Co-Operation Ireland recently hosted a seminar entitled ‘Local Authorities Building Stronger Communities – the Role of Philanthropy and Alternative Funding Initiatives’. The seminar was an initiative of the All Island Local Authority Forum and delegates were primarily drawn from Local Authorities.

One of the themes addressed was in relation to visioning on the future of philanthropy in Ireland and the potential for engagement with Local Authorities. The framing of the theme and subsequent discourse provided opportunity to reflect again on the modelling of philanthropy in Ireland, the community dimension and the opportunity for Local Authority engagement.

In its literal term philanthropy means ‘the love of mankind’. And this very definition creates space for many interpretations and models of philanthropy, for a broad scope of flexibility in how it can be enacted and how it can become a reality for those who seek to engage with it.

In many respects therefore it is almost a mirror image to ‘community’ – interpretation of community can take on many facets of understanding and models of engagement. Philanthropy and community share many core threads. Both are about giving, about seeking to make a difference in society and improving the well-being of humanity.

Fundamental to any philanthropy is the intent – it is giving which is planned and structured, strategic in its intent. And in relation to what that giving can be, while we tend to think primarily in terms of money, it can also be the planned and structured giving of time, information, goods and services, voice and influence.

We are a giving nation, generous of nature, with an estimated 89% of people giving to good causes – in other words only one in ten people do not give. But despite the high rate of ‘participation’ in giving, our ‘level’ of giving tends to be low, with less than 1% of our income donated to causes.  And understanding ‘How’ we give is important – we tend to be reactionary, spontaneous givers. The number of Irish donors who give in a regular, planned way is significantly below EU averages. Yet planned donations are on average five times larger than spontaneous donations.

We also have a very low number of active grant making trusts and foundations. Two of the more prominent philanthropic organisations Ireland has benefited from were established as limited life foundations. The One Foundation ceased activity at the end of 2013 and The Atlantic Philanthropies, will close at the end of this year. In addition, Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust have ceased grant making in the Republic of Ireland.  The composite effect will be a significant funding gap within the not-for-profit sector

While we do not have a tradition of grassroots philanthropy there is no reason why we cannot create our own model. And I believe partnership and collaboration must underpin any such modelling.

Key stakeholders – donors, government, existing philanthropic organisations, corporates, service deliverers, grantees and of course representative and leadership organisations such as Philanthropy Ireland – all have a role to play in shaping the future of philanthropy here in Ireland. We must work collectively, listening, learning, and growing our own model for the future.

Government support has been and continues to be vital for the active development of the sector. The principles of philanthropy fit very well with government objectives of supporting the sustainable and inclusive development of communities. Many community initiatives are only made possible by the alliances that have formed between communities, voluntary organisations, government and business.

Philanthropic funding is no substitute for government funding and should never be perceived as such. Rather, it should act as a supplement to it. As well as unlocking private funding to address social and economic challenges, increased private giving to good causes can support government strategies backed by sound policies.

Local Authorities, as those tasked with the responsibility of local government, can engage in the modelling of our philanthropic sector and collaborate on initiatives at local level. They can provide perspective on both local needs and opportunities for engagement, while at the same time supporting and actively facilitating delivery on policy.

A good example of collaboration for public benefit is the recently announced Ballyfermot Play Park Project. The project has been funded by the Matheson Foundation in partnership with Dublin City Council and the Irish Architecture Foundation. It will combine a play area and skate/BMX park delivered through a process of high quality public engagement. It represents a real example of philanthropy working in partnership with a Local Authority for the delivery of a high quality community benefit.

Many of the core objectives of County Development Plans include statements on quality of life; health and well-being; social inclusion; economic development; environment and natural resources, etc. In these, there is immediate parallel and connectivity apparent with many philanthropic objectives.

Similarly, mechanisms used for the delivery of actions to implement policy, provide Local Authorities with unique opportunity to actively facilitate local philanthropy. Consider for example the Social Policy Committees and their stated remits – Community Development; Enterprise Development; Public Participation, etc. Can they play a role? Can they act as platforms for engagement with philanthropy, acting as connectors; community development for example connecting with social issues; enterprise development for example facilitating and encouraging social enterprises? Can local Arts Offices act as platforms for local philanthropic initiatives on arts and culture? There is real opportunity to do so.

Over time cultures can change. Partnership and collaboration is fundamental for the development of a philanthropic culture in Ireland – one which we can call our own. The ultimate outcome is a collective desire to address issues by effecting real change.  A strong philanthropic sector can play a key role in building stronger communities in partnership with key stakeholders, including government and local authorities. Philanthropy Ireland is committed to facilitating and leading on such development.