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European Research Network on Philanthropy

Individual members

Oonagh B. Breen
Senior lecturerer in Law
School of Law
University College Dublin
email: oonagh.breen@

Gemma Donnelly-Cox
Centre for Nonprofit Management
School of Business
Trinity College
email: gdnnllyc@

Maria Gallo
Saint Angela’s College
NUI Galway
email: mgallo@

Aileen Shaw
NUI Galway
UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre

Current projects on philanthropy in Ireland
Research on philanthropic giving in Ireland is limited to a small number of discrete studies with poor comparability.
In 1992, 1995 and 1998/9 large scale survey data were collected on the extent and nature of charitable giving; the extent and nature of volunteering; and general attitudes towards charities and volunteers. In June 2005 a once-off study was conducted by independent consultants in which 1,000 adults, aged between 15 and 74, were consulted about charities and charitable giving.
One question on level and type of volunteering was included in the most recent Census (2006) which is carried out by the Central Statistics Office. The Household Budget Survey which is also carried out by the Central Statistics Office gathers data about the amount of voluntary subscriptons given to schools, clubs, some associations and the church. Detailed information on philanthropic research in Ireland can be found in the Irish chapter of the State of Giving Research publication.
In light of the economic downturn that Ireland is currently experiencing, the CNM (Centre for Nonprofit Management), Trinity College collaborated with Irish Charities Tax Research and The Ireland Funds to conduct research into the expected changes in fundraising activity and income in times of recession. The aim of the research was to ascertain organisations’ income base, determine the reliance on different fundraising methods, and identify how organisations were adjusting their fundraising planning in the context of the current economic climate. A sample of 1,638 organisations were invited to participate in the research by completing a detailed online questionnaire. The survey was launched on 3rd February 2009 and remained active until 16th February 2009. A total of 267 organisations completed the survey and responses were received from those who held the following positions in their organisation: CEO, Financial Controller, Fundraising Manager, Director, Manager/Co-ordinator, Chairperson, Treasurer, Secretary and Administrator.
Findings from this study suggest that charities in Ireland are generally apprehensive at the moment about their ability to deliver quality services in the coming years and some are even concerned that they will be forced to downsize or cease operations altogether. They are in the double bind of needing to do more to meet increasing demands on their services at a time of increased pressure on resources. Most intend to increase their fundraising activity yet do not expect a corresponding increase in funds, a case of more effort being required in order to stand still. The demand for services is on the increase yet staff numbers are expected to remain the same and income from all sources in the current year is expected to decline. These charities clearly see difficult challenges ahead and whilst some believe that new opportunities may arise most are concerned that they will be unable to meet the new demands facing them in the current economic climate.
The full report, Prizeman, Geraldine and McGee, Siobhan (2009). Charitable Fundraising in an Economic Downturn: the first annual report on income and fundraising activity in Irish charities.Dublin: Centre for Nonprofit Management is available at:
Current state of Giving Research in Ireland


Research on philanthropic giving in Ireland is limited to a small number of discrete studies with poor comparability. On a more positive note a number of recent State and private initiatives are seeking to place philanthropy on the public agenda. In this context the lack of comprehensive and longitudinal data is increasingly recognised as problematic and attention is turning to how this might be addressed. In this chapter a brief introduction to the historical and legal context in Ireland is provided first before consideration in given to the main studies in the field.
Historical context
The tradition of giving is rooted in a Christian ethos which has hugely influenced the behaviour of individuals in Irish society since early medieval times (National Committee on Volunteering 2002). From the 18th Century religious institutions began to take a role in the provision of social services, particularly in the area of healthcare and education (Ruddle and Mulvihill 1995). Following political independence in 1922 the establishment of many charitable organisations continued to be influenced by the Christian teaching and the Roman Catholic concern with subsidiarity (Ruddle and Mulvihill 1995, Donnelly-Cox and Jaffro 1999). In this context the message of giving was (and still is) reinforced within schools and within the Churches. Other streams of nonprofit organisation formation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, such as rural regeneration, community development and rights based organisations, have also benefited from this orientation towards giving.
In recent times Ireland has experienced a period of economic growth which has improved the economic status of many individuals. While it has been suggested that this economic growth has increased the potential for charitable giving in Ireland (Donoghue, O’Regan, McGee and Donovan 2007), there is no empirical evidence that this potential has been realised. Indeed the average household donation as a percentage of disposable income has decreased over this period (Central Statistics Office 1996, 2001, 2006).
Legal context
In Ireland nonprofit organisations may take a number of legal forms ranging from companies limited by guarantee, unincorporated associations, trusts, friendly societies and Industrial and Provident societies (Law Society of Ireland 2002; Acheson, Harvey, Kearney and Williamson 2004).  Some of these nonprofit organisations may have charitable status and are thus governed by the Charities Acts 1961-2009.  The Charities Act 2009 [1] provides for the establishment of the Charities Regulatory Authority and the creation and maintenance of a Charity Register.  There is no single register of all nonprofit organisations in Ireland, however. 
The Office of the Revenue Commissioners, Charities Section maintains a database of nonprofit organisations[2] to which have been granted charitable tax exemption on the grounds that they are constituted and operate exclusively for charitable purposes.  Qualifying charitable purposes are defined under English and Irish case law and under Income Tax Special Purposes Commissioners v Pemsel (1891) (Acheson et al. 2004; Office of the Revenue Commissioners 2005). Statistical data about corporate or individual giving to these organisations is not gathered by The Revenue Commissioners.  The Charities Act 2009 decouples the award of charitable tax exempt status (which remains the responsibility of the Revenue Commissioners) from recognition of charitable status for statutory registration purposes (which will be the responsibility of the Charities Regulatory Authority).
In the absence of a single legal identifier, the most commonly-used term by both practitioners and the government in Ireland is ‘voluntary and community organisations’ (Hayes 1996; Donoghue 1998; Donnelly-Cox and Jaffro 1999; Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs 2000). A recent study on nonprofit organisations in Ireland reported that almost four in ten organisations referred to themselves as a ‘community’ organisation with a further 30 per cent stating that they were a ‘voluntary’ organisation and only 6 per cent of organisations referred to themselves as a ‘charity.’ (Donoghue, O’Regan, Prizeman and Nöel 2006).
Data sources for individual giving in Ireland
There is no one statistical source for data on giving to nonprofit organisations in Ireland at the moment. Over the years a number of sources have provided data on individual donations[3].
Individual Giving Survey Series
To date the most comprehensive data was collected in series of national studies of individual giving and volunteering, during the 1990’s (Ruddle and O’Connor 1993; Ruddle and Mulvihill 1995, 1999). These tracked the extent and nature of donating behaviour over a 12-month period in 1992, 1994 and 1997/98. The first two surveys[4] involved a representative random sample of 1,000 participants who were asked about donating and volunteering behaviour in the month prior to being interviewed. The last survey (data collected in 1995) employed a different methodology with the fieldwork distributed over 12 months from March 1997 to February 1998 and participants recorded the value of all donations made during the month prior to interview in a journal (Ruddle and Mulvihill 1999). In each of the three surveys comprehensive data was collected on the (i) general profile of respondents, (ii) extent and nature of charitable giving; (iii) extent and nature of volunteering; and (iv) general attitudes towards charities and volunteers.
Household Expenditure Surveys
The State’s Central Statistics Office gathers data on donations as part of the National Household Budget Survey (HBS). The HBS is a survey of a representative random sample of all private households in the State. First conducted in 1951, the survey has been conducted approximately every five years since (Carroll, McCarthy and Newman 2005). The latest survey (2004-2005) involved 6,884 households (Central Statistics Office 2006). As part of this general survey individuals were asked several questions related to giving to nonprofit organisations. First, individuals were asked to indicate the ‘voluntary subscriptions’ that were made to schools[6]. This included payments for extra curricular activities such as games and languages. Second, individuals were asked about subscriptions and contributions made to clubs, associations and the church (Central Statistics Office 2006). In addition, diaries were collected from individuals and some data on charitable donations may have been contained in those.
One-off national surveys
A once-off study was conducted by independent consultants in 2005. In the study 1,000 adults aged between 15 and 74 were consulted about charities and charitable giving in June 2005 (Amárach 2005). Respondents were asked about the areas of charity that people donated to, the methods of donating and the amount donated in a ‘typical month’.   To date there has not been any follow-up study.
Organisational surveys
In 2005 a project to map nonprofit organisations in Ireland was undertaken by the Centre for Nonprofit Management (CNM) at the School of Business, Trinity College, Dublin (Donoghue et al. 2006). In total 4,214 organisations participated in the study.[7] Data collected about organisational finances in the survey examined the total income from private sources (including, individual donations and foundation support) and provides some idea on the amount of private funding received by nonprofit organisations in Ireland. This survey is distinguishable from others in that data were collected from organisations and not from the individuals who donated. There has been no follow-up study conducted.
Descriptive statistics
This section outlines the headline results from each of the sources and provides a general picture of ‘giving’ in Ireland.
The Reaching Out Series
The reaching out series refers to a number of national surveys that were conducted in Ireland. The three surveys (1992, 1994 and 1997/8) examined individual donating and volunteering. The donating data from the 1997/8 survey are presented here as there were no significant differences in the data over the series of surveys.
The majority of individuals interviewed (87%) donated money to charity and 79 per cent gave more than once in the previous month. Most of the donations given (86%) were prompted by appeals to donate. Only a small proportion of individuals (8%) gave in any planned way. Taking account of the full sample, the average monthly donation per individual was €9.97. The total amount donated by all adults (using Census data) over the course of the year of the survey was calculated to have been ‘somewhere between’ €268 and €343 million.The most common modes of donating were (i) the church gate collection (43% of donors); (ii) the street collection/flag day (30% of donors); and (iii) raffle tickets/lines (29% of donors). While the church precinct was the most common locale for donating, only 12 per cent of the total amount donated was given to the church. The greatest beneficiaries of these donations were organisations in the ICNPO fields of social services (29%), health (23%), international activities (13%) and sports and recreation (10%).
While there were no gender differences in propensity to donate, individuals living in rural and town areas donated significantly larger amounts than those in urban areas. Those who attached importance to religion donated significantly more than those for whom religion was unimportant. Donating was positively related to household income, level of education and employment status. Most people indicated that they donated because they deemed it was ‘for a good cause’ while almost one-third (31%) of donors said that they gave simply because they ‘were asked’.
Household Expenditure Surveys
The Household Budget Survey (HBS) is a survey of a representative random sample of all private households in Ireland. The data presented here are derived from the final results from the 2004-2005 HBS and are based on a sample size of 6,884 households. As the survey questions related to contributions made to churches, voluntary schools, charity[8], trade unions/professional associations as well as other sporting clubs and sporting associations it is not clear if all monies captured in the survey are related to individual donations to charities.
The average weekly contribution per individual was €8.94[9]. Contributing behaviour was related to the employment status of individuals as well as their gross income. Those who were unemployed contributed significantly less (€3.05 weekly) than the average weekly contribution (€8.94) while those in employment (€10.58) the self employed (€10.27) and the retired (€9.22) contributed above the weekly average. Those in the higher income deciles contributed nominally more and proportionally less than those in the lower deciles. Individuals with a gross weekly income of less than €190.37 contributed €4.53 per week (2.4 % of gross income) while those with a gross weekly income of more than €2,019.06 contributed €18.19 per week (0.1% of gross income). Church dues[10] were the single greatest recipient of contributions receiving an average weekly contribution of €4.04, almost half the total amount contributed weekly.
Once-off National Survey
The Amárach study (conducted in 2005) estimated that a total of €450 million was donated to charity in Ireland, with €15 being the average monthly amount donated.   Individuals were unlikely to donate on a regular monthly basis, with just 12 per cent doing so. Over half (53%) of individuals donating gave to street collections with 40 per cent donating to sponsored fund-raising drives[11].
Examining the findings across demographic groups the study found that support for health-related charities rose steeply with age while support for children’s charities fell as the age categories increased. The inclination to donate to charity appeared to be strongly influenced by gender, age and location. Those who had a third level education and those who were employed were more likely to donate larger amounts than other groups.
Organisational survey
As the focus of this 2006 study was organisational and not individual the data presented here is constituted of organisational reporting of donations received. This data is not directly comparable to the other data presented above as the figures also included donations by private foundations as well as individuals. The data, however, is derived from audited accounts as opposed to individual memory. The data collected on income in the survey was based on 2003 financial figures. In total 3,215 organisations reported on their sources of income. Findings in the study suggested that over half of organisations (52.8%) received some form of private donations which amounted to over €200 million (€200,942,710) (Donoghue et al. 2006).
Looking at the kinds of organisations that reported private donations, one quarter (25.1%) were international development organisations while over one fifth (21.6%) were social service organisations. Other kinds of organisations included philanthropy organisations (10.4%); arts, culture and heritage organisations (8.4%); and health organisations (8%). At the lower end of the scale trade unions (0.3%) and environmental organisations (0.6%) were less likely to have had received private donations.
There are a limited and disparate number of sources from where data on individual giving to charities in Ireland can be obtained. Surveys have been conducted on an ad hoc basis and have been based on individual and private institutional interest rather than being part of state-funded national data collection strategies. Data that is available to date suggest that a large proportion of Irish people donate to charity and that the amount that individuals donate has increased from €9.97 monthly in 1996 (Ruddle and Mulvihill 1997) to €15.00 in 2005 (Amárach 2005). It seems, however, that people do not necessarily donate proportionally based on their income level, and that there is the potential for higher levels of giving in Ireland.
There are many research gaps that need to be filled in relation to philanthropic activity in Ireland. In order to track trends in philanthropic giving, data needs to be gathered in a systematic way using methodologies that include consistent categories (with regard to employment status, income level and other demographic details) so that comparisons can be made across studies and across timelines.
Looking to the future, a considerable role could be played by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) in gathering relevant data. In the most recent Census (data gathered in 2006) data was gathered on levels and kinds of volunteering. In a similar manner data on levels of donating to charities could also be gathered at the same time that other Census data was being collected. The CSO already collect data on giving in their Household Budget Surveys but in a manner that conflates charitable donations with other kinds of contributions. Adjusting the questions asked could provide more accurate figures on individual levels of giving.
Under current legislation, The Charities Act (2009), a Charities Regulatory Authority will be established and all charities in Ireland will be bound to comply with the resulting legal registration and accountability provisions of the Act.This will involve changes for the charities sector in Ireland and could allow for all kinds of data (including philanthropic giving) to be gathered from organisations. It will, however, be some time before any data can be collected from this source and the tracking of trends can take place. Other initiatives that could provide data on giving in the future include the proposal to establish a Guidestar Ireland project[12].
In summary, the state of giving research in Ireland is non-systematic and limited. At the moment it seems that the State is best positioned to gather data that would fill the existing gaps.   Without such data our understanding of the philanthropic impact of the relatively recent increase in private disposable income in Ireland will remain very limited.

Source: Wiepking, P. (Ed.) The State of Giving Research in Europe. Household donations to Charitable Organizations in Twelve Countries. Pallas Publications: Amsterdam, the Netherlands. order here.

[2] The full list of bodies granted exemption is published on the Revenue Commissioners website:
[3] Research has been conducted on corporate giving in Ireland (Donoghue 2002) but the focus of this chapter is on individual giving only.
[4] Data collected in March 1992 and 1994
[5] Seven large-scale surveys have been undertaken in respect of the periods 1951-52, 1965-66, 1973, 1980, 1987, 1994-95 and 1999-2000. The 1951-52 and the 1965-66 surveys were, however, restricted to urban areas. The 1973, 1980, 1987, 1994-95 and 1999-2000 surveys covered both urban and rural households.
[6] While in Ireland most of schools’ funding comes from the State, the responsibility for the running of national schools rests with voluntary Boards of Management (Donoghue 1999).
[7] The valid total sample size for the survey was 22,331 organisations.
[8] It is not clear from the questionnaire and published tables what is implied by the term ‘charity’.
[9] By using population data (CSO 2007) we can find an estimate the total amount donated in 2004-2005 as being in the order of €1.5 billion. This sum is considerable larger than other estimates and suggests that the data reported refers not only to charitable donating but to subscriptions paid to other associations and sporting clubs.
[10] ‘Church dues’ are contributions by members of a parish community towards the defrayment of operational expenses of the parish. While voluntary, they are a customary expression of church membership.
[11] Sponsored fund-raising drives are where individuals are sponsored to carry out some activity, for example, a parachute jump or walking trek. Monies collected by the sponsored individual are donated to a named charity.
[12] GuideStar is an online Web-based directory of nonprofit organisations and utilizes information sources of public disclosure.


Acheson, N., Harvey, B., Kearney, J. & Williamson, A. (2004). Two Paths, One Purpose: Voluntary Action in Ireland, North and South. Dublin: Institute of Public Administration
Amárach Consulting (2005). Good Intentions: Consumer Preferences for Charities in Ireland, Dublin: Amárach Consulting
Carroll, McCarthy & Newman (2005). ‘An Econometric Analysis of Charitable Donations in the Republic of Ireland’ in The Economic and Social Review, Vol. 36, No. 3 pp. 229-249
Breen, Oonagh “Neighbouring Perspectives: Legal and Practical Implications of Charity Regulatory Reform in Ireland and Northern Ireland,” (2008) 59(2) Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly 223.

Breen, Oonagh “Regulating Charitable Solicitation Practices – The Search for a Hybrid Solution” (2009) 25(1) Financial Accountability and Management Journal 115

Breen, Oonagh, Patrick Ford and Gareth Morgan, “Cross-Border Issues in the Regulation of Charities: Experiences from Britain and Ireland” (2009) 11(3) International Journal of Not-for-Profit Law 5

Breen, Oonagh and Kerry O’Halloran, “Charity Law in Ireland and Northern Ireland – Registration and Regulation,” (2000) 18 Irish Law Times 6

Breen, Oonagh “Establishing a modern Statutory Framework for Charities: Report on the Public Consultation for the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs” (Government Publications, September 2004).

Central Statistics Office (2007). Census 2006: Principal Demographic Results, Dublin: The Stationery Office
Central Statistics Office (1996). Household Budget Survey 1994-1995: Final Results, Dublin: The Stationery Office
Central Statistics Office (2001). Household Budget Survey 1999-2000: Final Results, Dublin: The Stationery Office
Central Statistics Office (2006). Household Budget Survey 2004-2005: Final Results, Dublin: The Stationery Office
Department of Community Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. (2009).Charities Act, 2009.Dublin: The Stationery Office
Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs (2000). Supporting Voluntary Activity. Dublin: The Stationery Office.
Donnelly-Cox, G., & Jaffro, G. (1999). The Voluntary Sector in the Republic of Ireland: into the twenty-first century. Coleraine: Centre for Voluntary Action Studies.
Donoghue, F. (1998). Defining the Nonprofit Sector Ireland. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies.
Donoghue, F. (2002). Philanthropy or Advertising: Corporate Giving to the Nonprofit Sector in Ireland, Dublin: Policy Research Centre, National College of Ireland.
Donoghue, F., Anheier, H.K. & Salamon, L.M. (1999). Uncovering the Nonprofit Sector in Ireland. Dublin: Johns Hopkins University/National College of Ireland.
Donoghue, F., O’Regan, A., McGee, S. & Donovan, A.M. (2007). Exploring the Irish Fundraising Landscape: A Report on the Practice and Scale of Charitable Fundraising from the Public in Ireland, Dublin: Centre for Nonprofit Management, Trinity College Dublin.
Donoghue, F., Prizeman, G., O’Regan, A. & Nöel, V. (2006). The Hidden Landscape: First Forays into Mapping Nonprofit Organisations in Ireland. Dublin: Centre for Nonprofit Management, School of Business, Trinity College Dublin.
Hayes, T. (1996). Management, Control and Accountability in Nonprofit/ Voluntary Organisations. Aldershot: Avebury.
Law Society of Ireland (2002). Charity Law: The case for reform. Dublin: Law Society Law Reform Committee.
National Committee on Volunteering (2002). Tipping the Balance: Report and recommendations to governance on supporting and developing volunteering in Ireland, Dublin: National Committee on Volunteering.
Office of the Revenue Commissioners (2005). CH1-Applying for Relief from Tax on the Income and Property of Charities. Dublin: Office of the Revenue Commissioners.
Ruddle, H. & Mulvihill, R. (1995). Reaching Out: Charitable Giving and Volunteering in the Republic of Ireland. The 1994 Survey, Dublin: Policy Research Centre, National College of Industrial Relations.
Ruddle, H and Mulvihill, R. (1999). Reaching Out: Charitable Giving and Volunteering in the Republic of Ireland. The 1997/98 Survey, Dublin: Policy Research Centre, National College of Industrial Relations.
Ruddle, H and O’Connor, J (1993). Reaching Out: Charitable Giving and Volunteering in the Republic of Ireland, Dublin: Policy Research Centre, National College of Industrial Relations.

A full list of Publications from the Centre is available at: