“We want to encourage people to think about how they give. Think, and give,” says Seamus Mulconry of Philanthropy Ireland, which is behind the One Percent Difference Campaign, whose TV ads are currently screening ahead of ‘National Giving Week’.
The campaign, which will cost €2.5 million over two years, is the brainchild of the Forum on Philanthropy and Fundraising, chaired by Fine Gael strategy whiz Frank Flannery. He raised eyebrows with a suggestion to the Oireachtas Finance Committee in July that tax exiles be awarded a day extra in the country with every €36,500 donated, with an upper limit of 62 days.
The forum was resurrected in 2010 by Minister Phil Hogan, who appointed Flannery (whose position is unpaid) to the body, as a response to the funding shortfall, estimated at €60m annually, which will occur when Chuck Feeney’s Atlantic Philanthropies, which has spent over €1bn in Ireland, halts funding in 2020. Mulconry points to the move towards equal marriage as one achievement of philanthropy in Ireland; Atlantic and the One Foundation have funded the campaigning organisations MarriagEquality and BeLonGTo.
The campaign exhorts Irish people – who, according the World Giving Index 2011, are the world’s second most charitable nation – to give one per cent of their time or money to civil society.
According to Mulconry, a former Director of Policy for the Progressive Democrats, it’s not necessarily about asking people to give more; it’s about encouraging giving on a planned and committed basis.
He points out that Flannery’s proposal on tax exiles is not a proposal of the forum – it’s linked to the development of a Social Innovation Fund under the forum’s recommendations, and “it is not philanthropy, as this is an investment in a government scheme in return for a benefit, not philanthropic giving where the donor receives no benefit.”
Opponents of the campaign, which is funded by Minister Hogan’s department and Philanthropy Ireland, say it is intended to let the Government off the hook for cutbacks to the community and voluntary sector.
Former head of the Equality Authority, Niall Crowley, believes there is a huge ethical issue with “people who don’t pay tax here buying off their responsibilities by making a contribution to supposedly ‘good works’”.
“You move from a situation… where there’s a strategic intervention in supporting community development or the community sector, to privatising it, which essentially, with the tax exiles, suits the interests of or the pastimes of very wealthy people,” says Crowley.
“The other contradiction around the tax thing – at a time when there’s hugely disproportionate government cutbacks to the community sector – it’s been reduced this year by about 35% which is way beyond any other sector. And at the same time as that huge disproportionate cutback, you have government funding this really expensive media campaign for one per cent giving, so I find that just unacceptable.
“This is a very expensive campaign, there’s quite a lot of government money going into it and there’s quite a lot of Atlantic money going into it, at a time when the Philanthropies are pulling out – and I think mistakenly – at a time when government is cutting back on funding the sector, there’s a huge contradiction at its core. We’re no longer giving, so you should give.”
The report includes recommendations for tax reform, such as tax relief for gifts of between €5,000 and €1 million, and changing the tax relief system to reward donors who give to specific structured vehicles.
Chairman of the Oireachtas Finance Committee, Labour’s Ciaran Lynch, says there would be “massive resistance” to Flannery’s proposal on tax exiles, but expresses a need for the government to examine approaches that would encourage philanthropic investment here and abroad.
He doesn’t agree that the programme will absolve the Government of funding responsibility, suggesting instead that philanthropic donations will be complimentary.
Crowley is not the only person in the third sector, which employs 100,000 people throughout Ireland – more than tech and pharma combined – with concerns.
One fundraiser who works for a global development organisation listed on Philanthropy Ireland’s website believes it’s another step towards the commercialisation of giving.
The fundraiser links it to the increasing professionalisation of fundraising, which, he says “removes the social good as a purpose”.
He is critical of the lack of representation of charity and voluntary organisations on the forum. Mulconry, however, says the forum was created by the Government for funders and sector infrastructure providers, not the beneficiaries of funding, in the same way Philanthropy Ireland doesn’t have members who are charities.
The fundraiser says individuals do plan their giving.
“As Irish people, we all grew up with an attitude of ‘that’s not charity, it’s just what you do’; your local school or GAA club is just part of belonging to your community, and charity begins at home.”
“I’d imagine this campaign is aimed at high net worth individuals. But is it really worth pissing everybody else off, to do that?”
This piece was originally commissioned for the Sunday Business Post – then the bailout exit was announced!