Philanthropy in Ireland: Current Challenges

Ellen Remmer
Global Philanthropy
Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Throughout my travels, I sensed an urgency for developing the private philanthropy culture and the philanthropic marketplace.

 On the supply side, Government agencies which both gave and promised large donations during the economic boom are pulling back and even withholding promised funds.  Financial institutions – typically stalwart supporters of community, especially the arts - are in crisis.  On the demand side, new NGO’s formed and existing ones expanded during the boom are now struggling for funding.

Moreover several of the largest foundations in Ireland are time-limited (Atlantic Philanthropies and the One Foundation) and NGO’s are rightfully worried about what will replace their giving. 

 Other forms of institutional philanthropy also seem relatively weak.  There is only one community foundation for Northern Ireland and one community foundation in the Republic of Ireland.  It appears that these community foundations have not yet realized their potential in growing philanthropy and serving as a prominent philanthropic resource and vehicle for donors.  Both the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland and The Community Foundation for the Republic of Ireland manage relatively small endowments and small numbers of donor advised accounts and field of interest funds.  In my brief visit, there was no evidence of Fidelity, Schwab or Vanguard-like donor advised funds in either region. Knowledge and use of these and other charitable trust vehicles seems to be quite limited among professional advisors.

 While Ireland’s extensive diaspora philanthropy has long been a model for other countries, it is presumed that historically much of this giving – particularly in Northern Ireland – related to “the troubles.”  With the conflict in large part at an end, professionals talk about the need for a new value proposition for diaspora giving, perhaps based on “backing winners” in building a sustainable peace, or investing in preserving Irish culture.