It’s been 25 years since I ran my first fundraising campaign in Ireland, for Sightsavers.
This hadn’t been the most extensively planned campaign ever. We took our UK DRTV ad, put an Irish voiceover and call centre number on it, booked some airtime and off we went. All the Irish people I spoke to said that for a UK charity that was still officially called the Royal Commonwealth Society for the Blind to run TV ads in Ireland was a truly terrible idea.
But it turned out that strong fundraising propositions are more important than the location of a charity’s office. And Irish donors are really, really generous. Ireland became Sightsavers strongest market, going from start up to six million income in a few years. And before long I had moved to Ireland to lead the fundraising at Concern.
I’ve been involved in Irish fundraising ever since and it continues to be a fascinating market. It has some of the highest values per donor of any country in the world. It combines high levels of participation in giving and in donation sizes with very low levels of trust in charities which is pretty distinctive.
25 years ago, fundraising was dominated by international causes, Concern and Trocaire above all but also many smaller charities. Ireland remains one of the most internationally focused fundraising markets but in the intervening years domestic causes have grown much faster. The crash of 2008 fundamentally changed the Irish fundraising landscape and the years since have seen ever more focus on causes such as homelessness, domestic poverty and particularly since Covid, health including mental health. Charities in these sectors have become more professional in their fundraising and invested more. The result is an increasingly congested market.
Like in other developed countries, the Irish population is ageing rapidly. This is still a younger population than other European countries but by 2050 nearly 30% of Irish people will be over 65.
The biggest challenge in fundraising in Ireland is scale. The population of the Republic is now around five million people but that is only half the number of people living in Greater London. Outside Dublin, the population is also quite dispersed. There are relatively few media options. All this makes it expensive to reach people.
A fundraising sector has grown up in Ireland and there are people with expertise across fundraising disciplines. But not that many of them and lots of charities. So finding suitably experienced fundraisers is a major problem.
When we work with Irish charities, a key focus is on finding solutions to these problems. We need to build fundraising programmes that work well with limited resources - it is really important to maximise the effectiveness of those that you have. Developing the skills of existing staff is much cheaper than relying on external suppliers and agencies.
Working effectively means operating in as integrated a way as possible. A typical Irish charity can’t afford to have its fundraising and comms teams working at cross-purposes or for siloes to rise up anywhere. Digital is where the rubber really hits the road here, it simply isn’t possible to divide digital channels and platforms between fundraising and communications objectives.
Like everywhere, Ireland has seen digital channels become critically important for charities although only since the pandemic has this really become the norm. Optimising digital in a small highly competitive market with restricted resources is a real challenge. If your charity is finding this hard you are in very good company.
The Irish fundraising market has lots of quirks and still has the capacity to surprise. There’s lots of variety and it is foolish to generalise too much. It will be fascinating to see how it develops in years to come but we can be fairly sure that Irish donors will continue to offer amazing support to causes who can make compelling and powerful cases of why their work is needed.
AAW will be hosting a digital masterclass at the Dean Hotel in Dublin on Friday 6th May. If you would like to attend please email email@example.com.