Australian charities make an invaluable contribution to the community and their work reaches into many areas of life. To do this important work, charities need a regulator that listens, understands and communicates in an appropriate way.

Charities enjoy tax benefits and are subject to different legal and regulatory frameworks to non-charitable sectors. In addition, charities are largely funded by organisations and donors that receive no direct economic benefit from their funding. This means that public trust and confidence is critical to the charity sector.

The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) is committed to engaging with, and being responsive to, the charities we regulate and other stakeholders such as other government agencies involved in regulating charities.

Active stakeholder engagement supports our adherence to the principles of open government. Participation in, and transparency of the regulatory process helps us to ensure that our approach to regulation serves the public interest and is informed by the legitimate needs of those interested in, and affected by the regulation.

We aim to strike the right balance in our relationship with stakeholders to work to deliver inclusive, best practice, unbiased and independent regulatory services.

We believe engaging with stakeholders is important to this work as it helps build trust, improves how we communicate what the regulations are and how to comply with them, and creates a feedback loop that supports continuous improvement in our approach to regulation.

This framework sets out:

  • who we are
  • who our key stakeholders are
  • our reasons for stakeholder engagement
  • the principles that underpin our approach
  • our approach to undertaking consultation with stakeholders.
  • the scope of our engagement

This framework relates to the full spectrum of work that the ACNC undertakes to engage with the public, including:

  • digital communications - such as the ACNC website, social media, newsletters
  • advice services - such as telephone and email correspondence with the public
  • representation in media - such as media releases, public commentary
  • education resources - such as guides, webinars, factsheets, web content
  • public presentations - such as educational events, conference presentations
  • relationship management - such as meetings with key stakeholders, government liaison
  • consultation processes - such as reference groups, policy consultation processes

Who we are

The ACNC is the national regulator of charities. We are responsible for administering the Australian Charities and Not for profits Commission Act 2012 (Cth) (the ACNC Act) and the powers and functions contained in the Charities Act 2013 (Cth) (the Charities Act) and the Australian Charities and Notforprofits Commission Regulation 2013 (Cth) (the Regulations) and the other legislation listed on our website. 

The ACNC Act has the following three objects: 

  • to maintain, protect and enhance public trust and confidence in the Australian not-for-profit sector 
  • to support and sustain a robust, vibrant, independent and innovative Australian not-for-profit sector 
  • to promote the reduction of unnecessary regulatory obligations on the Australian not-for-profit sector. 

The ACNC is led by the Commissioner, a statutory office holder appointed by the Governor-General. The Commissioner is supported by an Advisory Board appointed by the Assistant Minister for Finance, Charities and Electoral Matters and consisting of members with expertise in the not-for-profit sector, law, taxation or accounting.

Our stakeholders

The charity sector is unique and diverse. Charities exist to fulfil one of twelve charitable purposes set out in the Charities Act. Charities make a distinctive and widely recognised contribution to the public good by building social capital in civil society.

Our main stakeholders include charities, those who support or provide services to them, those they serve, and government agencies who administer laws to which they are subject.

The key stakeholders of the ACNC include:

  • charities
  • the public (including donors)
  • the Assistant Minister for Finance, Charities and Electoral Matters, and
  • Australian government agencies and departments, including the Australian Taxation Office and Treasury.

Our other stakeholders include:

  • not-for-profits that are not charities
  • peak bodies and professional associations
  • the media, including sector-specific media
  • professional advisers who work with charities, and
  • academic and research institutions.

An understanding of charities and their operations is the foundation of the ACNC’s regulatory approach. You can read more about this in our Regulatory Approach Statement.

Our reasons for engagement

The ACNC regulates in the public interest by promoting transparency in the sector and by being transparent in our own operations within the limits of our legislative framework. We cannot effectively fulfil this mandate without engagement with stakeholders.

We recognise the limitations of our own statutory powers and responsibilities and believe that maintaining meaningful, professional working relationships with our stakeholders will enable us to achieve better regulatory outcomes. Effective stakeholder engagement will help us to achieve the following:

  • support continuous improvement in our regulatory approach via feedback loops;
  • communicate the ACNC’s position, what the regulations are and how to comply with them, and their limitations;
  • build trust and support public confidence, including via the collection and dissemination of data about charities;
  • operationalise our legislation and the regulations;
  • clarify roles and responsibilities of various organisations that have a stake in charity regulation
  • improve our understanding of the external environment; and
  • contribute toward achieving our corporate priorities set out in our Corporate Plans

Stakeholder engagement creates a feedback loop that supports continuous improvement

The ACNC is committed to continuous improvement in how we work and deliver our priorities. Understanding our regulated community and receiving feedback on what’s working and what’s not is critical to inform our regulatory policies and processes.

We aim to make our dealings with all stakeholders targeted, open and transparent. Tapping into stakeholder expertise and knowledge, and canvassing a diversity of viewpoints and experiences assists us to get our regulatory settings right, results in better regulatory decisions and clear, accessible guidance.

Engagement allows us to analyse our impact and identify the options that best fit the regulatory context in which they will be applied. It also improves access to, and understanding of our decision-making processes, and enables the ACNC to draw on stakeholder expertise to contribute to improved policy and program development.

Working with other regulators helps us consider how our work can best compliment other regulations charities are subject to, and find opportunities to collaborate. This helps us to be more efficient and effective, and to minimise the regulatory burden on charities.

Stakeholders help us communicate what the regulations are and what people should do to comply

Registered charities are required to meet a number of obligations to maintain their entitlement to registration, such as reporting annually and notifying the ACNC of certain changes. The ACNC is committed to providing accurate, timely and relevant information to charities to help them understand and meet their obligations in a way that minimises the impact on their time and resources.

Stakeholders have a key role in assisting us to design and deliver more efficient communication and guidance resources that raise awareness and increase compliance over time.

Regular engagement with stakeholders enables us to communicate our objectives and our rationale for regulation design decisions to build a common understanding of what is expected from charities to meet their obligations.

The ACNC recognises that most charities have obligations to other government agencies in addition to their obligations to the ACNC. Where possible, the ACNC works across government to ensure that guidance is streamlined and consistent, and provides relevant signposting to other agencies, so charities can easily find the information they need.

Stakeholder engagement helps build trust and operationalise the regulations

Both the ACNC and charities can benefit from genuine engagement. Listening to stakeholders ensures that decisions can be made in an informed way and helps to validate or question any underlying assumptions and identify potential unintended consequences. Genuine engagement builds understanding and commitment to the successful implementation of a policy.

Charities rely on public trust and confidence to maintain ongoing support to deliver on their objects. Trust and confidence are also central to regulation. A regulator needs to be considered trustworthy for the public and the regulated community to continue to support its purpose, and to deliver effective regulation. To build and maintain trust, the ACNC:

  • listens to the point of view of stakeholders and communicates our position clearly
  • is knowledgeable, conscientious and professional in our dealings with stakeholders
  • demonstrates that we manage risk effectively and make fair decisions, free from bias
  • protects private information
  • uses taxpayer money responsibly.

The ACNC benefits from engagement as it enables us to, where appropriate, develop shared solutions for complex policy issues that ensure we use the right tools to address arising issues, and make better use of our resources. Engagement helps us to improve our risk management practices, deliver more efficient registration processes, compliance strategies and communication in line with community expectations.

The public and government can then trust that in regulating the sector the ACNC is delivering within the mandated policy framework and protecting public interests.

Case Study: External Conduct Standards guidance

The External Conduct Standards (ECS) came into effect in July 2019 to support registered charities in fulfilling their objectives, by providing a minimum level of assurance that they meet public expectations in relation to their conduct when they undertake activities (including providing funds), or otherwise support activities, outside Australia.

In developing our approach to the implementation of the ECS and development of guidance the ACNC:

  • reviewed the ECS consultation submissions to Treasury to inform our understanding of the sector’s concerns and identify areas in which charities would need additional support
  • discussed the ECS and guidance with our key stakeholder forums, the Adviser and Sector forums
  • undertook targeted consultations with a range of interested parties, such as religious groups, representatives from smaller charities, The Australian Council for International Development, and the Overseas Aid Gift Deduction Scheme
  • tested draft guidance with key stakeholders
  • identified registered charities that we believed may be impacted by the introduction of the ECS to make them aware of the ECS and the new guidance material as well as broadcasting this information via our newsletter and on social media

The principles that underpin our engagement

The ACNC corporate values of fairness, integrity, accountability, independence, and respect [add link to webpage about values] underpin the way we undertake all of our work as a regulator, including the way that we engage with our stakeholders.

The core principles below will guide our work and decisions around stakeholder engagement. We will consider each principle when we plan and implement our engagement activities.

  • We know who we are engaging with and why: we will only undertake stakeholder engagement where there is a legitimate purpose that enhances our ability to fulfil our role as a regulator.
  • We make use of existing networks and expertise and seek out new stakeholders when relevant: we seek feedback from our stakeholders through a number of mechanisms and we will be transparent about these processes.
  • We make sure that engagement is meaningful and mutually beneficial: we aim to provide stakeholders with an opportunity to participate in the regulatory process to ensure that regulation serves the public interest and is informed by the legitimate needs of those interested in and affected by regulation.
  • We view stakeholder engagement as a path to meeting our statutory obligations and strategic priorities: we recognise and respect the unique role of charities in the Australian community, the enormous contribution that they make to our society and the valuable expertise and experience they bring to our engagement.
  • We maximise meetings with stakeholders by making sure relevant stakeholders are involved: opportunities for stakeholder engagement will be designed to seek out and facilitate the involvement of a broad variety of representative stakeholders including those who may be harder to reach or have greater difficulty in participating for reasons such as language, culture, age, disability or location.
  • We endeavour to have role clarity and clear boundaries where appropriate: the purpose behind any stakeholder engagement activity will be clearly explained. When the ACNC undertakes consultation, any limitations will be made known and the process will be explained so that participants know what to expect. The ACNC will be open about how it responds to feedback provided by stakeholders.
  • We are time and cost-effective in engagement practices: we understand that compliance with regulation is only one element of charities’ work and value the time charities give to us in engaging with us. The ACNC will undertake its engagement work in the most efficient way possible to minimise the impact of this work on the sector.
  • We are able to demonstrate that our outcomes are consistent with set expectations: we will plan and evaluate all our engagement work to ensure a process of continuous improvement.
  • Our approach to consultation

    The ACNC recognises the value of consultation to achieving our goals as a regulator, and we are committed to modelling best practice in consultation with our stakeholders. We consult to inform certain decision-making processes and to provide stakeholders with an opportunity to consider and reflect on an issue and provide feedback to decision makers. This process ensures that relevant information is considered as part of the decision-making process.

    When we will consult

    The ACNC is committed to providing opportunities for open consultation and public submissions.

    The way we consult and with whom will depend on the issue. In making this determination, we will be guided by the significance of the impact of a decision on our stakeholders.

    This includes, as a minimum when we:

    • finalise the ACNC’s annual Regulator Performance Framework Self-Assessment
    • publish a significant piece of new guidance, such as how we will administer new legislation
    • make any changes to the Regulatory Approach Statement [Link]
    • make substantive changes to the Annual Information Statement, and
    • create or change a Commissioner’s Interpretation Statement.

    Consultation mechanisms

    The ACNC uses a variety of mechanisms to engage with stakeholders, and will be open in reporting back on mechanisms used and outcomes.

    We seek to incorporate appropriate consultation in all major work and draw on a number of different mechanisms to do this, such as:

    • formal evaluation surveys, for example customer satisfaction surveys
    • issue-specific online surveys
    • consultation with established reference groups
    • targeted consultation with representative groups or individuals, where appropriate, and
    • processes to invite and receive public comment.

    The nature of the mechanism will vary according to the proposal and the stakeholders potentially affected.

    We also convene two key formalised consultative forums through which we seek feedback on key policy, guidance and tools the ACNC develops for charities, as well as seeking views on the regulation of charities and emerging issues impacting the sector.

    The Adviser Forum is comprised of professional advisers to the charity sector such as legal and accounting professionals.

    The Sector Forum comprises representatives from registered charities.

    Our aim is that the forums are representative of the diversity of the charity sector to assist us to understand how our approach to regulation impacts different sizes and types of charities.

    The Adviser and the Sector Forums are endorsed by the Commonwealth Government as the ACNC’s stakeholder consultation mechanism for the Australian Government’s Regulator Performance Framework, designed to drive cultural change in ‘the way regulators administer regulations’. The ACNC has developed a set of measures that are used to evaluate its performance against this framework on an annual basis through self-assessment.

    The Adviser and Sector Forums meet at least twice each year and provide an opportunity for the ACNC to consult on new projects and to seek feedback on its work.

    The scope of our engagement

    The ACNC uses a spectrum of stakeholder engagement based on the spectrum developed by the International Association for Public Participation.

    As a regulator, education forms the cornerstone of our approach in supporting charities to understand and meet their regulatory obligations. We have included education as part of the spectrum used by the ACNC to reinforce that is fundamental to the way we engage.

    It will be appropriate to use one or more of these mechanisms, depending on the nature of the goal to be achieved through consultation.

    InformEducateConsultCollaborate
    Our goalCommunicating with our stakeholders so that they have the information they need, when they need it.Helping stakeholders to understand our work, how to use our services and how to meet their obligations.Listening to our stakeholders to ensure their needs are understood and considered. Partnering with our stakeholders to achieve the best results in shared goals.
    Our promiseWe will keep you informed and provide you with accurate, timely and relevant information.We will support you to understand how to interact with us when you need to.We will make sure you have the opportunity to have your say on matters that have an impact on you.We will recognise and draw on your experience and expertise in informing our work.
    Examples
    • Newsletters
    • Social media
    • Media
    • Sector briefings
    • Advice service
    • Guidance products
    • Webinars
    • Education sessions
    • Reminders
    • Public consultation
    • User experience surveys
    • Existing forums
    • Stakeholder reference groups
    • Partnership project deliveries

    Adapted from the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) spectrum: www.iap2.org (2007)