Good Governace Requires a Steady Hand on The Wheel

– Mairead O’Connor is The Wheel’s Training and Advice Coordinator

mairead O'connor

Mairead O’ Connor

There are almost 50,000 charity trustees in Ireland today. This large group of committed and engaged citizens have ultimate responsibility and overall control of Ireland’s charities. And they are all volunteers.

That’s roughly the capacity of the Aviva stadium. Not that you’d get all the trustees in Ireland into one place long enough to shepherd them into their seats! Every year, these volunteers dedicate hours upon hours of their time to furthering their charities’ missions. They shoulder the sustainability of their organisations, the safeguarding of beneficiaries, staff and volunteers, the increasingly complex requirements of regulators, the expectations of funders and the guardianship of the public good. In the midst of all those competing pressures, where is the time and opportunity to dedicate to their own development?

A question we are constantly asking ourselves is how can we best serve our member trustees, and provide them with the support they need?

To that end, we have recently launched the Charity Trustee Driver’s Licence. This short video course for members of The Wheel, helps to get trustees up to speed with the requirements of their role in a jargon-free, easy-to-complete online video course.

Trustees can watch the short videos when and where suits them and complete a series of quick quizzes to test their knowledge. Completing the module should take no more than an hour and will introduce new trustees to their role and refresh experienced trustees’ knowledge of their legal duties.

To get a sense of what the course offers, watch this short video.

Members of The Wheel can access this free resource at


SUMMIT20182 (1)

The Wheel’s Summit (24 and 25 May 2018) will bring together the leaders, the motivators, the thinkers and the doers to tackle the community, voluntary and charity sector’s biggest challenges.

Immerse yourself in lively discussions, inspiring stories and energetic networking sessions. Meet those at the forefront of social innovation and see first-hand how fresh ideas are solving big issues.

View the programme or the list of over 30 top speakers.


Putting Communities at the Heart of Sustainability

Johnny Sheehan, Membership and Regional Coordinator at The Wheel

What do you think of when you hear the word ‘sustainability’? It’s safe to say that most people associate it with protecting the natural environment – ensuring that we use natural resources in such a way that future generations can also access them. Well, that’s part of it, but there’s more to it! The Wheel sees ‘sustainable’ communities as being economically thriving, environmentally healthy and socially resilient.

This matters! The community voluntary and charity sector in Ireland makes a hugely important contribution – economically, environmentally and socially – to society in Ireland, but our work more often than not goes un- (or under) recognised when priorities are being drawn up for where resources will be allocated. 

Ireland’s National Implementation Plan for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is being launched later this month with public engagement at its core. The SDGs are a UN framework that countries around the world, including Ireland, have signed up to for tackling poverty, inequality and major environmental challenges by 2030. 

The Wheel believes that the all our members, and the wider community, voluntary and charity sector, will find their missions reflected across one, and probably more, of the 17 SDGs. We’ve put this work at the heart of our strategic plan for the coming years and are embarking on a number of exciting initiatives to work with our members and the wider sector to put the community, voluntary and charity sector centre-stage. 

We will be working to ensure that the voice of the community and voluntary sector is listened to when the contribution that Ireland is making to achieving the SDGs is being considered and that new and adequate resources are provided to support and grow the contribution made by the sector. The Wheel is working with Trinity College Dublin on a major research project, led by Dr Vincent Carragher, to map the contribution that communities across Ireland are making to the SDGs.

And we have some experience in this regard… 


Following on from our Funding Handbook for Community-led Groups and our Governance Resource Book for Small Community and Voluntary Organisations, The Wheel has, in partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), recently published the third instalment of our Sustainable Communities series of resources.

Living Better, Using Less: a Sustainable Communities toolkit for Community and Voluntary Organisations is an online toolkit to help communities achieve greater sustainability. The toolkit provides community and voluntary organisations with practical guidance for implementing sustainability solutions within both rural and urban communities. It covers five topics:

  • ecological integrity
  • health and wellbeing
  • participation and engagement
  • culture and heritage
  • economic resilience

Each topic is covered in a separate section with a video introduction, case studies, a list of suggested actions and access to other resources and supports. It aims to support local communities across Ireland to awaken an awareness, deepen understanding and activate participation in sustainable development with a view to living better by using less. The toolkit shines a light on what is already there, validates and recognises this work and provides some frameworks for communities to draw on for their own organisation and community context. It can be accessed at

We’d really like to continue the conversation with you about this important work and to hear more about the great work you are doing locally, or nationally, to make your communities more sustainable. Feel free to get in touch with me ( or Vincent (


Charitable Status of State Bodies – response to Deputy Mick Wallace TD

Deputy Mick Wallace TD recently raised valid questions in the Dáil about the charitable status of what many understand to be State bodies. Indeed, a discussion about what constitutes a charity and the various roles charities play is long overdue.

Some charities are contracted by the State to deliver essential services – especially in the areas of health and social care. These charities deliver specialised and targeted support with a level of compassion and understanding that is difficult to achieve through a centralised health system. Their knowledge and commitment greatly compliment the efforts of the State.

However, while some charities deliver public services on behalf of the State, the role of charities generally is much more wide-ranging. Charities constitute people and communities organising, supporting and speaking up for themselves and others. This “active citizenship” plays a critical and effective role in improving and enriching life for us all. An independent, appreciated, transparent and well-supported charity sector is an essential part of a healthy democracy.

Earlier this year, Health Minister Simon Harris announced a review of the role of voluntary organisations in health and social service provision. The aim is to preserve the best features of the current model while ensuring enhanced collaboration with statutory and voluntary partners. The HSE and Tusla – the Child and Family Agency – have launched similar “commissioning” initiatives to match services to need and acknowledging the respective roles of statutory and voluntary organisations. The Wheel and our 1,300 members welcome and look forward to participating in these and similar initiatives aimed at maximizing the value of the various important contributions that charities make to our national life today.

2017 – The Year in Review


Deirdre Garvey, CEO of The Wheel

And so, here we are, approaching the end of another year filled with many changes – for our members, for the charity, community & voluntary sector and indeed for The Wheel as well. And at year-end, we are laying the groundwork – in partnership and consultation with members – to deal with the challenges of 2018 and beyond.

As Ireland’s largest body representing charities and community & voluntary organisations, we continue to work closely on your behalf with Departments, statutory bodies and politicians to address a wide range of issues which can be grouped under our following three policy-priority areas:

  1. Increasing the credibility of our sector and restoring public trust and confidence;
  2. Ensuring the community and voluntary sector’s roles are valued and appropriately funded. And our ‘3-R’ framework summarises our work: we are looking for charities to be respected and recognized for the work they do, resourced properly, and appropriately  regulated;
  3. Progressing understanding and appreciation of active citizenship especially in the context of local development reform and alignment.

In 2017 we were pleased to have made a lot of progress in advancing this agenda, with highlights including the establishment of a dedicated new Department for our sector (a key ‘ask’ of The Wheel); the publication of the Charity Regulator’s consultative panel report on the regulation of fundraising (which did not introduce any new regulations, but which made constructive recommendations on a Fundraising Code); the establishment of an emerging strategy for our sector, within the (still ongoing) work of the Department of Rural & Community Affairs; the commitment to an action plan for the development of social enterprise in Ireland; a VAT compensation scheme for charities; and, the progress made in shaping the principles for commissioning public services, which we are successfully shaping to be more suitable for our sector. This diagram offers a snapshot of the various advocacy processes we are involved in.

In 2017, we have been successful at building a higher profile in, and engagement with, the media at national and local levels, successfully driving the public narrative towards the positive difference and impact that the organisations in the sector make in the lives of people and communities all over Ireland and indeed, internationally. And this will continue in 2018.

In that regard, we were particularly thrilled to deliver the inaugural Charity Impact Awards just this month, which delivered widespread attention both within the sector and also within the media (and indeed the 30,000 individual people who cast a vote during the campaign!) on the positive impact of the great work done by Ireland’s charities and community/voluntary groups. It is clear to us that members like you have all got an impact-story to tell, and people are obviously eager to listen. You can learn more about the Awards here:

Our Annual Conference & Charity Expo took place in June and featured fascinating inputs on such topics as the role of charities and community & voluntary organisations in the age of “post-truth” politics; public trust in charities, and a new national strategy for the community, voluntary and charity sector. Preceded the night before by our Annual Lecture & Dinner, with the keynote address by Professor Tom Collins, I think it’s fair to say that The Wheel’s Annual Conference has firmly established itself as a real standout event in the annual charity-sector calendar!

Growing Membership

Engagement with our members remains really strong around the practical supports and advice that we provide. We are delighted to have grown our member numbers this year and to know that we are ending the year with 1,326 members!


We are really pleased that we welcomed so many people to our nation-wide training and advice sessions all over Ireland. We’ve totted up the numbers, and they paint a significant picture: in total, we delivered a total of 185 events in 47 different locations in Ireland (yes folks, that’s a whopping 46 different places outside Dublin!) attended by 4,700 people. (And within this, there were 61 events reserved solely for members, which were attended by 1,859 people). We responded to 904 formal queries over the year and were asked to do 41 customised training sessions in-house within organisations. Our EU programmes team doubled in size, to two people in 2017 and has been successful at helping organisations secure funds. If you are interested in knowing what’s on in 2018, you can see it here.

A new Strategic Plan and a New Look

Internally, within The Wheel, the ratification by members of our new strategy Stronger Charities, Stronger Communities, in June, was a highlight of the year. Setting out our objectives for the next four years and building upon the success of recent years, Stronger Charities, Stronger Communities is The Wheel’s blueprint for achieving, with our members, a more fair and just society for all.

As you will already have noticed, we also completed a rebranding exercise on foot of the new strategy, and it has been rolling out in phases since its launch in June. Work has commenced on the development of our new website which we expect to be launching in spring 2018. More to follow on that soon.

You may have also witnessed The Wheel providing a strong and coherent voice for our sector in the media. We published several opinion pieces Irish Times (e.g. 28 September, 8 December) as well as letters (e.g. 29 November). We also participated in 26 television and radio interviews in 2017.  This included interviews on RTÉ Six One News, RTÉ Radio 1 Morning Ireland, RTÉ Radio 1 News at One, Newstalk Breakfast, TV3 News, TV3 Ireland AM and others).

I would like to thank each and every member of the staff team in the office who have worked so very hard throughout the year on our many programmes, as well as our four regional champions (and don’t forget to check them out here). Equally, I would also like to thank the volunteer members of our board of directors (our Charity Trustees), who consistently provide strong and strategic leadership for the organisation and for me personally. All of the team – in the office and on the board – collectively combine into what I think is an extraordinary bunch of people, all dedicated to achieving our vision of a thriving charity, community & voluntary sector at the heart of a fair and just Ireland.

In closing, it is clear that at a practical level, the operating environment for the sector clearly continues to be a challenging one. The ongoing demands of regulations and reporting at multiple levels and in ever-more onerous ways, the perennial problem of sourcing funding, the impending introduction of GDPR, and so much more – you could certainly be forgiven for perhaps feeling somewhat overwhelmed at times.


And yet, our members have continued to meet those challenges head-on. The solidarity, support and strength of voice that we can all get from being connected to each other through The Wheel is vitally important. I am constantly reminded that the very existence of any charity / community / voluntary group provides a real-life example of a quality that is very important in our lives – which I phrase quite simply here as: the ability to think about, care and show compassion for others; the seeing of what change is possible or needed; and the rising above apathy to do something about making things different, and better, for others….. in a nutshell, it’s about getting involved! And anyone connected with a charity, community or voluntary organisation does that in spades.

Thank you for caring enough to do what you do in your communities all over Ireland.

Lastly, I want to wish you and your colleagues, along with all of your loved ones and friends, a very Merry Christmas and an inspiring – and inspired – New Year!


My Experience as Charity Trustee

As part of our series of blogs for Charity Trustees’ Week, The Wheel spoke to Austin O’Sullivan about his role as trustee of The Wheel. Austin is also Director of Resources at WALK.

Q. How and why did you become a charity trustee in the first place?

My first involvement at Board level was with a voluntary association governed by a constitution. When the association became a Company Limited by Guarantee I transferred into being a director. At that time I wasn’t aware of the duties of a director and for many years I was ignorant of my legal responsibilities. It was only through education in the Governance Code that my responsibilities became clear to me. I now have 30 years’ experience on boards in areas of Equality, Human Rights and Education. There is a close match between by areas of voluntary work and my full-time job.

Q.How have you used your skills, knowledge and experience in your role as trustee?

I have experience in Finance, Human Resources and Organisation Development. I have usually had a Finance remit on the boards I have been involved in as this is an important area in the governance of an orgnaisation.

Q. How has your experience as a trustee helped you in your day job and in your understanding of good governance?

I have been able to bring the knowledge I acquired in my voluntary roles back into my day job, and this has benefited the organisation I work for.

Q. Tell us a little about what you have learnt personally from your experience as a trustee?

Being a trustee has made me aware of the importance implementing robust systems to ensure the Board manages the affairs of the organisation in an appropriate manner. Ultimately, this results in stronger organisations. I have had the opportunity to work in areas of personal interest that I would never have gotten any other way. It is a commitment but the rewards are there when you see how your contribution supports the achievement of the mission of the organisation.

Q. What are currently the key challenges for the trustees of charities and how have these changed since you began as a trustee?

The duties and responsibilities of a trustee in the community and voluntary sector are now the same as those of a corporate board. This means that trustees need to be 100% committed to the role and to educate themselves about their responsibilities. This personal responsibility is a heavy burden, especially in communities where volunteers are scare and the same people end up on many boards in their community. I think we need to look at increased supports for Boards. Resource constraints in smaller organisations mean that education is sometimes forgone for front-line service provision. Support for Trustees should be made available by Charities Regulator, and all Board should be supported free of charge to attain the Governance Code standard.

Q. Would you encourage others to volunteer as trustees and why?

Being a trustee gives you an opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to the work of the organisation whose work you support. I think it is important that your personal values match the values of the organisation. It provides great networking opportunities and a great sense of community!

Ireland’s first Trustees’ Week will take place from 13 to 17 November.  The week is being organised by the Charities Regulator, The Wheel, Charities Institute Ireland, Dóchas, the Carmichael Centre, Boardmatch Ireland and Volunteer Ireland. For more information visit

A Firm Hand on the Tiller: A Tribute to Charity Trustees

Charity Trustees’ Week is long overdue – trustees are great and their work has gone unacknowledged and unappreciated for far too long. Charity Trustees’ Week will play a small part in putting that to rights!

Ivan Cooper

Ivan Cooper, Director of Public Policy at The Wheel

The Charities Regulator estimates that there are upwards of 48,000 people doing the voluntary work of unpaid trustees on the boards of Ireland’s charities. It’s the trustees of Ireland’s charities who are ultimately responsible for achieving their organisation’s charitable purpose – usually a vital support or service in their local community. It’s critically important work that often goes unseen and remains unsung.

Ireland’s charity trustees take on major responsibilities for no personal gain. When they do it well they provide energetic and inspirational leadership in their organisations and communities. They put in the time to understand the detail in reports and plans from management and hold management to account.  They immerse themselves month-in-and-month-out in the detail of budgets and reports and they work to communicate the difference their work is making in the lives of the communities they serve. It’s a very demanding role that requires a wide variety of skills to perform – and one of the challenges boards face is to make sure they have the right skills-mix on the board to succeed.

People have all sorts of motivations for becoming a trustee of a charity. Some, active in a cause they are passionate about, will establish a new charity. They face the same challenges any entrepreneur faces as they respond to the demands of the cause and set up an organisation to meet the need. Others may have become involved with an established charity that has paid staff to do the day-to-day work – their job is more about overseeing the staff and providing strategic direction. They face the same challenges as a director of a small or medium-sized firm. In both cases, however, the trustees are responsible for the good governance of the organisation. What does this mean?

The word ‘governance’ is derived from the ancient Greek word for the helmsman of a boat – and that gives us the insight that governing a charity is akin to steering a boat – it’s all about knowing the direction the organisation should be going in, the destination that we want to arrive at (the outcome for the community we are supporting) and having a firm hand on the tiller, so that the organisation stays under control and goes in the right direction. It’s the trustees’ job to make sure these tasks of governance are attended to.  Additionally, governing is about making sure that all the systems and processes that the organisation needs to function smoothly (think “ship-shape”) are in place, and that any regulations that apply (think employment law, health and safety law, charity regulations, company law requirements) are adhered to.  This is the compliance piece of the governance jigsaw.

But that’s not all – everyone has an interest in what charities are doing with the public funds entrusted to their care. In this sense Trustees are like guardians; they are minding something that is important to the wider community, and the mission they direct and the assets they control are not their personal, private property.  And just like guardians, they are responsible for the wellbeing of those in their charge, and for accounting to the wider community on whose behalf they act. So being transparent, accountable and subject to scrutiny are key aspects of effective trusteeship. Why do they take on the challenge?

For many, there is no choice, they are passionate about a cause and they feel it is their duty to respond.  For others, they simply want to make a contribution to society, and for others still, perhaps to give something back.  For all trustees, there is a great intrinsic reward in having played an essential part in ensuring their communities have the services and supports they need to thrive.

But we need to mind the guardians too! Ireland’s charities have been through a challenging time in recent years, and we need to make sure that the brave and courageous people who step forward to volunteer as board members and trustees are supported in the work.  So what can be done? The community, voluntary and charity sector needs to work with Government, the Charities Regulator, and the big funding authorities that benefit from trustees (such as the HSE and Tusla) to raise awareness of the value of charity trusteeship to society at large.

In addition:

  • good quality and accessible information should be available to trustees – from many sources and in many formats – on their role. Information should be in plain English.
  • Charities should make sure that training budgets are in place to support and develop trustees in their roles.
  • Charities should ensure that all trustees are provided with good quality induction by the charities they volunteer with.
  • Term limits should be put in place so that trustees know they can volunteer for a fixed period without there being an expectation that they serve for many, many years.
  • Professional bodies should work to develop more consistent and tailored advice for charity trustees – differentiated from the standard advice they provide to for-profit company directors: the challenge is different for trustees of charities – particularly the accountability challenge.
  • And finally, Charity Trustees Week should be developed further to promote and celebrate the huge contribution that our large army of trustees make every year!

Ireland’s first Trustees’ Week will take place from 13 to 17 November.  The week is being organised by the Charities Regulator, The Wheel, Charities Institute Ireland, Dóchas, the Carmichael Centre, Boardmatch Ireland and Volunteer Ireland. For more information visit

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Meet The Wheel’s Trustees

As part of Charity Trustees’ Week (13-17 November 2017), we are celebrating the 37,859 people who volunteer their time and expertise each year to direct and run Ireland’s charities.

Charity trustees (commonly referred to as ‘board members’ or ‘committee members’) lead, support and direct the charitable purposes and activities of charities. It is a role that carries great responsibility, but it is also a wonderful opportunity to use your skills and experience to make a positive impact in your community. 

The Wheel is fortunte to have 11 very talented and dedicated trustees. We would like to thank them for their leadership, dedication and passion. Our trustees are:

Mary Cunningham (CHAIR) – Co-opted in 2007, elected in May 2008 & May 2011

Mary is Director and Company Secretary of the National Youth Council of Ireland, the representative body for voluntary youth organisations in Ireland.  She is a member of the Steering Group on Active Citizenship, the National Youth Work Advisory Committee, the National Assessment Committee for the Young People’s Facilities and Services Fund and on the board of Pobal.  Previously the Director of Children in Northern Ireland and Regional Manager with Oxfam Ireland.  Also former Chairperson of the Northern Ireland NGO Forum, Joint Chairperson of the All Party Group on Children and Young People in the Northern Ireland Assembly and Company Secretary of Children in Northern Ireland.

Inez Bailey – Elected in June 2017

Inez has been the Chief Executive Officer of NALA, the National Adult Literacy Agency, for the past 20 years. She is also Chair of the Southside Partnership, Chair of the Mounttown Neighbourhood Youth and Family Project, Chair of the Rockford Manor Secondary School and Member of the Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Local Community Development Committee. Previous board memberships include: CORU, the  Health and Social Care Professionals Regulator; the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs; Dublin & Dun Laoghaire Education and Training Board; the Education Finance Board; the National Consumer Agency; the Citizens Information Board; the Information Society Commission; and the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland.

Pat Carey – appointed in May 2017

Pat is Chair of the Red Cross and a former Irish Fianna Fáil politician in the Dublin North-West constituency from 1997 to 2011. In 2007 he was appointed Minister of State with responsibility for Community Affairs & for the implementation of the National Drugs Strategy. serving as the Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs from 2010 to 2011. He is Cathaoirleach of Coiste Stiurtha Glor na nGael the all island Irish Language organisation. He is a Board Member of Quality Matters; independent chair of the Dublin North East Local Drugs & Alcohol Task Force & Chair of the Finance and Governance subcommittee of the North East Regional Drugs & Alcohol Task Force. He is a Board Member of the Ballymun Youth Action Project; chair of the Finglas Centre & a Board member of the Tolka ValleyTraining Centre.

John Evoy – Elected May 2014 and again in June 2017

John is founder and Chief Executive Officer of Irish Men’s Sheds Association (IMSA).

Prior to setting up the IMSA in 2011, John served as the manager of the Gorey Adult Learning Centre and a Project Co-ordinator for several adult and community education initiatives. He has also served on a number of interagency steering groups and sub-committees throughout his career, most of which pertained to adult and community education and Community development projects. Recognition of John’s leadership and achievements include: receiving a Social Entrepreneurs Ireland Impact Award in 2013; becoming an AONTAS Star Awards winner in both 2009 and 2011, and; becoming an Arthur Guinness Fund Awardee in 2011.

Barbara Gilroy  – appointed by board in Oct 2017

Barbara is the Diocesan Director of ACCORD Dublin, which provides marriage preparation courses for couples choosing to get married in the Catholic Church. Previously, she was Head of HR for Concern Worldwide. In total, she has over thirty years work experience in the non-profit sector, both as a volunteer and manage and has worked in both small and larger organisations. She is a board member of the World Meeting of Families 2018 and previously, she was on the board of the 50th International Eucharistic Congress; and also of Concern Worldwide. She thinks that supporting small and medium-sized charities in areas like governance and compliance is essential to their continued existence. She also believes deeply in the principles of helping others so that they can help themselves.”

Sheena Horgan – Co-opted in July 2013

Sheena is a media & PR consultant specialising in youth/family & social marketing issues.  As an established and experienced marketer, she has advised many global and local organisations – RTE, Failte Ireland, Aldi, Bord Bia, Coke, O2, Ulster Bank – regarding their marketing and CSR strategies and implementation.  Sheena is also widely published in UK & Irish trade magazines and newspapers, as well as speaking at various conferences on related topics.  In addition to co-producing two child-related documentaries, Sheena is the author of the e-book “Candy Coated Marketing”.  She writes a monthly ethical and social marketing column in Irish Marketing Journal, and is a regular broadcast contributor on programmes such as – Ireland AM, Newstalk Lunchtime, Global Village, The Right Hook and Tubridy – on ethical and youth/family issues.

Vincent Keenan – Elected May 2014

Vincent is Chief Executive of North and East Housing Association since 2014. North & East was incorporated in 1993 having been established by a small number of volunteers. Having been run as a small-scale, mainly voluntary organisation it is now a well-established housing provider with a proven track record in the delivery of high-quality homes, comprehensive housing management services and tenant supports. Vincent worked previously for Co-operative Housing Ireland (formally NABCO) for 12 years as Executive Director with responsibility for housing and community services. Vincent has 25 years’ experience in housing, homelessness, housing development, management and social and community service development. He has participated in negotiation of social partnership agreements and was appointed by the Minister of Housing to the National Homeless Consultative Committee on which he served 7 years. Vincent has also served as non-executive director on a number of not for profit organisations.

Peter McBride – elected in June 2017

Peter is the Chief Executive of Inspire which is one of the largest social enterprises on the island of Ireland, providing a range of community-based and workplace-based mental health, intellectual/learning disability services and addiction services North and South, as well as in Great Britain. He is a Trustee of the National Charity, BBC Children in Need, in which he chairs the Nomination Committee and the Grants Committee; and a Trustee of NICVA where he serves as Vice Chair of the Board and Chair of the Resources and Audit Committee. Peter has also been involved for over 20 years in the Victims and Survivors Sector in Northern Ireland and has played a leading role in the development of leadership within civil society and its response to political and social progress in Northern Ireland. Peter is Visiting Professor at the University of Ulster Bamford Centre for Mental Health and wellbeing.

Brendan O’Brien – Co-opted December 2016

Brendan is CEO with ThinkSmarter Analytics. With over 20 years’ experience in international sales and marketing, he has previously been EMEA MD with US digital marketing company Search Optics,  Global Software Sales Director with Cisco based in California, CEO of ThinkSmart (acquired by Cisco) and held senior roles in Accenture and IBM.  He has been a guest lecturer in UCD and International Universities and hold a BSc, an MSc, a PhD in Business and Adv Dip in International sales. Brendan is also a very active participant in outdoor sports and has served on various boards, both commercial and voluntary, including Chairperson of a National Sporting Governing body and founding board member of a US based Alzheimer’s charity.

Austin O’Sullivan – Elected in July 2012

Austin is Director of Resources with WALK – an organisation who are leaders in a movement for change, empowering people with disabilities to live self-determined lives in an equal and inclusive society. He previously worked as International Business Delivery Manager for EDS Technologies and as an Executive Officer in the Revenue Commissioners. Austin is chair of the Wheel Finance & Audit sub-committee and the National Federation for Voluntary Bodies Finance & Audit sub-committee. Austin is also chair of Citywest Educate Together National school.

Paul O’Sullivan – Co-opted in June 09, elected in July 12 & May 15.

Paul is the Chief Executive Officer of Clann Credo, the social investment fund. He is also Chair of the Irish Charities Tax Research Group (ICTR).  He previously worked as a public relations and industrial relations consultant with Gallagher & Kelly PR, heading up their Employee Relations Division. Before that he was an industrial relations negotiator and union organiser with SIPTU where he represented workers in all sectors of the economy, health services, local government, marine transport and civil aviation. He was the Chief Negotiator in the Civil Aviation sector from 1993 to 1998. He managed two EU trade union initiatives on training and financial participation. Paul has lectured regularly on employee relations at Trinity College.

Feedback to Our Board

The Wheel is eager to strengthen and develop channels of accountability between our members and the Board. To that end we are pleased to introduce our new Board Member Accountability Policy, which includes the following new provisions:

  1. The Board will report to members twice a year about progress being made in implementing The Wheel’s ‘Being the Change’ strategy.
  2. Members will be invited to provide their feedback directly to the Board (via a dedicated email address: and at our member forums across the country).
  3. Feedback and comments received by the board will be recorded and reviewed annually by the board.

Download the full policy document here (PDF).

About Charity Trustees’ Week

Charity Trustees’ Week (13-17 November) is being organised by a steering committee consisting of the Charities Regulator, The Wheel, Charities Institute Ireland, Dóchas, the Carmichael Centre, Boardmatch Ireland and Volunteer Ireland. The aim of this initiative is to celebrate the role of charity trustees and raise awareness of the vital work done by the over 37,859 people who volunteer their time and expertise to direct, and are legally responsible for, the running of Ireland’s charities.

During Charity Trustees’ week we are challenging you to:

  1. Profile and thank your organisation’s trustees on social media. Please use the hashtag #TrusteesWeekIrl on Twitter and Facebook.
  2. Take part in one of the special  Trustees’ Week events. We strongly encourage our members to attend the Charities Regulator’s event in Dublin this Wednesday evening from 19:00 to 21:00 at the O’Callaghan Alexander Hotel. The Regulator will be demonstrating a new online learning tool for charity trustees at this event. Register here.
  3. Follow the Charities Regulator’s Charity Trustees’ Week page on LinkedIn for topical blogs and news.

For more information visit the Charities Regulator’s Website


UPDATE: How The Wheel is representing the Community, Voluntary & Charity Sector

– Ivan Cooper, Director of Public Policy

The sector is currently transitioning through a period of rapid and unprecedented change in the way we are regulated, funded, and indeed understood. The next three or four years will set the template for our sector for generations to come. Interesting times are well and truly here!

Here is an update on some of our recent work. 

VAT Compensation Scheme and Budget 2018

Starting with some good news. As I am sure you are aware, the Government announced a VAT compensation scheme for charities in Budget 2018. The scheme is designed to compensate charities for a proportion of the VAT they pay on goods or services bought using non-statutory funds. Over the last six months, The Wheel has put a great deal of effort into campaigning for such a provision (building on the great work done by ICTR, the members of CII and the sector at large over many years) and we are delighted at the outcome for the sector (you can read our statement on the scheme here). It’s not perfect – there is a €5M cap for the next three years on the provision – but it’s a great and truly welcome start – and we have congratulated Minister Pascal O’Donoghue on the announcement, and Minister Katherine Zappone, Michael Harty TD and the opposition leaders and spokespersons for the vital support they lent in securing the breakthrough. You can read more about Budget 2018 and the provisions that will affect the work of community and voluntary organisations in our Budget 2018 analysis.

While VAT compensation is important, there’s a lot more going on right now that’s shaping the future of our sector.



Six national networks, encompassing over 2,000 Irish charities, called on Government to include a package of measures to help charities tackle growing social exclusion and support communities. From left to right are: Donal McKenna (Chair of Care Alliance Ireland); Allen Dunne (Deputy CEO of the Disability Federation of Ireland); Derek O’Reilly (Training Manager, Carmichael Centre for Voluntary Groups); Louise Lennon (Policy & Communications Officer at Irish Rural Link) and Ivan Cooper (Director of Public Policy at The Wheel).


Department of Rural and Community Development

The new Department of Rural and Community Development – the lead department for the community, voluntary and charity sector – is busy developing its first Statement of Strategy. The Wheel had a very constructive and positive meeting with Assistant Secretary Bairbre Nic Aonghusa and her departmental team in October where we highlighted key issues identified in our submission to the department’s recent strategy-development process. Responsibility for charity regulation has been transferred from the Department of Justice to the new department, and The Wheel very much welcomes this move as it brings regulatory policy under the same roof as development policy, and we believe that this creates the conditions for more coherent policy for the sector. As you will be aware, the sector is facing ever-increasing regulatory and reporting demands, and while necessary from the perspective of maintaining public trust in the work of the sector, these increasing requirements have not been accompanied by an equivalent investment to support organisations to meet the additional costs.

Compliance burden

The cost of compliance has, in fact, emerged from our recent series of discussion forums as the most pressing and urgent issue facing our members. The Wheel welcomed the publication of the Charities Regulator’s Guidance for Fundraising in September – and we took the opportunity it presented to publish an opinion piece in The Irish Times calling for an investment in the sector to enable organisations to meet the increasing cost of compliance. We pointed out that the state has made a very large investment in the Charities Regulator (which now has 38 staff with sanction for 50 in due course), but that no additional resources have been made available to enable charities to meet the ever-increasing compliance costs they now face.

In addition to the compliance costs associated with charity regulation, many charities must also comply with the requirements of the: Companies Registration Office; Register of Lobbying; Revenue Commissioners; Garda vetting of volunteers; and depending on who funds them, the regulatory and reporting requirements of the HSE; Tusla; Pobal; the Housing Regulator; HIQA; and various procurement directives from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Office for Government Procurement. And all of this before we mention the General Data Protection Regulations (the GDPR) which comes into effect on 25 May 2018 and with which all charities and Community and Voluntary organisations will have to comply.

Rest assured that we are working hard to ensure that the cost of compliance is recognised and provided for by funders – and we have called for the Department and the Regulator to take the lead in establishing a formal initiative to streamline and rationalise the regulatory and reporting regime that charities currently face. Remember too that the Regulator will be publishing financial reporting guidelines and may be publishing a governance requirement for charities in 2018 – so the cumulative effect of all of this is likely to remain a pressing issue in the months, and years, ahead. We will keep you informed of developments as we work to advance this key issue.

Strategy to support the community and voluntary sector

In addition to developing its own Statement of Strategy, the Department of Rural and Community Development is also advancing the production of its Implementation Plan for Local and Community Development, a plan which the department has stated will address the commitment in the Programme for Government  (secured by The Wheel) to develop a strategy to support the community and voluntary sector. The Wheel is participating in the Cross Sectoral Working Group established by the department to develop the plan, and we are working to ensure that the need to streamline and fund regulatory and reporting requirements is identified and provided for in the plan. We are also working to ensure that all the other pressing issues affecting the sector are addressed in the plan; issues such as the need for a coherent long-term funding model to support the work of the sector, and the need to make sure that commissioning initiatives support the full societal-value in the work of community and voluntary organisations – and are not aimed solely at minimising costs! Value for money is important – but so is the quality of service and the centrality of people in designing of and controlling their services.


As mentioned above, the requirements of GDPR take effect on 25 May 2018 and all charities will have to comply. We know that this is a complex and potentially confusing and anxiety-inducing requirement for many people and organisations – so please know that we are very close to publishing our simple and straightforward (to the extent that anything associated with GDPR can be simple and straightforward) Guide to Complying with the GDPR. We also met senior personnel in the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner to brief them on the challenge facing charities in complying with the regulations, and to seek provision of customised, targeted, and locally-available information and guidance sessions for charities. Watch this space for developments…

HSE & Tusla

Many members of The Wheel are funded by the HSE or Tusla – and we have been busy on behalf of both sets of members in recent months. The Wheel’s HSE-funded Members Network met in July and considered communications received from the HSE relating to governance requirements, at which many, many issues were identified. The Wheel is currently working on bringing these matters to the attention of the HSE and will be bringing our HSE-funded members together again soon to consider developments. We are also working on the most productive way of addressing the recent disappointing news that there is “no HSE funding to restore pay in section 39 funded organisations”  as reported in The Irish Times. We are seeking to work with our colleagues in the Not-For-profit Business Association, DFI and the National Federation of Voluntary Bodies to understand what now needs to be done to resolve this extremely unsatisfactory, and indeed unacceptable situation. We are calling on the Department of Health, DPER – and Government collectively if necessary – to take ownership of this issue given that Tony O’Brien (Director General of the HSE) has reported in the article that the resolution of the issue is apparently above the pay grade of the HSE.

The Wheel has also established contact with the Department of Health’s Review Group to Examine the Role of Voluntary Organisations in Publicly Funded Health Services. Read more here.

We have welcomed the announcement of this review, and we will be working on preparing our submission in the months ahead. We will be bringing our HSE funded members together once we have met with the group undertaking the work and fully understood the opportunities that the review presents, and the processes of engagement that it will propose. Join our HSE Network.

Tusla-funded organisations will be aware that the pilot roll-out of the commissioning approach to services continues apace, and that the approach will be mainstreamed over 2018. Many organisations will also be awaiting with interest the new service agreement currently being drafted by Tusla. The Wheel is continuing to work as a member of Tusla’s Commissioning Advisory Group and we are encouraging Tusla to consult widely on the draft documents in the months ahead before finalising same. It is important that all Tusla-funded organisations have an opportunity to consider and understand the new approach, and the agreements that will govern their relationship in the years ahead. Again, I will supply more details as soon as I can, and watch out for The Wheel’s forthcoming Tusla Network events. Join our Tusla Network.

There are a lot more going on shaping the future of our sector – but I have run out of time and space (as I am sure you have too). I hope you are satisfied with the progress we are making.

As always we welcome your feedback and suggestions

-Ivan Cooper, Director of Public Policy

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The Governance Code in Action – One Member’s Experience

Looking at media headlines this summer it’s clear that governance is a huge concern for institutions across all walks of life in Ireland. But as evidenced by those headlines good governance is a challenge for all kinds of organisations, no matter how well resourced, long established or respected they may be. The challenge of governance for Ireland’s charity sector of course is particularly acute given that those who govern our charities are volunteers.

However, more and more charities, across every sector from arts to social care and environment to education, are facing up to this challenge, and choosing not only to meet the minimum standards under the law, but to engage with best practice through The Governance Code for community, voluntary and charitable organisations.

The Code is a voluntary roadmap that empowers organisations to make a proactive decision to develop their governance practice in line with the highest standards in the sector, to improve the effectiveness and ensure the sustainability of their governance structures into the future.

CBI Logo 20years 2One such organisation that has engaged with the Code in recent years, is Children’s Books Ireland (CBI). CBI strives to make books central to every child’s life on the island of Ireland. They run a range of initiatives to achieve this vision, including an annual conference, Inis magazine, a national reading campaign and the Laureate na nÓg project (on behalf of the Arts Council). Elaina Ryan is the staff member who leads the organisation as Director. With an income of €434,000 last year and a small team of four full-time staff and a part-time project manager, managing the busy daily workload of a nationally focused organisation is always a challenge. Here, Elaina tells us why this arts organisation has also decided to take on the challenge of the Governance Code.

TW: What motivated Children’s Books Ireland to go on the Governance Code journey?

Elaina Ryan profile (00000002)

Elaine Byrne, Director of CBI

ER: There are a lot of great things about being a small organisation – the ability to be flexible, to make decisions quickly, to work effectively as a really strong core team. But one of the things we don’t have a lot of is time, and policy was definitely an area that was neglected, as it is in many smaller arts organisations. We’ve got a strong board of directors in place, a hardworking team and a programme of core activities that we are proud of, so it felt like the right time to look at how we could improve our governance and transparency, focus on getting policies in place that would provide clarity for staff, directors and stakeholders, and provide some training for me and for the board around areas like risk management and measuring impact.

TW: Did you feel that stakeholders were interested in your governance?

ER: CBI celebrates its twentieth birthday this year, and many of our members have been involved with us from the start, or indeed were founder members, so there’s a certain level of trust already established with that audience. However, CBI also works in partnership with many other organisations, both in the arts and in the corporate world, and we wanted to be able to show partners and funders, both new and long-standing, that we’re striving for best practice.

TW: What challenges have you met so far on that journey?

ER: Time to devote to working through the Governance Code Checklist has been the greatest challenge since we began the journey. It was clear from the outset that there was no point in ticking a box to say we’d completed an action unless we’d given real thought to it and revisited policies that might have been in existence but had become out of date or irrelevant since their adoption. We’re still working slowly through the Checklist, but I’d rather devote the time to getting it right than rush through it.

TW: What resources have you drawn on to help you on that journey?

ER: The templates provided by The Wheel were a great starting point. Seeing examples of another organisation’s policy in a particular area gave us a starting point from which we could edit and tailor, add and remove things as they were relevant to us. I’ve also sought out further resources on particular areas: a book called Corporate Governance for the Irish Arts Sector by Penelope Kenny (Chartered Accountants Ireland) gives a really good overview. I’ve always given directors of the organisation the Arts Council’s A Practical Guide for Board Members of Arts Organisations, and I’m now giving them the Charities Regulator’s recently published Guidance for Charity Trustees. The Clore Leadership Programme in the UK has also published a new document this summer entitled Governance in the arts and museums: a practical guide, which I think will be useful to draw on.

TW: What benefits has the organisation gained from engaging with the Governance Code?

ER: The Code has given us great focus as an organisation and an opportunity to assess our strengths and weaknesses in terms of all the areas of governance that the code covers. Our board was strong, and our strategic plan and implementation plans were robust, but there were, and still are, many areas in which we can improve. The board has focused over the last year on working towards a reserve, we have implemented a financial policy and procedures document and before the end of the year we will sign off on our risk management policy and revised board handbook. It has given me the impetus to step back from the day to day and to look at the organisation as a whole from the perspective of an outsider – a potential partner, perhaps. Certainly, it was an asset to be able to tell incoming directors that we were working on these areas; it showed them quickly and clearly that they’d be giving their time to an organisation that was taking its responsibilities seriously.

TW: What advice would you give to others thinking of heading down this road?

ER: I’d tell them what we were told on the first day of Bootcamp*: take the time to do it properly. We’re a year in and might have another year or more to go before we can tick all the boxes in the checklist, but it’s totally pointless to see the list as a checkbox exercise. This is an opportunity to move away from the way things have always been done and look at how they should be done.
Many thanks to Elaina for taking the time to share her experiences with other members. If you have queries on any aspect of your organisation’s governance, please do get in touch.

*CBI took part in the first Governance Code Bootcamp programme from The Wheel. You can find out more about that programme here.

What potential does the nonprofit sector hold for today’s graduates?


Hugh O'Reilly

Hugh O’Reilly, Director of Development

The Gradireland Graduate Careers Fair 2017 took place on Wednesday 4th October in the RDS. I was kindly invited to share the stage with Adrian McCarthy, Recruitment Coordinator- 2into3 for a session on careers in the nonprofit sector. Adrian heads up the ‘2into3 Not-for-Profit Graduate Programme’, which is the only pan-sectoral graduate programme for the nonprofit sector in Ireland.

We’re not good at promoting ourselves. When you see the efforts being made by the big firms to entice graduates into their organisations we have a long way to go. 2into3 Graduate Programme seeks to address that, and we in The Wheel are happy to champion it.

And it’s not like it’s very hard either, nor does it need to involve beanbags and foosball tables in the staff common area to attract people into a career in this sector. Only on Monday, I was reading Paul Mooney’s ‘Confessions of a Consultant’ blog and he gives 10 commandments on getting excellent performance from people;  “the fall off in the practice of formal religion has left a ‘purpose gap’ in many peoples lives. High-performance organisations’ manage to tap into this potential energy. A growing body of research suggests that an extra 30+% of effort is available… While it’s difficult to generalize, there’s good evidence to suggest the following: While most of us initially focus on ‘paying the mortgage’, once this is achieved we need a higher order purpose to get into 5th gear” He then goes on to cite SVP as an example of recruiting volunteers to deliver their purpose annually.

And purpose is important because we have a generation coming into the workforce who are as interested in finding purpose in their work as they are in the pay cheque. The Holy Grail is finding the two together!

So things like the graduate programme 2into3 are pioneering are important for our sector because we need to market our sector as an attractive career choice for today’s graduates, tomorrow’s leaders.

By contrast, when I was growing up the only people I knew whose full-time job was in a charity either wore a clerical collar or a habit. With the opportunity to don a habit already closed off to me the 50% of remaining opportunities seemed to come with a recommended diet of abstinence, celibacy, self-denial and self-restraint and I knew if I got over all the other hurdles the self-restraint would do for me in the end so considering a vocation was never really on my radar.

Fast forward 15 years later to 2010 when I started in The Wheel and my worldview was opened to a thriving community and voluntary sector where I found, and witnessed, ‘purpose’ on a daily basis. A sector that was, to that point, invisible in plain sight to me, despite the 149,000 other souls who appeared to be working in it (

And the landscape for the nonprofit sector is continually changing, and will likely be unrecognisable in 15 or twenty more years’ time when these graduates have established careers here.

At a policy level in Europe, there is a drive to tackle ‘societal challenges’ and emphasis on civil society engagement in outcomes focussed research and public patient involvement (PPI) in health are changing how the sector is viewed as a place for ‘serious’ active research and innovation.

The Department for Business, Enterprise & Innovations’ 5-year strategy Innovation 2020 devotes a whole chapter to social innovation and the economy. The Irish Research Council has supported the development of the Engaged Research Report through Campus Engage to identify how Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) can better engage in active community-based research while the Health Research Board is actively seeking Public Patient Involvement (PPI) research projects through its ignite programme. The EPA is taking a keen interest in sustainable communities from a social, economic and environmental perspective as are Teagasc and other state agencies and departments while the government established the Social Innovation Fund in 2013. The ecosystem is developing apace.

The type of evidenced-based research and impact measurement that these policy drivers will demand will mean that today’s nonprofit is going to increasingly need graduates with skills in data analytics, field research, innovation, entrepreneurship, ICT and a wider variety of skills that we have not even though about in order to succeed in the society of the future. I cannot even wrap my head or begin to fathom the implications of AI (Artificial Intelligence) for our sector. But maybe someone younger can see further into the distance? More and more we are going to need evidence-based research to prove that community-based interventions and supports can tackle societal challenges and make a real and lasting change in people’s lives.

And Ireland is well placed to do this and to capitalise on its potential.

In 2014 I met Mitchell Netburn of Project Renewal while on a trip to New York. He told me at the time that there were 70,000+ children homeless or in emergency accommodation in New York. Every. Single. Night. During the 2015 – 2016 school year I read that the number was almost 100,000, 1 in 7 children within the school system. In Ireland, the corresponding figure went over 3,000 in August. A terrible and shameful statistic. But it should be solvable. It has to be solvable!

If Ireland was innovating solutions to major societal challenges, like child homelessness, that was proven to work at our scale then we could scale them to solve similar challenges at a larger scale across the globe. Become a global hub for social innovation?

And we are actually pretty good at this. We have become a hub for the tech sector, pharma, aviation and even our horse breeding is world renowned. We are excellent at marketing our agri-food produce around the globe. Why shouldn’t the next sector be the nonprofit sector? We have a highly educated, English speaking workforce on the periphery of Europe with major globalised trade links. We could easily become a ‘nett exporter’ in solutions to societal challenge if we set our mind to it.

Throughout the depressed middle decades of the 20th Century, the work of our missionaries was one of the very few good news stories an impoverished and repressed people had to tell, both to ourselves and the wider world. Maybe Ireland’s missionaries of the 21st century are educated graduates with a keyboard rather than a clerical collar who value ‘purpose’ as much as ‘paying the mortgage’ and our sector needs to get better at how we can make that career choice an attractive one to them. Maybe then our international tagline will be ‘The best small country in the world to do business”.

Hugh O’Reilly is Director of Development at The Wheel


The Wheel is Ireland’s national association of community, voluntary and charitable organisations. We are a representative voice and a supportive resource that offers advice, training, influence and advocacy for the sector. Visit for more information.