Over 200 business leaders from the United States and hundreds of others will be in attendance at the K Club in Kildare this weekend attending the Worldwide Ireland Funds annual conference.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny is expected while President Michael D. Higgins will host a special reception on Thursday evening.
Both will be keenly aware of the extraordinary clout of the Fund in Irish circles abroad from New York to Sydney and points in between. If the Ireland Fund did not exist they know they would probably have to invent one to tap into the worldwide Diaspora.
The Fund is meeting at a time of extraordinary change in the world of Irish philanthropy, change that will see it in the near future as the largest Irish philanthropic organization.
There is also change ahead for the fund with the stepping down of Chairman Loretta Brennan Glucksman who with her late husband Lou contributed $27 million of their own money to the Ireland Funds.
Loretta Brennan ushered in the post Tony O’Reilly era for the fund, a difficult transition from co-founder to next generation of leadership. She accomplished it with rare panache and leaves the Fund in excellent shape.
After fifteen years in charge she hands over to New York hotelier and philanthropist John FitzPatrick who has undertaken a huge task to match her impact.
FitzPatrick comes in at a critical time for Irish philanthropy when the message is all change.
Atlantic Philanthropies, headed by Chuck Feeney, which has donated over $1.1 billion to Irish higher education and other causes will give its last grant in 2016 before spending down its principal and going out of business by 2020.
It is the core part of the Chuck Feeney ‘giving while living‘ philosophy and the 82-year old is sticking to his last.
Likewise the One Foundation, run by Declan Ryan, which has donated €40 million, will have spent down by the end of 2013. Between them it is estimated they represent 86 per cent of charitable giving in Ireland.
Both Atlantic and One have met the Irish government to discuss the €50 million annual hole in funding for non-profits when they leave. Their departure leaves the Worldwide Ireland Funds as the core philanthropic organization operating in Ireland.
With Atlantic and One no longer operating it becomes a critical need to seek to replace them.
Thus, The Ireland Fund is sure to figure large in everyone’s future calculations. The good news for Ireland is that they are going nowhere and are certainly not spending down.
Instead they are ramping up. They have surpassed their most recent goal of raising $140 million for Irish causes during their ‘Promising Ireland’ campaign and will be making fresh announcements about future goals.
However they have known for some time that they have to step up and fill the need as best they can in the absence of One and Atlantic.
Nowadays Daniel Day Lewis, Bono, Bill Clinton, or Conan O’Brien are just as likely to pop up at their events as retired business types and the blue rinsers.
Ireland Funds CEO Kieran McLoughlin has significantly lowered the age profile of key figures in the Fund and has also begun to focus on bigger projects where the Fund can make a deep difference.
The future has been very much on the mind of McLoughlin who has now built up a powerful base of future donors through the Young Leaders organization.
150 young leaders between the ages of 25 -40 gathered for their own summit earlier this year in New York and the fund is constantly seeking out the new generation of entrepreneurs who can make a difference.
The Celtic crash however also damaged their base support as many of the wealthiest Irish, mindful of the example of Irish Americans who gave generously, had begun to contribute themselves.
That and the depressed state of the American economy where the vast majority of funding is secured from, has made for some difficult years for the Fund seeking to maintain its key position as the major overseas Irish fundraising organization.
More and more it finds itself operating as a hard-nosed business. Philanthropy in America is a cutthroat business where the available donor pool is pursued with the efficiency of sharks circling bait.
To get to the next levels the Ireland Fund has to leave behind the hail-fellow Irish stereotype and sell and create their product like everyone else at the top of the game.
The Fund was originally established in 1974 by Dan Rooney and Tony O’Reilly and the joke was the second dinner was held to pay for the first one.
That happy go lucky era has now passed with a vengeance and the leaner and meaner era has meant that the Ireland Fund too has had to adjust.
It appears to be doing so brilliantly, but there are numerous challenges ahead. The stakes are high as Taoiseach Kenny and President Higgins know.
There are literally hundreds of Irish non-profit and charitable organizations that depend on philanthropic funds to stay afloat. With the imminent passing of Atlantic and One that leaves the Worldwide Ireland Funds as the only guarantors.
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