Being Charitable

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From top: The first meeting of the Charity Regulatory Authority in 2014; Dan Boyle

The whole point of having regulation of the charity sector, is not only to achieve the best standards of governance, but also  to reduce the number of voluntary agencies engaged in similar activities

Dan Boyle writes:

There are two comments associated with Charlie McCreevy (our over esteemed former Finance Minister) that rankle with me. The first was his exhortation for us all to party on, to extend the ‘miracle’ that was the Celtic Tiger economy.

The second comment was his description of the charity/community/voluntary sector as ‘the poverty industry’.

With my own background in this sector it was a comment that succeeded in raising my hackles. Partially it was because I knew that, as criticism, it contained more than a grain of truth.

Most voluntary bodies, especially those dedicated towards meeting a social need, should have as an objective the goal of putting themselves out of business.

In Ireland, with our greater reliance on voluntary bodies to meet social needs, we seem to accept the biblical precept that the poor will always be with us.

None of this should avoid the realisation that it is the State which has created the vacuum, that has created this system of voluntary body led social service provision. More of our social services should be provided directly by the State, and operated to a standard found in the most progressive countries.

This wouldn’t eliminate the need for voluntary agencies. Advocacy is another, as important, element of the work undertaken by such groups. Through this work the community sector acts as ombudsmen, in seeing that the State properly fulfills its responsibilities.

In a fully functioning democracy there should be an appropriate level of State funding for this activity. Such funding should never be linked to avoiding criticism of the State.

Where we’ve also become lost is in applying a market/business model to these bodies. None should be inspired by the need to create or make profit. In particular senior management of charities should not see themselves as being entitled to the same bloated salaries found in the private sector.

This isn’t to say that effective management should be beyond them, or that metrics shouldn’t exist that measure success and failure in these organisations.

What should be put to bed is the idea that competition is needed between voluntary organisations which pursue similar goals.

The whole point of having regulation of the charity sector, is not only to achieve the best standards of governance, but also where necessary to reduce the number of voluntary agencies engaged in similar activities.

What we have now is a mess. A glut of organisations competing for public goodwill. A goodwill already severely tested by poor governance practices and sometimes greed of a small number of actors.

This has undermined the Ireland of the Meitheal, that already was being undermined by the rush to individualism (bringing about greater selfish behaviour) cheered on by Mr. McCreevy and his ilk.

We can’t keep keep sliding down this slippery slope. We are and we deserve better than this.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

20 thoughts on “Being Charitable

  1. nellyb

    ‘the poverty industry’ – thanks for reviving it, Dan, McCrevy was a gem :-)
    I wonder, when at parties, is there a pecking order? Like agri-wealth and construction are top dogs and ‘charity’ wealth are simply tolerated and poured scorned onto.
    (I donate to smaller charities, but the corporatised ones – these extract my money without my consent, so fupp them)

    1. DubLoony

      the problem with the charity sector is that there still is a bit of a saintly glow of people engaged with charity.
      No one dare question the people at the top about their effectiveness or competence.

  2. DubLoony

    Will be struck by a bolt of lightening for this but, I agree with Dan Boyle on this.

    There are 1500 homeless in Dubln but over 900 employed in homeless charities. As one person explained to me, state agencies don’t do evenings or weekends like some agencies do.

    My pet peeve is “community development”. People undermining local competence by telling people how poor & underprivileged they are. Que glossy reports for funding funding that never seems to be enough or is fully explained what it is actually spent on. But nothing changes for people in the area apart from being in or out of favour.

    1. Harry Molloy

      900 in homeless charities!!

      Badly need some legislation and funding to beef up the charities regulator

  3. Tom Thumb

    Great piece, I’d have to say it’s one of the master strokes by any government in the western world. The only thing I could image bettering that is if I was to convince all the boys down the pub they have to pay back my loan to the bank…..

  4. Clampers Outside!

    Hear, hear!

    The CRC scandal lead a lot of people to rethink giving to charity with 62% saying the scandal changed their perception of charities; and 55% saying they’d reduced their willingness to donate
    Source: http://www.slideshare.net/amarach/irish-charities-research-march-2014

    A year later, Christmas 2015, while donations were up a bit… further “research also shows that while donations are recovering, trust in the charity sector is still lagging behind. Just over half (53%) of respondents said that they had no opinion or didn’t trust charities to some degree. Last year, 47% responded similarly.”
    Source: http://www.amarach.com/blog-articles/feeling-charitable.htm

    Then there was that odious person from Rehab lining their pockets with cars, expenses and a massive salary… and then has the neck to sue PAC….. and then the recent Console scandal…..

    Lack of regulation is hurting those in need most.

    1. ivan

      it’s not lack of regulation hurting those, it’s dishonesty by a few bad apples that’s causing the problem.

      I’m not saying no to regulation, per se, but a few isolated high profile cases don’t actually make for a crisis. It’s like Paul Williams saying that because a few Batman-name-style villains are shooting each other that the whole country is in the throes of a crime epidemic.

      We’ve how many charities (yes, I know, bit of trimming down might be no harm) and bar CRC, Rehab, Console and Irish Autism, there’s little amiss. We don’t go burning mosques in Clonskeagh because of a few lads giving Islam a bad name in France, do we?

      I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Regulation – of itself – isn’t a bad thing. I’m on board with that. But at the same time, charities *are* made of people giving their own time, and if people giving their own time are spending more of it on exercises designed to prove they’re not on the take, rather than, y’know, delivering on the aim of the charity, then they’ll stop volunteering.

      That’s what’s happening in the Credit Union sector (again, relies on volunteers).

      And THAT’LL hurt those most in need as well.

      Other thoughts? Yeah – ‘raising awareness’? F*pp off!

  5. Elizabeth Mainwaring

    Vast numbers of personal vanity charities need to be closed. Some highly profitable businesses need to have their charitable status examined (Royal college of surgeons comes to mind), and any charity that uses the phrase “raising awareness” about anything needs to be shut down on the spot.

  6. bisted

    ‘…With my own background in this sector ‘…says it all really Dan…you have a CV worthy of a run at the presidency…declare now so that Fergus Finlay doesn’t beat you to the self-righteous vote and the moral high ground.

  7. Dan Boyle

    Always the bitter word Busted. It always makes my day. Convinces me I must be doing something right.

  8. Dan Boyle

    Will never be able to live up to your exalted standards of bitterness. You’ve got that market cornered. If I’m not you I’m good.

  9. Kieran NYC

    Why did we have to endure two pieces by Frilly on the topic before we could get a grown-up to speak?

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