28 May 2021
Our annual celebration of charitable giving explores, encourages and celebrates generosity to causes and communities across NI. As we come to the end of the 9th anniversary of Philanthropy Fortnight – and (we hope the end) of a disruptive year for modern philanthropy, Siofra Healy reflects on the impact of Philanthropy on the community and charities in NI.
At the Foundation we connect people who care with causes that matter and the pandemic – a cause that matters and affects us all (although not equally) heightened the impact and shone a light on philanthropy here. Often described as the giving of treasure, time and/or talent we saw how philanthropy was first to respond, flex, pivot and adapt as well as support innovative solutions for our community.
Whilst covid didn’t cause all the issues we’re seeing philanthropy address today, it certainly exacerbated them and more so in less advantaged communities. Health, education, employment, poverty and inequality all existed pre covid in Northern Ireland and philanthropy has always played a part.
Trace back to the 1800’s when industrialists set up hospitals and ran poor houses out of concern for individuals and their standard of living. Belfast’s first maternity hospital was started by a group of philanthropic women to provide accommodation, food and medical supervision during childbirth. In Derry, the first children’s home was set up as a result of the generosity of local merchant, John Gwyn. All great examples of philanthropic initiatives responding to need and innovations at that time.
Fast forward to today and the picture is similar. We have 100’s of stories and examples of how philanthropy and generosity supported those most in need in the past year. We’ve seen people and families, businesses and charitable trusts giving their time and money in support of their communities for both emergency responses and to build back from Covid.
The Community Foundation awarded over £8m in funding to 1,400 groups benefiting one in four people across NI. As charities struggled through losses of income due to limited fundraising opportunities and trading, alongside increased demand for services, philanthropic funds were awarded to where it was needed and in some cases to keep the doors open.
MYMY, a mental health charity in Newcastle lost substantial income as a result of fundraising that wasn’t possible during Covid and would have had to shut its doors if a philanthropic supporter hadn’t stepped in to help when they did. With a small team of counsellors, some of whom had to shield, plus restrictions on the use of their premises, services had to move to online or phone and the team needed to train for that and to purchase new computers to facilitate the change in working. MYMY has seen a dramatic increase in referrals and need for its services during Covid and according to Director Ray Cunningham, “Anxious people have got worse during Covid”
Much has been written about heightened inequality during covid and the effects on BAME communities. In Northern Ireland we witnessed how generosity responded. When Belfast Multi-Cultural Association centre was destroyed in a fire local people responded by donating over £70,000 to help rebuild the centre. Through the foundation, we were able to give NICONI funding to support the BAME community, many of whom are on the fringes of society as refugees and Asylum Seekers. When Covid hit, a number of its beneficiaries who were employed, lost their jobs, leaving families and individuals without income and struggling to cope. The group used funding to provide culturally appropriate food parcels and tablets to help children with online learning. Michael Abiona says “Many of our members have language and communication difficulties, so we had a vital role to play in engaging with and supporting them in terms of food, toiletries and other items they needed when shielding. Many cannot work and most don’t have transport, so our support was critical. IT literacy was a challenge, so we have lost contact with some people.
Whilst philanthropy responded to immediate need it also fueled and enabled innovations. Money often follows the passion or interest of the donor and because it’s independent funding it can often be used to take risks, and fund projects other funding can’t. A great and recent example is how tech for social good is being funded through comic relief – money raised through people like you on red nose day. Just this week £67,000 of this funding was awarded to seven projects developing tech solutions to address social need.
MEAAP, one of the seven projects received £12,000 to further develop their ‘easy app’ tech solution. This app enables another user to have remote access to reduce digital barriers of navigation and literacy for older people addressing isolation and connectivity for these individuals.
As a result of the pandemic and peoples experiences, we’re seeing more philanthropic funding directed to health-related projects than in previous years. This trend has played out in mass giving too in NI which has been disrupted with more people giving online, albeit less overall. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues and already at the Foundation we’re responding to donors requests to be connected to and support issues falling out from covid. Those issues include mental health, young people, education and employment, loneliness, isolation and support for those on the edges.
In Northern Ireland we are well known for our generosity and this is to be celebrated. We regularly respond to appeals, our personal passions, experiences and requests for support from our friends, family. It is amazing the difference a donation can make – large or small and during philanthropy fortnight we want to recognise this and encourage people to continue being generous when they can.
Another key impact philanthropy is making is in collaborations working together and within peer networks, where people and organisations come together to address an issue and or pool funds for participatory decision making. Our coronavirus community fund, our Circle of Change project and our Network of Philanthropists at the Foundation are great examples of this, and they have enabled us to more than double our impact within communities in the last year.
Going forward, some of the opportunities and challenges facing philanthropy will include the levels of disposable income available to people generally as we start to feel the effects of covid. High unemployment rates and increased costs alongside an expected increase in demand for services. Just this week I’ve had the privilege of taking part in consultations with charities working within mental health, carers and cancer, large and small in NI and the needs within these communities are massive, all exacerbated by covid and all need to be addressed. The Foundation is well placed to lead and support a philanthropic response to these and other community issues in both the short and long term.
Our challenge will be to build on what has been good and accelerate opportunities for those on the margins. The speed and flexibility at which philanthropy was able to respond to the need has been good and positive for people and communities and we must aim to continue this.
By taking time out to recognise and discuss philanthropy, share learnings and celebrate impact we can only but continue to strengthen the foundations already in place.