The unforeseen challenges and deep uncertainties experienced over the last almost 18 months continue to impact and will do so for some time to come. Collectively as a society we face testing times, as post-pandemic we strive to address needs emerging in addition to those remaining unaddressed from pre-pandemic times.

Collective responses are vital. No one, not least government, can do it alone. We need to work together and make best use of all resources to hand, including philanthropy. Policy for philanthropy can help unlock its potential to input for good. I am going to put forward three simple reasons why such policy is vital, acknowledging there are many other valid arguments to favour such a development.


Leadership as a Framework for Action and Change

While we identify as a giving nation, it is predominantly reactionary and short term in nature. To grow strategic giving, we need to create a cultural shift to more sustainable long-term investment in giving. Cultural shifts need to be centrally driven and stimulated over a sustained period to fully embed.

Government must lead on creating an enabling environment for the effective development of philanthropy. Such leadership, when articulated and demonstrated through policy, can steer, and guide such development for good. As our democratically elected leaders, it is within their gift to effect policy change. Leadership signals a recognition by government that philanthropy can be a legitimate partner in addressing key societal issues. Recognition is important, signals matter.

Collaboration is not just Desirable, it is Essential

To say the range and complexity of the issues we face as a society are significant is a resounding understatement. In addition, the full impact of the pandemic has yet to be revealed. There is an absolute need for all stakeholders to work together. Collaboration is not optional. It will be fundamental to impacting on change needed. As noted recently by the Department of Rural and Community Development in commenting on the Innovate Together Fund,  ‘As we begin to build a path to recovery, now is the time to come together to build an Ireland in which we all want to live and work.’

Despite all the resources of government, they cannot do it alone. Private resources must be used to support and enable changes needed. While government will always bear primary responsibility and have demonstrated this, we need to foster and nourish a collective approach. Experiences of public and private investment show that collaboration can have real impact, successfully addressing some of the most pressing social needs. Successful partnership models have taken many forms: match funding partnerships such as that with Rethink Ireland (who in five years have created a cumulative social fund of €72m); seed investment such as that made by government in 2000 into the Community Foundation for Ireland (who in 2020 alone disbursed €15m in grants); service agreements, effecting the work of Genio in areas including mental health and homelessness; co-investment such as that with The Atlantic Philanthropies  on 19 projects in youth, children, dementia and disability. Theses are all models of significant collaborative success on issues of significant social challenge and need.  

But collaboration must happen with purpose, vision, and intent. All parties need to be proactive in making it happen. Philanthropic support cross cuts all departments of government, adding economic value. A Philanthropy Policy can provide a framework within which stakeholders can work collaboratively to catalyse change for societal benefit.


Managing Resources to Maximise Impact

Now more than ever, effective resource management is critical. Demand on resources, across all strata, including social and community services, well exceeds supply. Government is by far the largest contributor to the non-profit sector in Ireland as highlighted in the Benefacts 2021 Report on the non-profit sector. As we move to recovery post-pandemic, demand on resources will be exacerbated, which in turn will likely necessitate difficult choices being made.

Our own members reflect similar experiences where asks for support far exceed that which is available. Discussions across our membership base suggest a conservative estimate of 4:1 ratio in relation to requests for support and what is granted. Difficult decisions are being made not just by our own members but by all donors. The knowledge that for every making of a grant there are many rejections brings added responsibility in giving. Informed decision-making is vital.

Policy framework can act as a critical support in guiding resources, both in allocation and management processes. Maximising impact is a key objective of all funding stakeholders, public and private.  

In conclusion, while there are many other arguments in favour of policy for philanthropy at this time, a common core theme is that of supporting a shared vision for a better society. While policy development is not the only answer, it signals intent, can create a common bond, supports transparency and can make significant strides in supporting the use of resources for the common good.


Éilis Murray

CEO, Philanthropy Ireland

August 2021