Fundraising in Imaginative New Ways

Everyone has less money in their pockets these days, so it stands to reason that Ireland's charities, which rely for the large part on the generosity of the public, are feeling the pinch too.

In many cases, charities are still assessing the true level of the hit they've taken, but nearly all are reporting a drop in fundraising and donations. But necessity is the mother of invention, and several of Ireland's most prominent charities are finding imaginative ways of adapting to the recession in order to keep awareness high and money coming in.

For instance, on Thursday evening, Operation Smile Ireland will launch an art sale in the National College of Art and Design to raise money for essential operations for children with severe facial disfigurements, such as cleft lips and palates.

Running until Saturday, 'Operation Art' may be a far cry from the annual black-tie balls in the Four Seasons that Operation Smile used to rely on for fundraising, but, as organiser Fairley Pilaro says, the charity had to change with the times. "We know that it's too hard these days to ask our patrons to write a cheque for €250 per person and then get them involved in auctions at a fundraising ball," Fairley says.

"We're taking a bit of a chance with this exhibit because we don't know how many people are in the market to buy art these days. I know what all the art we have accumulated is worth so, ideally, if we sell everything on the night, we would raise about €75,000."

Fairley admits that the charity is feeling the squeeze at the moment, though perhaps not as much as others. "We have little things that run throughout the year, like student collections, coffee mornings, and dinners, which at the end of the year all add up. But donations in general are down by 10, 20 and in some cases 30pc."

Another children's charity, Barnardos, is also trying to adapt in these straitened times. "We're being hit on the voluntary fund side and also on strategy funding," admits fundraising director Ruth Guy. "We're seeing a projected shortfall of 20pc in funding this year, and that will impinge directly on our work with children and families.

"Our own staff took a pay freeze, and some levels took a pay cut. We've done everything we can in terms of restructuring to make sure we're not affecting the services."

Last week Barnardos launched a new campaign that appeals directly to the public. "It could be a cash donation or setting up direct debit through the website," Ruth says. "We still have some amazing supporters. We got a letter last week from a 12-year-old who'd sent us the contents of her piggy bank amounting to €6.41."

It comes as little surprise to learn that demand for services has risen in the last year. "Ninety cent out of every €1 we get goes directly to our services," Ruth says. "We need every penny. If we're seeing tough times, then imagine how horrendous it is for the families we deal with.

'Debbie, one of our project workers, told me about a three-year-old child she's working with. The workers give the kids lunch, and this child got a banana at the end. He kept staring at it, so Debbie went over to ask if he wanted her to open it. He said, 'No, I'm going to be hungry later so I'm going to save it'. Debbie's heart broke, but that's what we're encountering every day."

Meanwhile, the Society of Vincent de Paul is reporting an increase of one-third in calls for assistance, but, according to press liaison Jim Walsh, the charity's focus will be on tackling the psychological effects the recession is having on those most in need.

"We're noticing an increase in calls from what we call the 'New Poor', people who are experiencing hardship for the first time," Jim says. "Our volunteers from the 1,000 SVP conferences around the country are telling us about huge levels of distress out there, so we're trying to bring in outside services to help them.

"We're spending €1m a week through the SVP. Half of that is going to individuals through home visitations. The rest goes on the running of our shops, social housing, crèches, and hostels. We don't see ourselves as being in a crisis situation at the moment, but there won't be many Christmas bonuses this year, so we're anticipating a bigger increase in demand over the next two months."

Elsewhere, Enable Ireland has seen its funding from the HSE cut by 3pc, similar to all voluntary sectors, so the charity is concentrating on making up the shortfall through its other sources of funding -- its charity stores.

"Within the shops, we're trying to provide as much value as possible," says communications manager Gillian Murphy. "For example, we're putting up 'special value' rails, and there you'll find a lot of things with designer labels at really good value prices.

"The other side is to get the donations of clothes and bric-a-brac up because in the recession we have noticed that people are holding onto items for longer than they would have previously. So we're strengthening our contacts with local businesses to see if they can do 'bring back days', where all the employees bring in their unwanted items on a particular day to donate to us."

Enable Ireland has also organised a 'Monster Night Out' in Galway on Halloween night. "For €15, you get entry to the Connacht vs Scarlets rugby match and the greyhound racing afterwards," Gillian says.

Similarly Oxfam Ireland is looking to developing its charity stores to keep money coming in for their overseas work in places like East Africa. "We run a campaign called Clear Ur Gear, where we ask the public to de-clutter and donate their unwanted goods," says press officer Paul Dunphy.

"We're about to launch our biggest fundraiser of the year which is 'Unwrapped', the alternative Christmas gifts campaign. It's an established brand so we're hoping for a strong uptake. Last month we had a charity walk called Trailtrekker, and we had a music fundraiser, Oxjam, during the summer."

For its part, the Irish Cancer Society is responding to the recessionary times by teaming up with the international charity 'Movember' for the second year in a row to raise money for prostate cancer awareness.

Irish guys can register at http://ie.movember.com and seek sponsorship for growing a moustache for the month of November. Those signed up already include boxer Kenny Egan, Blizzards front man Niall Breslin and tailor Louis Copeland.

'The beauty of the Movember campaign is that it's funky but gets the message about prostate cancer awareness into the minds of younger men," says Jane Curtain of the Irish Cancer Society.

"In the first week alone we had 900 registrations. During the 2008 Movember campaign, 1,705 participants raised €300,000. We expect that to be bigger this year. It's really caught the public imagination."

Original source: Independent