Hidden Philanthropy: Volunteering in a rural community organization in Ireland

Maria L Gallo, Louise Duffy


In 2013, a national giving campaign was launched in Ireland—the One Percent Campaign—as an attempt to bring philanthropy into the public consciousness. While the campaign garnered great patronage from high profile individuals and received support from the Irish Government, the diffusion of this campaign to rural Ireland encountered a stumbling block. Irish community and voluntary groups remain under extreme financial pressure with the immediate mend of severed finances—including from the public purse— means that strategic, long term philanthropy is viewed as low priority. This paper outlines a recent case study of a voluntary community-based sporting organization in the rural North East of Ireland that initially fits this description, unaware of the national campaign and concentrated wholly on the funding needs of their organization. However, an in-depth study of the organization actually reveals insight into hidden philanthropy that emerged naturally, without acknowledgement or understanding of this activity taking place. The organization’s knowledge and perceptions of philanthropy meant that although they engaged in a vast array of philanthropic activity—long-term volunteer commitments; regular and sustained donations; a means to transform the organization—they were unaware of this work as philanthropic activity nor demonstrated the ability or capacity to leverage this success towards a significant expansion. This paper offers an intriguing platform to consider the attributes of volunteers engaged in such philanthropic activity—even hidden from themselves as such—as a spirit to the commitment to their organization and their sporting cause. The findings suggest a need for training and support for community volunteers in fundraising and philanthropy. Although this paper concentrates on research from one case study, the findings may resonate with other rural community organizations, with the attributes identified as a potential checklist: do our volunteers possess such attributes? Could this combination of attributes contribute to our success?

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The Journal of Rural and Community Development is supported by SSHRC.