Business Irish

Sunday 17 December 2017

'Charities have to fundraise and not be fund receivers'

Veteran fundraiser Loretta Brennan Glucksman joins philanthropists in the K Club

Sarah McCabe

Sarah McCabe

SOME of Ireland's biggest philanthropists are gathering in the K Club today – and none of them are Irish. At the Ireland Funds annual conference in Kildare, donors from all over the world are learning about Irish non-profits and social projects with the intention of opening their wallets.

The Ireland Funds has raised $450m (€343m) since it was first established in 1976 and has supported more than 1,200 Irish charities. It is active in 12 countries, though most of its donors come from the US.

Its work is all the more important given that the two other main philanthropic funds that support Irish non-profits, Chuck Feeney's Atlantic Philanthropies and Declan Ryan's One Foundation, are in the process of winding down.

A $50m annual funding gap will be left in their wake. These organisations have provided invaluable, consistent funding for hundreds of Irish causes, which will now have to look elsewhere for finance.

Equally challenging is the fact that Europeans are traditionally far less predisposed to private philanthropy than Americans.


This is partly a result of enhanced social protection in Europe, which means citizens on this continent are more accustomed to government stepping in to address social problems than individuals.

"It's a cultural thing," says Loretta Brennan Glucksman, chairwoman of the Ireland Funds' American presence, in a conversation with the Irish Independent on the eve of the conference.

She has donated prolifically to Ireland.

"In America, giving is inculcated in people very early. Irish people are very generous but traditionally that has been channelled through churches, hospitals and schools, and the Government looks after everything else," says the widow of former Lehman Brothers chief executive Lewis Glucksman.

They are responsible for, among other things, the Lewis Glucksman Gallery at University College Cork and the Glucksman Library at the University of Limerick, as well as a centre for Irish studies at New York University.

"In the US, the notion of donating starts very early in life, it is institutionalised.

"My late husband was a Hungarian Jew raised in the Bronx, and his family kept a little box just inside the door of his house as a kid where they collected spare change to be donated.

"A lot of Irish people are accustomed to going cradle to grave with government protection. I am not making a value judgment, it is just different in the US. But it means there is a real difficulty when government begins to step back, like at the moment, because that changes the rules mid-game."

She is very aware – though "not necessarily worried" – that the financial landscape for Irish charities is changing so drastically.

"They have to become fundraisers," she says. "Before, they were fund receivers."

Irish non-profits receive an average 60pc of their funding from the State and her organisation says philanthropy "is in its infancy" in this country.

The Ireland Funds operates a very different model to Atlantic Philanthropies or the One Foundation. Those organisations give from one person or one family's wealth, while the Ireland Funds is essentially an introductory service, pairing interested donors to Irish causes on a rolling basis.

"We are brokers," emphasises Ms Glucksman.

"We don't even have an endowment."

Many of these donors have no connection with Ireland – Lewis Glucksman didn't, but fell in love with the country while visiting and eventually relocated to Cobh in Cork, where he passed away in 2006.

"The biggest thing for us in securing funding is getting donors over to Ireland to see a project.

"That is why this conference is so important," said Ms Glucksman.

"Americans have an almost umbilical connection with Ireland: I haven't seen that in any other ethnic group, except maybe Jewish people."

It is hard to criticise generous donors who don't even have a connection with Ireland, but some have argued that the funding provided by philanthropists to Irish charities has resulted in artificially inflated wages for staff.

"I am a capitalist," says Ms Glucksman in response. "People should be paid based on the value they bring to an organisation, that is the bottom line."

The Ireland Funds' typical donor is rapidly changing and increasingly female. The average age of donors is also lowering.

It has a programme specifically tailored for younger philanthropists, many of whom are attending the K Club conference, even though their donations are generally much smaller.

"They are our future," says Ms Glucksman. "Wealth is not just inherited anymore, too – we have lots of self-made young financiers and lawyers, though not doctors, they are too busy!"

The organisation is far more successful at securing individual rather than corporate donors, as Ms Glucksman explains.

It is easier to get people rather than companies excited by an idea.

The Ireland Funds has supported a wide range of causes, including peace projects in Northern Ireland and organisations promoting culture and community development.

Ms Glucksman is most proud of the integrated Catholic-Protestant schools it set up in the North.

"Both Lewis and I were always very intent on education. The project had a lot of resistance when it was first established from both locals and donors because of fears about upsetting the church, but that has disappeared given how successful it has been."

She speaks favourably of the Irish Government, though the fund turned down a €10m gift from the Irish State in 2010 because it prides itself on its private status and on not taking money from taxpayers.


She is particularly impressed with the accessibility of government figures; Enda Kenny is attending the conference this evening.

"I've been working with Irish governments since Charlie Haughey and this one in particular is very open to philanthropy."

The Ireland Funds' job was more difficult during the Celtic Tiger, when lifestyle excesses in Ireland made it more challenging to secure donors.

"They'd look at the Bronx, and say 'are you kidding me?'" says Ms Glucksman.

After decades of involvement at the organisation, she will step down as chairman at the start of next year, when New York hotelier John Fitzpatrick will take over the reins.

Irish Independent

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