Although 90% of the Irish public say they donated over the past year, new research from the Charities Regulator indicates that securing income has been the sector’s key challenge since the start of the pandemic.
The Regulator commissioned Amárach Research to conduct two surveys: one among registered charities, with a total of 1,240 respondents, and the second among 2,000 members of the public on their attitudes to engagement with, and thoughts on the charity sector in Ireland.
Among the findings, the research reveals that income and securing funding were identified by over half (56%) of all responding organisations as a key challenge with one third (32%) saying it was the most serious challenge of all.
Other challenges over the past year for charity respondents include complying with social distancing and Covid measures, reducing or being unable to offer any services, and the impact on fundraising activities – each one mentioned by almost half. A third also highlighted fewer donations or reduced value of donations.
Charities are responding to these challenges in a range of ways, with 37% saying they are looking for new sources of funding, while 35% are providing services differently and 28% said they were increasing their presence on social media. Only 13% indicated they were planning to cut costs.
Public trust and confidence
The charity survey also questioned respondents on their perception of public trust and confidence in charities, finding that almost half of charity respondents believe this has increased in the past 12 months, while 43% think it has not changed and 12% believe trust has decreased. Among those who felt trust had decreased, respondents felt this was partly due to poor media coverage of charities. Of those who thought public trust and confidence has increased, 90% believed the role of the charity sector during the pandemic had contributed to this improvement.
Asking the public about how much they trusted charities, the Charities Regulator found that it has risen for two thirds of respondents over the past two years. 91% of respondents reported a reasonable level of trust and confidence in the sector, with just over a third (36%) rating their level of trust highly. Among those that said their level of trust had decreased, a lack of openness and transparency about how donations are used was cited as the most common cause for concern.
Although a third of charities mentioned receiving fewer donations or a reduced value of donations, nine in ten consumers questioned said they had donated in the past year. Four in ten said they donated over €100 during this time and half of the charity supporters said that they donated regularly (at least once every two months).
The large majority of respondents (88%) said they had not changed the type of charity they support as a result of COVID-19, with the most popular causes among supporters being homeless or refuge services, medical or health-related charities and local community organisations.
Commenting on the findings, Helen Martin, chief executive of the Charities Regulator said:
“It’s clear from the findings that a constant challenge for the sector, regardless of an organisation’s size or complexity, is funding and income. The survey findings confirm that the pandemic has had an impact on traditional sources of income for many charities as well services and volunteering. As we emerge, many charities will be challenged by the new context in which they find themselves.
“We know from our survey of the public that levels of public trust and confidence in charities are closely linked to levels of transparency and accountability of charities regarding their finances. We will continue to support charities to enable them to operate in a way that increases levels of public trust and confidence through the provision of practical guidance focused on enhancing standards of governance and increasing transparency and accountability across the sector.”
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