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Give smarter, not less, as charities struggle for cash

Ashleigh Kiernan is an 11-year-old from Lucan who already knows all about the highs and lows of life. In 2010, her family was devastated to learn that she had been diagnosed with an advanced form of leukemia.

Since then, however, the brave little girl has experienced a dream come true - swimming with dolphins at a lagoon in Florida that she simply describes as "the best trip ever".

Ashleigh is just one of 210 Irish children who benefited last year from the much-loved Make-A-Wish Foundation. Others got to visit Disney World, meet Justin Bieber or simply adopt a new puppy.

Sadly, it seems there will soon be far fewer of these heartwarming stories to report because Make-A-Wish's fundraising activities this year have fallen to the tune of 30pc.

Charity is famously said to begin at home. For an increasing number of Irish people these days, it ends at home too.

According to a recent survey by The Wheel, a body that represents 950 Irish charities, 61pc of their members have experienced a sharp drop in donations from the public.

There is no great mystery about this. Most of us were disgusted last year to learn of the inflated salaries and gold-plated pensions being awarded to executives at both Rehab and the Central Remedial Clinic.

To add insult to injury, some of the board members involved refused to perform the basic courtesy of appearing in front of an Oireachtas committee and explaining their bulging pay packets.

SCANDALS

With so many charity scandals flying around, it is hardly surprising that the entire sector has become damned by association. Many people who used to automatically buy a raffle ticket or throw some loose change into a bucket are choosing to keep their hands in their pockets.

If this trend continues, however, it will be a national tragedy - because the vast bulk of our charities are decent organisations that do wonderful work and richly deserve our support.

Any notion that Irish people have suddenly become a bunch of skinflints is clearly rubbish.

Just look at our response to the Ice Bucket Challenge (below), which has taken off here in such a big way that it is surely only a matter of time before President Higgins himself agrees to take a cold shower.

Even those who find it all a bit tacky cannot argue with the fact that it has raised over €1m for the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association.

Other recent charity events show that when there is a specific activity for a specific cause, we are still prepared to dig deep. Earlier this year, the Irish Cancer Society raked in more than €1m from the 'No Make-up Selfie' social media craze.

Since Robin Williams tragically took his own life, screenings of Good Will Hunting around the country have generated €23,000 for Pieta House and other mental health groups.

Unfortunately, all these PR successes have one thing in common. They are essentially celebrity-driven campaigns that, sooner or later, will die a natural death.

RESPECT

To really make any sort of long-term difference, a charity needs donors who will contribute year-in, year-out - and that can only happen if it enjoys the public's full respect.

This is where Ireland's new Charities Regulatory Authority should come in. Due to be formally launched in October, it must not be allowed to develop into another watchdog without any proper teeth.

Instead, it has to earn its keep by shining some light on a sector that has sometimes made our banks look transparent by comparison.

In practical terms, this means publicly commending the charity workers who do so much to make Ireland a kinder place - and publicly shaming the small minority who recklessly waste our money.

The answer to Ireland's charity scandals is not to give less. It is to give smarter and keep making dreams come true.


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