Benefacts goes live! Irish Civil Society Online
In both Ireland and the UK confidence in non-profits has been significantly dented in recent years. High profile organisations in both countries have been called to account for their activities and poor governance. A lack of trust has been identified as one of the biggest challenges for the non-profit sector.
With this in mind, the need for good communications between civil society, its stakeholders and the wider community is more important than ever. The sector needs to communicate openly and transparently about its work, how organisations are governed, what money they receive and what they spend that money on.
Benefacts is a new online service, aimed at making the work of Irish non-profits more visible and accessible by publishing extensive directory, governance and financial data about almost 20,000 Irish non-profits on a free public website that went live on the 18th of May.
Carmichael Centre recently hosted a preview of the website presented by Patricia Quinn, founder and managing director of Benefacts. Patricia gave a comprehensive oversight of the background and scope of Benefacts, as well as its potential uses and benefits. She gave us a tour of the website (www.benefacts.ie), it is simple to navigate and provides a neat classification of organisations based on established international norms. The entire sector is divided into 12 categories as follows:
• Arts, culture, media
• Recreation, sports
• Education, research
• Social services
• Development, housing
• Advocacy, law, politics
• Philanthropy, voluntarism
• Professional, vocational
Benefacts has drawn on various sources to provide data on almost 20,000 organisations employing more than 100,000 people with a combined turnover of €7bn annually. The organisations listed are not required to take any action and there is no cost involved. So you may well ask what’s the point of having this vast amount of information on a searchable database? Well, anyone can now search for information on any organisation in any sector in any part of Ireland. For example, there are 443 civic society organisations in Waterford and 709 in Tipperary.
This provides maximum visibility and transparency, backed up by useful data for the public, service users, funders, service providers, analysts and commentators. Publicly available data on each organisation includes information on governance (e.g. who is on the board, compliance with voluntary codes), finance (e.g. funding sources, income and expenditure), regulation (e.g. registered charity, registered company) and source documents (e.g. constitution, financial statements).
What does the future hold? The information published online is only a fraction of the data imported into the Benefacts database, and it will be updated all the time. As this accumulates over the years, the Benefacts database will form a valued source of trend information for the entire sector and its stakeholders. However, one important part of the story of Irish civic society that is missing from Benefacts is the social impact and benefit that these 20,000 organisations make and deliver to so many people. Hopefully in time, the outputs and outcomes can also be captured.