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Charity doesn't begin at home in NI


The changing political and regulatory landscape for Charities in Northern Ireland brings with it uncertainty for Chief Executives and Charity Boards with significant challenges ahead.

It has been a tumultuous couple of years for local Charities with first the added regulatory pressures arising from the much needed, and long overdue, Charities Commission for Northern Ireland beginning to show their teeth. Then along came the 2016 summer of discontent which saw us say ‘Au revior, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye’ to the EU. These changes have had an immediate impact on many charitable organisations and more upheaval in the sector is inevitable.

As with the introduction of any new regulatory body within a sector, charities face increased costs, responsibility and scrutiny. Recent case studies in Northern Ireland such as FASA (Forum for Action on Substance Abuse) are testament to a sector which is still struggling to come to grips with the accountability which Chief Executives and Executive Boards must try to understand and master within a short space of time. It really is sink or swim and good governance is one of the key ingredients needed for survival.

And so to Brexit. Our little Province is defined by a heavy reliance on funding from Central Government and subsidies from the EU. The cuts in funding from the public purse have already hit home to many charities, and many will struggle to survive in the short term, even before the implications and fall out from Brexit are felt in the sector.

 Over 11,000 groups in NI have applied for charitable status with the Commission but one thing is for certain is that there will be a considerable consolidation in the sector in the short to medium term. Even if there is a long kiss goodbye with the EU it will only delay the financial downfall of many charities. It will be a sad indictment of the Brexit vote when many of the groups supporting local communities will no longer exist due to the financial strangulation caused by the loss of funding from our European friends.

Charities must take steps now to ensure long term survival. Cutting the budgets back every year can only help to a limited degree. It is time that the sector as a whole must think smarter, work wiser and treat the organisations as a commercial business as the public funding taps begin to drip dry.

It is only now that the cuts from The Folks On The Hill are being felt and the recession period for the charitable sector is only really starting to begin. The next few years will be challenging to all charitable organisations and only the fittest both in terms of governance and finance will see the new post Brexit dawn, whatever form that may take. Act early, seek the advice of professionals and treat every penny like it is your own. When it comes to an insolvent charity the regulators may not be so charitable when considering the conduct of Chief Executives and Boards alike.

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