development of the community and voluntary sector.

We would ask Minister Coveney to expedite the production of this badly-needed strategy now.

We need a clear framework for charities to operate in. One that:

• Recognises and values the role of community, voluntary and charitable organisations in Ireland today;

• Resources their work adequately (and recognises the huge financial contribution they make to our health, social and community infrastructure)


• Regulates the sector sensitively.

We call it delivering the ‘Three Rs for Charities’ and believe it needs to find form in a coherent national strategy for the community, voluntary and charitable sector.

And the Charity Regulator?

New powers of investigation, coming into force in 2017, will give the Charities Regulator the tools it needs to underpin public trust and confidence.  New financial reporting standards are due to be introduced shortly by the Regulator. We call on the Regulator to prioritise the development of activity and financial reporting standards for charities to ensure consistency in reporting about finances, impact, governance and the fundraising work of all charities. We also are calling on the Charities Regulator to ensure that a compliance and enforcement mechanism is put into place to make sure that all fundraising by charities is in accordance with the Statement of Guiding Principles For Fundraising.

What can not-for-profit Organisations to do to help?

Individual community & voluntary organisations can do a lot to help rebuilt trust and confidence in the sector. The Wheel call on all organisations to:

• Be transparent by publishing good quality information on the impact of their work, their finances, and their trustees on their websites.

• Check that they have fully completed their organisation’s entry in the CRA’s Register of Charities, and that they have submitted their Annual Report to the Charity Regulator (all charities should have submitted their annual reports by this stage).

• Adopt the Governance Code for Community, Voluntary and Charitable Organisations (or similar quality Code).

• Comply with the SStatement of Guiding Principles for Fundraising (if they fundraise from the public).

• Large charities should adopt the Statement of Recommended Practice for Financial Reporting by Charities (SORP).

We believe that these actions by charities - alongside the new investigative powers conferred on the Charities Regulator, and the strategies included in the Programme for Government - will underpin high levels of public trust and confidence in the sector going forward.

How can people support your activities?

The good work of the not-for-profit Sector provides essential services in our communities.   It’s important to keep supporting the charities that matter to you - but do ask them the questions at www.goodcharity.ie – and get involved yourself in this great national movement that makes such a positive difference in all of our lives!

Ivan Cooper is Director of Public Policy, at The Wheel . Orna Stokes is Senior Manager in Ulster Bank’s Customer Experience & Products Team.


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