A Sector Plan

Posted on 13 Jul 2018

Ireland’s charities and community and voluntary organisations 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! There is much that Government can do to support the sector to realise its full potential.

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 biggest single funder of charities in Ireland, and increasingly statutory funding is awarded through “commissioning” services – so we need 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 business-supports that are available to commercial enterprises are also available to charitable 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. And charities themselves need to demonstrate the highest governance standards in their work.

We outline here the policies that we believe, if implemented, will create an environment where our community, voluntary and charitable sector can deliver its maximum contribution to well-being in Ireland.

Ireland needs to fully value and appreciate the work of our charities and community and voluntary organisations. To this end, we need a national development strategy for the community and voluntary sector.

We are working with the Government and in partnership with our members on the publication of a national strategy to support and develop the community and voluntary sector.

Our community and voluntary sector depends on a mix of fundraising, earned-income and statutory funding for its work.  We are asking Government to develop and publish, in partnership with our members and the community and voluntary sector, a coherent long-term funding strategy to sustain our social infrastructure and services delivered by the community and voluntary sector.

The funding strategy should ensure that statutory funding agreements make provision for:

  • multi-annual funding allocations as the default approach
  • funding to be provided on a full-cost-recovery basis - taking into account the need for organisations to fund core-costs, pay staff adequately, train and develop staff, and make provision for pension contributions where appropriate.

Many community and voluntary organisations are involved in delivering essential services for the state, and many now find themselves subject to commissioning approaches to allocating public funds.

If the community and voluntary sector is to continue playing its key role in health, community and social services, then Government needs to ensure that future funding and commissioning models fully support the community-based, nonprofit approach by making sure that:

  • commissioning is understood as a strategic approach to meeting identified needs and not understood as an instruction to competitively tender for all services
  • the setting of the outputs/outcomes to be commissioned/procured is done very carefully; that outcomes procured include BOTH the financial and non-financial value inherent in public services; and that outcomes procured are developed in consultation with communities concerned.

Community and voluntary organisations face many of the same challenges that business organisations do. We are asking Government to work with charity, community and voluntary sector to ensure the availability of a nationwide ‘support-infrastructure’ so that our charities and community/voluntary organisations have available to them the full range of services and supports available to for-profit business. This is useful not only to charities that have diverse income streams, but is of particular benefit to social enterprises.

As noted, many community and voluntary organisations deliver services on behalf of the state – and this demands trusting relationships, partnerships and shared understandings of need. Partnership working is complex and demanding, yet increasingly, partnership working approaches are changing towards contractual, commissioning-based approaches and the use of Service Level Agreements that can run contrary to the spirit of partnership-working approaches.

We are asking Government to develop a framework for collaborative/partnership working between voluntary organisations and their statutory counterparts when they work together for the benefit of communities.

Charities understand the importance of transparency in their work and worked for years to encourage the establishment of Ireland’s Charities Regulator. The sector welcomes regulation and is working to attain the highest standards of governance, but there is a risk now that the compliance and reporting burden associated with statutory funding and regulation is becoming increasingly demanding for charities, and that the interplay of the many separate, but related, regulatory and reporting requirements could begin to impede the work and advocacy of charities.

We are asking Government to review, and if necessary, rationalise compliance and regulatory requirements to ensure that regulation in all its forms, helps, and doesn’t over-burden, charities and community and voluntary organisations.

Charities are recognised as organisations that provide public benefit in pursuit of their charitable objectives. As such, charities are under an obligation to take appropriate action to advance their charitable purpose. We are working to ensure that all government regulators and agencies ensure charities and public benefit organisations are free to advocate to advance their charitable purpose.

People engage in their communities through charities, community and voluntary organisations which support active citizenship. Irish people compare favourably with our peers in terms of the rate at which we volunteer, but we don’t compare so favourably in our participation in democratic decision-making processes. We are working to encourage Government to develop a strategy to maximise active citizenship and fully engage people in decision-making that shapes their lives.

It is important that community and voluntary organisations collaborate in their work where possible. But collaborative work involves costs. We are working to encourage Government to provide additional resources to support mergers and collaborative work.

Every single charity or voluntary group is overseen by volunteers and we have over 50,000 such ‘charity trustees’ running Ireland’s charities. Additionally, over 50% of charities are operated purely by volunteers in addition to the trustees – they employ no paid staff. We welcome Minister Ring’s stated intention to publish a national plan to support volunteering, and the ‘infrastructure’ that sustains and nurtures it, during 2018. We ask Government to ensure that this is positioned as a critically important element of an integrated over-arching strategy for the sector.

Most charities are innovative at finding ways to fund their work. Many exchange goods or services for funding. Additionally, some organisations are set up from the get-go to be ‘social enterprises’ and they achieve their objectives as an organisation through trading on the open market in a nonprofit manner. Ireland needs a focused plan to strengthen and foster social enterprise activity and The Wheel welcomes Minister Ring’s commitment to develop a plan, in partnership with charities and social enterprises. We ask Government to ensure that this is also positioned as a critically important element of an integrated over-arching strategy for the sector.