The next number of months will see the resilience of the voluntary sector in Ireland tested to the limit.
As interest groups line up in front of the new government seeking financial support, voluntary service providers who have also been financially impacted, must ensure that they are heard amid the cacophony of demands. They will need to ensure that they are influential. A survey conducted by the Charities Regulator, published on May 19th, found that over half, or 55% of charities said their finances were uncertain or in difficulty while 54% reported their concern about their ability to provide services for more than six months.
At no time following the 2008 banking collapse and economic fallout from it, were Irish charities and the services they provide, threatened to this extent. Donors remained loyal and services continued during the austerity years, even while fundraising was more challenging and government funding for services and pay was cut.
This time, it is different. The suddenness of the crisis has stemmed the flow of essential income. Some national health charities estimate they will be down millions of euro this year. While the government has announced a €35m Stability Fund, it is limited, with grants of between €20k and €100k only available, a drop in the ocean for some service providers.
The sector is resilient and the public is certainly generous, but the size of the challenge being faced now represents a far greater threat than faced even during the bank collapse, and therefore, the sector needs to ensure that it is heard.
In Ireland, the reliance on independent voluntary providers to deliver services on behalf of the state is far greater than elsewhere. Two thirds of disability services are provided by the voluntary sector. The state needs this sector to survive and to thrive.
This is their leverage. In some ways, they are too big to fail, although years of underfunding since the austerity years suggest that the state will make them work hard and wait for any increased funding or support.
The survival of the sector must get on the political agenda as an urgent issue. This means getting in front of the politicians who will be deciding how scarcer resources get spent, and making the case for a share of the resources available.
This means taking time out of the busyness of delivering the services, to make time for lobbying. There is a strong argument to be made, which is – if not us, then who? The state will not want to take on the services currently provided by the voluntary sector, so now is the time to make the case for proper funding, and for a new and secure future for voluntary providers.
This won’t happen unless the sector makes it happen.
In my experience, politicians respond to the problems which present themselves to them in their offices or on their phones, and rarely if ever to those they don’t hear about or know about.
Thousands of people in every community and every county in Ireland use the services of voluntary and charitable organisations. They have votes, and their families have votes. This is what makes them powerful, if they choose to use their voice.