About the Sector

Posted on 10 Jul 2018

Charities in Ireland play a vital role in society – they make a difference to millions of lives here and across the world. 

Despite a huge variance in the size, structure and composition of organisations within the sector, they share a few things in common. 1) They are all run by volunteers i.e. on their boards or committees; and 2) they all do work for the public benefit i.e. no gain or benefit is given to owners or shareholders.

Ireland’s community, voluntary and charity sector makes a very substantial contribution to society in general. There are almost 10,000 registered charities and a further 20,000+ organisations in Ireland’s wider nonprofit sector. The sector has combined annual turnover of over €14.5bn, employs over 190,000 staff, benefits from the voluntary work of over 50,000 volunteer board members/directors and the work of over half a million “operational” volunteers, (valued by the Central Statistics Office at around €2bn per year). Indecon Economic Consultants estimate (in a report published by the Charities Regulator in 2018) that total direct, indirect and induced value of the impact of the work of Ireland’s charities exceeds 24bn Euro.

Many of Ireland’s charities are part-funded by the state to provide health, social and community services, and they form a critical part of Ireland’s social infrastructure, supporting people and communities the length and breadth of the country. Organisations in the sector make available assets and facilities that our health, community and social services could simply not function without.

But the sector contributes much more than this big financial and voluntary contribution. The non-financial contributions of the community and voluntary approach includes: the energy, endeavour, and commitment of all involved; the pride and sense of belonging the best organisations inspire; and all the other additional resources contributed (like premises, equipment etc.) – none of which would otherwise be available to the state. Our very social-fabric and vibrant community life, which we prize as one of our greatest national assets, is driven by the community groups, clubs, voluntary organisations, charities, associations and social enterprises that exist in all parts of the country. This activity creates an enormously valuable social value (sometimes called ‘social capital’) and, quite simply, it sustains communities, builds a sense of common purpose and creates trust and willingness to work together in our society.

Characteristics and attributes that are observable in the way that charities and community & voluntary groups do their work (when working at their best) include:

  • responsive, tailored and holistic approaches to identifying and meeting needs
  • flexibility, innovation, integration and collaboration in delivery
  • ownership, involvement and empowerment of service-beneficiaries and the wider community in shaping services and supports
  • contributions to building social capital and social cohesion
  • committed, motivated and person-centred staff
  • bringing additional assets and sources of funding to support the work that would not otherwise be available to the state.

Challenges that are restricting the work of the sector

As can be seen, Ireland’s charities and community and voluntary organsiations make a big contribution to our national life, but they could do so much more if we had an environment that fully supported their work. The community, voluntary and charitable sector needs Government to produce a comprehensive development strategy for the sector that includes a sustainable funding model. Government is the single biggest funder of charities in Ireland, and increasingly Government funding is awarded through “commissioning” services – so we need Government to ensure that commissioning models support the community, voluntary and charitable approach. Charities face governance, managerial and operational challenges just like other types of enterprises, and we need to ensure that the supports that are available to commercial enterprises are also available to charitable or social enterprises. Charities also face increasingly intense regulatory requirements, and we need Government to review the regulatory and compliance frameworks charities face to ensure they are as streamlined as possible. For more, see the sector’s big issues.

A few words on language:

Organisations in Ireland’s community & voluntary sector use a wide variety of terms of describe themselves: charities is often used of course, but equally used are ‘community group’, ‘voluntary organisations’, ‘nonprofit’, ‘NGO’, and ‘social enterprise’.

The words ‘club’ or ‘association’ are regularly used for small or locally based initiatives. Sometimes too we hear of ‘for impact’ organisations or ‘social-entrepreneur-founded’ organisations. We encompass all of these in the term ‘community & voluntary sector’.