How to check that a charity does exactly what it says on the tin
With 8,500 registered charities out there, it may be difficult for donors to work out which organisations are worthy of their support and which are the bad apples.
All too often, it is a case of rifling through drawers or pockets for cash while a collector waits at the door and there are few questions asked.
"In Ireland, we tend to give money to charity spontaneously," says UCD law lecturer Dr Oonagh Breen. "We don't tend to look in detail at the organisation and how it works."
The website Goodcharity.ie gives advice on what to look out for when supporting an organisation. The site recommends that donors should ask some key questions:
* 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?
Goodcharity.ie advises that finances alone are not sufficient to indicate how good a charity is. However, it is vital that a charity has well-managed finances and that it is transparent about all of its income, expenditure and reserves.
"Good charities publish their annual accounts and other financial information on their websites," Goodcharity.ie says. "Alternatively, you can contact the charity by telephone or in writing. Any charity should be able to provide you with information on its finances, or explain why that information is not available.
"You should also be able to access this information for free at Benefacts.ie.
"If the organisation is a company limited by guarantee, you could also obtain a copy of its audited accounts from the Companies Registration Office (for a small fee)."
Fortunately, there are not many bogus charities in Ireland, but donors still need to be vigilant.
According to Goodcharity.ie, this is especially true when it comes to textile collections and some on-street or door-to-door fundraising.
Here are a few telltale signs to spot a bogus operation:
* It does not have a valid CHY number or Registered Charity Number
* It does not share its registered business address on promotional and fundraising materials
* It does not have a landline number
* It does not have a website.
Even genuine organisations, run with the best of intentions, can be poorly run and squander money.
When choosing a charity, you should ensure that it is efficiently managed and professional in its approach.
Does it coordinate its work with other relevant organisations? Does it apply professional standards to its work, such as a governance code and The Statement of Guiding Principles for Fundraising?
Goodcharity.ie says donors should try to ascertain how effective the organisation is. It is not enough to state good intentions. Donors should look for hard evidence that it is making progress towards clear goals.
Those working in the industry warn that donors should sometimes be wary of charities that spring up suddenly in response to current events and natural disasters.
Even if they are legitimate, they may not have the infrastructure to get the donations to the affected area or people.
If you are unhappy about the way a charity is being run or promoting itself, your first port of call should be the charity itself.
If you are still not satisfied after your initial contact with the charity, ask for a copy of its complaints policy and follow the procedures outlined in that document.
Depending on the nature of your concern, you may also need to inform other parties, such as gardaí or the Charities Regulatory Authority.