I think most people will agree by now that the dispute that has occurred between Mayo GAA and the Mayo GAA International Supporters Foundation (which, for the sake of brevity, I’ll refer to simply as the Foundation) is a hugely regrettable mess. I don’t, though, want to dwell on the dispute itself in this piece. Instead my aim is to fill in some background on the original notion of a foundation to help fund Mayo GAA. My hope is that this will go some way in helping to explain why things have ended up like they have, as well as pointing to what might need to happen now to extricate the parties from the mess they’re in.
Let’s go back in time
To do this we have to wind the clocks all the way back to 2010. It was then – in the aftermath of the county’s catastrophic Round 1 qualifier defeat to Longford that June – that the decision was taken to undertake an in-depth Strategic Review of Mayo GAA, the intention of which was to examine how the organisation went about its business and to put forward recommendations for reform. The review was spearheaded by Liam Horan.
I’m not going to deal at length with the Strategic Review’s deliberations or its recommendations nor am I going to talk about what happened after Liam Horan and his Steering Committee presented their Strategic Action Plan report to the County Board. For the present purposes, what I want to do is concentrate solely on two particular recommendations which were put forward in the Strategic Action Plan report, which are of direct relevance to the Foundation which was established and to where everything lies at the present time.
In doing so, some prior disclosure is required. Liam Horan organised the work that was undertaken in drawing up the Strategic Action Plan around a number of broad themes, which were examined in detail by specific sub-committees. One of these, based in Dublin under the able chairmanship of PJ Monaghan, was the Finance and Funding sub-committee. I was one of twelve people invited by Liam to join PJ on this sub-committee and it was an invitation I accepted with alacrity.
In the interests of keeping this piece to a reasonable length, I’m not going to go into detail about the sub-committee’s deliberations. I don’t need to and in any event I’m not sure it would be right to do so. Aside from anything else, a considerable period of time has now elapsed since those deliberations took place in late-2010 and the beginning of 2011 and the specific details of what we discussed are no longer wholly clear in my mind.
Never mind, none of that is really of any relevance. Let’s move onto the point that is.
The foundations of an idea
This came in the form of an idea that bubbled up during the Strategic Review, which, if I’m not mistaken, was the brainchild of the workstream entitled ‘Harnessing Support of Mayo People Worldwide.’ This sub-committee was chaired by Charlie Gilmartin of Kiltimagh (further disclosure – I’ve known Charlie for years) and it formulated an idea about an independent foundation that might be established to raise significant sums of money from high net worth individuals who were well disposed towards Mayo GAA and whose philanthropy might make an enduring difference to the funding of Gaelic games within the county.
The idea was – and is – a sound one. My recollection is that it was based on the many kinds of philanthropic endowment-type foundations that exist in the USA and elsewhere that have built up hugely significant reserves, thus enabling them to support major capital investments in educational establishments and the like. The reasoning went that there were wealthy individuals all over the world with Mayo connections who would be happy to be associated, via such a foundation, with an initiative that could prove to be a financial game-changer for Mayo GAA.
So far, so good.
While I recall that we discussed the foundation idea within the Finance and Funding sub-committee, I’m less clear about how and why two separate recommendations in this area ended up in the Strategic Action Plan report. (At this stage, it’s as well to link to the report, which you’ll find here. A Q&A document issued subsequently by the Steering Committee is also relevant – that’s here).
It’s these two recommendations, in particular the way they’ve become entwined with how the current Foundation appears to operate, that arguably are at the heart of the current difficulties involving it and Mayo GAA. The recommendations in question called for the establishment of (a) a Worldwide Mayo Supporters’ Club and (b) an independent Mayo foundation.
Let’s start with the foundation one first. This was one of the recommendations put forward by the Finance and Funding sub-committee and you’ll find it listed on page 12 as Finance and Fundraising Recommendation 1 (FF1). The second bullet point of FF1 posits the following aim:
Establish an independent Mayo Foundation, with respected Trustees, which will attract support of the Mayo Diaspora worldwide who are favourably disposed to the aims and objectives of Mayo GAA, and are willing to contribute towards their achievement. The Foundation shall aim to raise funds to disburse to worthy Mayo GAA projects, subject to a formal application process.
The other relevant recommendation that needs to be highlighted is one of seven over-arching Key Recommendations listed in the report. The recommendation in question, (KR7), is set out on page 11 of the report and it calls for the establishment of a Worldwide Mayo Supporters’ Club, with the following objectives:
That the existing framework for support for Mayo GAA throughout the world be developed by establishing an active Mayo Supporters Club/Association in major Irish centres worldwide, under the direction of the Commercial Director. This should be positioned as a key fundraising vehicle for Mayo GAA, and its structures, activities and brand should reflect this.
Whether it was deliberate or not (and I’m afraid I can’t shed any light on this), a clear distinction was drawn in the Strategic Action Plan report between the idea of a Mayo foundation and a Worldwide Mayo Supporters’ Club. The former would be independent and have as its aim the raising of significant funds which could then be targeted at specific activities, which might be grant-aided following an application process. The latter was a Mayo GAA fundraising vehicle, pure and simple.
Another way of thinking about these two very different types of initiatives is that one was focused on Capex while the other aimed to support Opex. It was envisaged that the foundation would in time be in a position to provide significant capital support for strategic projects undertaken by Mayo GAA, either by itself or along with others. The supporters’ club, by contrast, would – so the Q&A document linked above suggests – be set up in roughly fifteen major urban centres globally, each of which would be expected to raise €30-50,000 in fundraising income for Mayo GAA annually and so become a core part of the recurring income of Mayo GAA.
Theory and practice
Of course, the Strategic Action Plan was never implemented in the manner envisaged. The two planned fundraising bodies never materialised in the way set out in the report either.
Significant fundraising has, though, occurred in the years since 2011. The establishment of Cáirde Mhaigheo in 2012 marked a key turning point in this respect and it’s through Cáirde Mhaigheo that Mayo GAA has organised and executed specific fundraising drives, both within the country and abroad, the latter especially in London.
While Cáirde Mhaigheo hasn’t managed to establish the kind of global reach envisaged for the planned Worldwide Mayo Supporters’ Club, it has gone at least some of the way towards achieving this. It has, for sure, established and identified itself as the fundraising body of and under the control of Mayo GAA. To that extent, it has taken on significant elements of the remit, if not the full geographic reach, of the mooted Worldwide Supporters’ club.
Which leads us to the Foundation. It’s fairly clear that while this has elements of the kind of foundation body envisaged in the 2011 report it also bears equal, if not more, resemblance to the Worldwide Supporters’ Club idea. As we have seen, the 2011 report provided for very distinct and different roles for these two bodies but the Foundation that has come into being in the last few years has all the appearance of being a mixture of the two.
The body that has been established seems to be part-foundation – it has raised significant sums and has stated its aim to support, for example, the planned Lough Lannagh development – but also part supporters’ group, in which guise it organised, as an out-and-out Mayo GAA fundraising vehicle, the lavish New York banquet in May. It also has a website that is awash with Mayo GAA branding and so has all the appearance of being an initiative that operates as a fundraising arm of Mayo GAA.
But, of course, it doesn’t. Because, despite Aidan O’Shea’s picture on the home page and all the official Mayo GAA crests you encounter if you navigate through the website, if you do decide to donate money to this body you’re not actually donating to Mayo GAA at all. You are instead giving money to – and it’s necessary to revert back here to the full title to make this point properly – the Mayo GAA International Supporters Foundation, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit USA corporation with a registered office in Dallas, Texas, USA.
It shouldn’t need to be stressed – but I’ll do so anyway to avoid any misunderstanding – that nothing untoward is being inferred from what has just been laid out. The essential point that needs to be grasped here is that this is a body that makes extensive use of Mayo GAA branding, including the official crest, on its website – where it states that it was founded “to harness global support for Mayo GAA” – but it is not a body that is in any way under the control of Mayo GAA.
It’s only fair to point out here that on the home page of the Foundation’s website it is stated that the Foundation “makes contributions to not-for-profits in Ireland and the United States that positively impact the community.” Elsewhere on its website, it is stated that, in addition to providing support to Mayo GAA, the Foundation also supports the Mayo Roscommon Hospice and that it is willing to consider providing funding to other Mayo-related worthy causes.
At the present point in time, it appears to be the case that, while considerable monies were raised and expenses incurred in relation to the New York event in May, no funds have yet been provided by the Foundation directly to Mayo GAA. It’s understood, however, that some costs incurred by the Mayo team while in New York, including the training camp, were met directly in America by the Foundation. More recently, the Foundation donated €10,000 to Mayo LGFA and also provided footballs to GAA clubs in the county at a cost of €30,000.
In its letter to Mayo GAA dated 20th October, the Foundation stated that it holds an amount of €250,000, which it wishes to provide to Mayo GAA once “the terms of the April ’19 settlement are satisfied.” The letter goes on to state that the receipt of “relevant business plans” was awaited.
What’s to be made of all this? Well, aside from the breakdown in relations between the two parties and leaving aside too the increasingly bitter exchanges that have occurred, and focusing back in on those two recommendations from the Strategic Action Plan, what seems to be the case is that, based on its activities to date, the Foundation is indeed attempting to fulfil both objectives.
It’s clearly a fundraising vehicle for Mayo GAA but it’s also acting as a body that disburses funds as it sees fit, with these funds not going exclusively to Mayo GAA. In addition, the Foundation appears to be taking on, at least in part, the kind of disbursement method envisaged in the 2011 report recommendation, in that it is seeking to target support to particular initiatives and it is looking for evidence, i.e. business plans and the like, that these initiatives make business sense from its perspective as a donor.
So, in looking at what the Foundation has done to date it appears clear that, viewed through the prism of the two relevant recommendations from the 2011 report, it’s operating both as an international Mayo GAA fundraising vehicle and also as an independent foundation. Where the demarcation lies between these two very different roles is not clear.
We’ve been here before
While the issues that have arisen for Mayo GAA in its dealings with the Foundation – as a body that is acting as a fundraising vehicle for Mayo GAA but which is not under the control of Mayo GAA – appear to be unprecedented, those with longer memories in this area may recall that this isn’t in the case. In fact, this is ground that Mayo GAA has trodden before within the last decade.
Who remembers Club Mayo Dublin? In particular how it ended? This was a supporters’ group set up in 2008 – independent of Mayo GAA – and its formation seemed like a good idea at the time (I was at its launch, wrote enthusiastically about it afterwards and became a paid-up member) – but the fact that it was raising funds on behalf of Mayo GAA while not under the control of Mayo GAA eventually led to its demise a few years later.
Why did this happen, you may ask? Well, quite simply because of the GAA’s insistence that bodies or organisations that claim to be fundraising for the GAA need to be under the control of the GAA. In other words if you’re fundraising for Mayo GAA then you are Mayo GAA or you’re a body that operates under the control of Mayo GAA.
Which leads to the logical – and rather uncomfortable – conclusion that what’s sauce for Club Mayo Dublin also has to be sauce for the Foundation. To the extent that it’s acting as a fundraising body for Mayo GAA then it needs to be under the control of Mayo GAA and monies raised by it for Mayo GAA have to be remitted to Mayo GAA. It really is that simple.
Where to now?
I’ve no idea if this will or won’t happen in practice. What is clear, though, is that the current situation, in which the Foundation seeks – as an independent body, in no way under the control of Mayo GAA – to pursue the twins aim of being a Mayo GAA international fundraising organisation, while at the same time acting as a body making substantial capital disbursements to support developments of strategic importance to Mayo GAA, is not tenable and it can’t realistically continue in the way it does now.
The way in which the Foundation – for all the right reasons, I have no doubt – has ended up being, in effect, a melding of two different types of bodies, one that could be independent of Mayo GAA but the other having to be an intrinsic part of Mayo GAA, isn’t the only reason why relations between it and Mayo GAA are in the state they’re in. But it’s clear that the way in which the Foundation has been established and how it’s operating is a significant part of the problem. It follows that untangling the Foundation’s different aims and how they operate vis-à-vis Mayo GAA has to form at least part of the solution.