How to ensure your Christmas donations are put to best use

Don’t let recent scandals put you off contributing to Irish charities – but do your research so your money goes to the right place.

The run-up to Christmas is traditionally a time when many of us give to charity. Scandals in the charity sector in recent years – where a few organisations breached public trust – have damaged the reputation of charities and many have seen a drop in donations as a result.
There are still plenty of deserving Irish charities which are worthy of your donations though – and there are still many people in desperate situations in need of the help which Irish charities give. Here are a few simple steps which you can take to ensure that any money you donate this Christmas goes to good use.
Check the register

Before giving money to a charity, check that it is regulated. The Charities Regulator was set up three years ago and all Irish charities must register with it. There is a public register on the regulator’s website which you can check to find out if a charity is regulated; otherwise, you could ring the regulator directly.

Once a charity is registered with the regulator, it will have a registered charity number (RCN) and charities will usually have that number on display when fundraising. If not, ask the fundraiser or charity for their RCN. Should the charity claim to be regulated, but refuse or be reluctant to disclose its RCN, this could indicate that the charity or fundraiser is not above board – so be wary about donating in such instances.
Not all fundraising groups, such as your local GAA or athletics club, need to be regulated by the charity regulator or to have an RCN. So don’t assume that something is amiss just because a fundraising group isn’t on the register.

“If you look up the register and a charity isn’t on it, ask legitimate questions as to why the charity is not on the register,” said Deirdre Garvey, chief executive of The Wheel, which represents charities, and community and voluntary groups. “If the organisation collecting isn’t on the register, it doesn’t necessarily mean anything bad – there are plenty of sporting organisations and non-profit organisations who also do fundraising.”
Check the finances

Before donating to charity, get a sense of what the charity spends its money on – and how well it manages its finances. Well-established charities often publish their financial accounts on their website and such accounts typically outline what the charity has spent its money on, the number of people who have used the charity’s services, and the amount of money spent on wages, salaries, administration and other costs. The salary of the charity’s chief executive may also be disclosed.

John Farrelly, chief executive of the Charities Regulator, advises people not to allow administration or running costs to discourage them from donating to a charity. “There is a cost in setting up an office for a charity,” said Farrelly. “An office will have lighting and heating costs. Animal charities, for example, need money to provide for vet fees and heating. These are the real costs of running a charity.”

Go for transparency

When choosing a charity to donate to, pick one which is transparent about its finances and activities. “Ask yourself if the charity’s description of what it does makes sense,” said Garvey. “Find out too if the charity has signed up to governance codes, such as the Regulator’s fundraising code.”

It can be hard to thoroughly research a street or door-to-door collector before giving a donation. However, there are a few things which you should quickly check before handing over money or bank account details.
“The person collecting should be able to show their registered charity number and tell you about what the charity does,” says Farrelly. “If the person is collecting cash, they should be using sealed bins or boxes. If a collector is calling to your home, they shouldn’t be calling at the wrong time of the day. A registered charity won’t call to your home at night. Go with your gut instinct.”

Christmas cards

Charity Christmas cards are popular but as little as a tenth of the price of a pack can go to charity – so do your research before choosing your cards.
In the run-up to Christmas, there are charity Christmas cards on sale from a stand in Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin and from the offices of the Children’s Medical & Research Foundation (CMRF), which raises money to help sick children in the hospital. All profits made from the sale of these cards goes to the CMRF. You can also buy CMRF cards online (www.cmrf.org) and from Easons but in these cases, the amount donated to the charity varies and is usually not the full amount that you spend on the pack.

The full amount raised from the sale of Barnardo’s charity cards goes directly to the charity, according to a spokeswoman for the charity. Barnardo’s Christmas cards can be bought through its online shop (barnardos.ie). The full amount raised from the sale of Trocaire Christmas cards also goes directly to the charity as long as you buy the cards from Trocaire centres in Dublin, Cork and Belfast or from Veritas stores. Trocaire Christmas cards are also for sale in a number of Eason stores and should you buy the cards in Easons, half of the profit goes to the charity, according to a Trocaire spokeswoman.
With Oxfam’s Christmas cards, 70pc of the price of the pack is spent directly on the charity’s work with the remaining 30pc spent on printing and distribution cards. You can buy Oxfam charity cards from most Oxfam stores.

The animal charity, Paws Animal Rescue, sells its charity Christmas cards for €7 a pack. “We pay €3.13 [for a pack] and sell for €7 so the charity gets 100pc of the €3.86 profit,” said Gina Hetherington, co-founder of Paws. The Paws cards are available online (paws.ie) and in the Paws charity shop in Clonmel, Co Tipperary.
MS Ireland, which supports people affected by multiple sclerosis, sells Christmas cards from its website (ms-society.ie), its head office on Northumberland Road, Dublin and from the MS care centre in Rathgar. A pack of 10 cards costs €6 and about 60pc of the amount raised goes to the charity, with the remainder covering the costs of the cards.

“Each pack costs MS Ireland €2.45 to produce including design, package and delivery,” said a spokeswoman for the charity. “The remaining €3.55 goes directly back to MS Ireland supporting the MS care centre and vital services for people living with multiple sclerosis.”

Remember should you order cards online from a charity, you must also usually pay for postage and postage can be expensive.
The charity Christmas cards on sale in Debenhams support Make A Wish Ireland, which helps children with life-threatening medical conditions. With most of these cards, a fifth of the sale proceeds goes to charity. However, there is one style of card for sale where the full profits made go to the charity. Next donates 15pc of the sales proceeds from its charity Christmas cards to a number of charities including the British Heart Foundation and Macmillan Cancer Support.

Should you buy your charity Christmas cards in Arnotts or Boots, a tenth of the price of the pack goes to charity. Arnotts stocks Christmas cards for the Irish Cancer Society, Irish Hospice Foundation and Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin. The charity cards sold in Boots raise money for the Irish Cancer Society.

This year, Marks & Spencer has committed to donating €15,000 from the sale of its charity Christmas cards to the Marie Keating Foundation – rather than making a donation based on the percentage of sale proceeds from the cards.

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