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Building Trust and Confidence in Charities - How You Can Help


Expert insights from Helen Martin, Chief Executive, Charities Regulator.

Most members of IoD Ireland will be involved with Ireland’s charity sector in some way – as volunteers, charity trustees, private or corporate donors, or as a beneficiary of one of Ireland’s over 11,500 registered charities.  The diversity of the sector is reflected in the Register of Charities which includes over 3,600 schools, as well as libraries, museums, youth clubs, day care centres, and much more. Whether a charity is large or one of Ireland’s smaller charities (almost 50% of charities excluding schools have annual income of less than €100,000) all charities have one thing in common - Public trust and confidence is the bedrock of their existence.

Robust, fair, and proportionate regulation is a critical element for ensuring trust and confidence grows and is maintained. But regulation on its own is not enough. As it’s the season for making lists, I’ve compiled the Charities Regulator’s list of asks for this festive season and beyond to help ensure Ireland has a vibrant charity sector that is valued for the public benefit it provides across many facets of society:

1. Be Informed

(a) As a charity trustee

Over 76,000 volunteers in Ireland take on additional responsibilities as charity trustees – they are the volunteers who sit on the boards of Ireland’s charities (or committees in the case of associations) and are the people who ultimately exercise control over and are legally responsible for a charity.  They carry out important work throughout the year in the governance and leadership of Ireland’s charities, often alongside busy personal and work commitments. If you are a new trustee, or one of longstanding, or perhaps someone who is thinking of becoming one, familiarise yourself with the responsibilities of being a charity trustee. You’ll find a range of guidance on the Charities Regulator website to explain and help you and your fellow trustees in your role.

(b) As a service provider

If you are providing professional or other services to a charity or are a trustee of a charity that is availing of such services, make sure that you are familiar with the charity’s key regulatory obligations.  For example, it is essential to know when the charity’s annual report is due to be filed with the Charities Regulator and what your obligations are if you receive a statutory direction to provide information under the Charities Act 2009. Failure to file an annual report on time or respond to a statutory direction is a criminal offence and could also put a charity at risk of being removed from the Register of Charities.

2. Be Risk Aware

One of the key functions of a board of trustees is ensuring that a risk management system is in place to protect the charity from the risks that are particular to it and its activities.  Active management of risks means identifying, evaluating, and managing all  the potential events that could negatively impact on the charity. This may seem obvious but risk management, or more specifically its absence, is an issue that the Compliance and Enforcement unit of the Charities Regulator often comes across when engaging with charities regarding concerns that have been raised with us in relation to a charity’s activities or operations.

3. Ensure Your Charity is Up-to-Date

If you are a charity trustee, please check that your charity’s details on the Register of Charities are correct and that it is up to date with its filings. Don’t assume someone else will do it. For example, every charity is required to submit an annual report to the Charities Regulator within ten months of the end of its financial year yet only 59% of registered charities filed their annual report on time in 2022. Information from these reports is included in the public Register of Charities, which has a record of every registered charity in Ireland making it a key source of information for donors, funders and others interested in Ireland’s charity sector. The Register is also a simple, easy way for charities to demonstrate their commitment to being transparent and accountable to the people who fund them. Research undertaken by Amárach on behalf of the Charities Regulator continues to highlight the strong link between greater transparency and accountability by charities and public trust in them and the wider charity sector.

4. Classify Your Charity

Currently, charities can be grouped by charitable purposes – these are what a charity is set up to do. However, the charitable purposes permitted under the Charities Act 2009 are quite broad, for example prevention or relief of poverty or economic hardship, and charities may have more than one purpose. Following consultation with the charity sector, we introduced a new standard for classifying charities which, when fully adopted by charities, offers many important benefits to the sector generally as well as to individual charities. It will make it easier for funders and philanthropic organisations, for example, to find charities that match the specific charitable purposes and activities that they support. Classification will also assist policy makers, make research into the sector easier, and allow for greater collaboration and knowledge sharing within the sector itself.

I encourage charity trustees to ensure their charity is classified without delay so the classification of the entire sector can be completed. There is a dedicated section on the Charities Regulator’s website with full details and the classification form, which should only take a few minutes to complete. 

5. Click, Check and Give

Irish people and organisations give generously to charities. If you, your company or organisation intend to give time, money or goods to a charity, you can check that you are giving to a registered charity, and find basic information about their finances and activities on checkacharity.ie