This week saw the launch of GoodCharity.ie.
The initiative - currently just a website - asks What makes a charity good? It aims to not only answer some of the usual questions that come in the media and the public debate time and time again, but also to give the public guidance in what makes a charity worthy of their donation.
The idea came last year, believe it or not long before the Rehab and CRC scandals. But these things take time, and working with the amazing people at Fundraising Ireland, Dóchas, The Wheel and Whitebarn Consulting it took time to structure the language and content that was agreeable to everyone, while still staying readable.
And that was the key: it had to be readable and digestible. It was designed for the public, and so we (as members of the charity sector) had to always keep that in mind. For example, we were aware that many organisations object to being classified as a 'charity', but we knew that the public don't see it like that and if we tried to fight that we would immediately lose them.
The point of the site is to be a stepping stone: it is plain English and over-simplified, but the aim was to diffuse initial objections and generalisations and prompt the media and the public to look deeper.
That became very clear with the FAQ when we realised the answer to nearly every question about the charity sector is It depends.
That's because the 'charities' are actually thousands of completely unrelated organisations. As Hans Zomer put it, "Talking about the charity sector is like talking about the food sector." And that's part of the problem we face: It's trying to get across that you can't judge an organisation by the behaviour of others. We've heard plenty of people saying the Rehab/CRC scandals are the reason they'll never donate to charity. As someone pointed out to me, that's like saying I don't like that shop. I'm never going to shop in shops again.
GoodCharity.ie is the first step towards helping potential donors and volunteers ask the right questions.
I think it's also significant because it's one of the first times the sector itself has come out and said that "charity" does not equal "good". Yes, there are good charities and there are excellent charities. But one of the highlights in the project for me was when someone asked were we all comfortable saying that there were "bad charities". And yes. Yes, we were all happy with that.
I hope the website will help. It won't change everyone's opinions, and might not even change the way a journalist presents an article. But it might.
At the very least I hope it will give charities somewhere to point the media towards the next time they roll out the same old questions. I hope it will save them time so that they can concentrate on doing what they do best.