Are you wondering what makes a charity good?
You may have heard charities being discussed in the media. Perhaps you are thinking of making a donation, or maybe you are considering volunteering. Before you decide whether or not to support a charity, you may wish to ask some questions:
- Is it in fact listed on the Register of Charities?
- Is the charity trying to address a real need?
- Does the charity’s approach to addressing that need make sense?
- What has the charity achieved to date?
- Does the charity use quality research to learn and improve?
- Does the charity comply with the Charities Governance Code?
- Does the charity have good leadership?
- Does the charity have good volunteers and/or paid staff?
- Do the people using the charity’s services have a say in how it is run?
- Has the charity signed up to the Guidelines for Charitable Organisations Fundraising from the Public?
- Is the charity transparent about its finances?
- Is the charity financially secure?
- Does the charity manage its finances and operations well?
- Does the charity make efficient use of its resources?
If you have any questions about a specific charity, contact that organisation directly. You have a right to ask questions about any aspect of its work. Good charities will welcome the opportunity to share their strategies and impact with you.
Ireland’s charity numbers, per head of population, are in fact quite low when compared to other countries.
There are nearly 10,000 organisations on the Register of Charities. Over 7,000 organisations receive charitable tax exemption (CHY) from Revenue. Irish charities range from tiny, volunteer-run community groups to major international relief agencies.
Organisations working at national or international level may be tackling seemingly similar issues, but it is often the case that they concentrate on a specifc element of those problems. For instance, there is a big difference between undertaking research on a particular medical condition and caring for people with that condition: each requires a very different approach and expertise.
Many charities already work closely together on certain initiatives. Sometimes, it makes sense for them to merge officially and this certainly happens from time to time. However, mergers can be complex and costly and may not necessarily result in the efficiencies and financial savings that might be expected.
However, it is simply not possible for every charity to be run by people in their spare time. Many modern charities are busy, complex organisations that need to employ skilled and experienced staff. Just like any other sector in our society, these people need to be paid appropriately for the work that they do.
What then, is an overhead or an administration cost? Is it administrative staff, fundraising costs, electricity, stationery, computers or bank charges? These and other costs are all likely to be key to the organisation’s ability to do its work, and do it well. There is no standard approach to defining overhead, so when one charity claims to spend 2% on administration costs and another states it spends 20%, they are not necessarily talking about the same thing.
Even if a charity seems to be more efficient because it has low overheads, this tells you nothing about its effectiveness. You may find that organisations with higher overheads also produce better results. We therefore urge you to ignore these meaningless statistics and focus on the impact of the charity.
- The first is to raise awareness about the cause (how else would people find out about it?).
- The second is to raise much-needed money for that cause, which will allow it to provide more and better services.
If in doubt, contact the charity’s representatives and ask them why they have chosen to spend their money in this manner, whether the return on investment is good, and what they have achieved as a result.
- 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 valid phone number.
- It does not have a website.
- It makes vague statements as to its purpose (for example: “for Africa”, “helping orphans” or “for cancer”).
Do not part with your donation if you have any doubts.
Charities have to comply with many other laws and regulations. Depending on their legal structure and activities, they have to meet specific requirements set down by Revenue, the Companies Registration Office, the Data Protection Commissioner, the Standards in Public Office Commission, the Health and Safety Authority, local authorities and others.
Many charities are set up to provide a united voice for those who may otherwise find it difficult to have their voice heard, such as patients, people with disabilities, people who find themselves homeless, victims of abuse or other crimes, etc. Or they may be formed to advocate for causes, such as animals or the environment, where there is no voice.
If a charity does engage in lobbying it must adhere to strict regulations set out by government.
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