This guide provides journalists with an overview of the ACNC’s role as national regulator of charities, explains what information we can provide to the media and the public, and answers some frequently asked questions.

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Overview of Australia’s charity sector

The ACNC Charity Register provides information on about 60,000 registered Australian charities.

Each year, we publish the Australian Charities Report - a comprehensive overview of the charity sector. The latest data from the 7th edition of the Australian Charities Report shows:

  • Charity revenue grew by 6.8% on the previous year.
  • Revenue rose by $10.5 billion to $166 billion.
  • Revenue from goods and services increased by $3.5 billion to $56.7 billion.
  • Donations rose to $11.8 billion – an increase of $1.3 billion from the previous year.
  • Government funding accounted for $78.1 billion, an increase of $4.4 billion.
  • Charities employed 1.38 million people, representing about 11% of Australia's total employment.
  • Charities spent $85.9 billion on employee expenses, up 6% from $81.1 billion the previous year.
  • Volunteer numbers decreased by approximately 200,000 to 3.6 million.
  • More than half of all charities (51%) operated without any paid staff.
  • Overall, Australia’s charities operated at a surplus, supported by substantial assets.
  • Assets increased by $30 billion to $354 billion.
  • The most common charity activities were religious activities and primary and secondary education.
  • Small charities (annual revenue less than $250,000) made up 65% of the sector.
  • Large charities (annual revenue of $1 million or more) made up 19% of the sector and medium charities. (annual revenue of more than $250,000 but less than $1 million) made up 16%.

The data is from charities’ 2019 Annual Information Statements. Explore the interactive data here.

Download Annual Information Statement data, as well as other ACNC data at data.gov.au. View previous editions of the Australian Charities Report.

What is the ACNC’s role?

The ACNC is Australia's charity regulator. We register and regulate Australia's charities.

Registering as a charity is free, and only registered charities can access Commonwealth charity tax concessions and benefits. In addition to their obligations to the ACNC, registered charities may also have obligations to other Commonwealth, state, territory, or local government agencies.

Education and support are the foundations of our regulatory approach. We focus on providing guidance and tools to help registered charities understand good governance practices and how to comply with their obligations.

Anyone can find out about the types of concerns we can investigate, or raise a concern about a charity.

How can journalists use the ACNC Charity Register?

The ACNC Charity Register is a useful tool for journalists. It provides details on Australia's nearly 60,000 registered charities. Journalists can use the Register in several ways including to:

  • confirm if an entity is a registered charity,
  • view a charity’s governing document (constitution or trust deed),
  • see names and roles of people responsible for running a charity,
  • view financial information including financial reports of medium and large charities,
  • check if a charity is up to date with its reporting,
  • see if any formal action has been taken against a charity,
  • find charities operating in given locations such as towns/cities/states, and
  • find charities based on the type of service or program they provide.
What does the ACNC do if a concern is raised about a charity?

The ACNC has the power to investigate. We will be particularly concerned if it is alleged a charity:

The ACNC does not investigate fundraising, internal disputes, contracts or employment issues such as unfair dismissal. Other agencies oversee these matters.

We may finalise a review or investigation in a number of ways.

Where appropriate, we will work with a charity to help it to resolve any issues. We may decide no action is needed, provide regulatory advice, or recommend a charity take steps to address issues identified.

In some cases, we may require a charity to have its accounts audited or lodge additional reports, we may refer a concern to another government agency or impose administrative penalties.

Revoking a charity’s registration is the most serious action the ACNC can take.

What information can the ACNC provide about investigations or complaints?

Due to the secrecy provisions in the ACNC's legislation, we are unable to comment on the circumstances of individual charities, nor confirm whether a charity is under investigation.

In some instances, a charity may permit the ACNC to release information about an investigation where it is considered in the charity’s and/or the public’s interest.

Which ACNC compliance decisions and actions can be made public?

Details of a warning, direction, undertaking, injunction, suspension, removal of a Responsible Person or revocation of a charity's registration are published on the charity’s page of the ACNC Charity Register.

See more on ACNC Charity Compliance Decisions.

By law, we are not permitted to publish the reasons for a compliance decision, whether a concern has been raised about a particular charity or whether a charity is under investigation.

When can a charity’s registration be revoked?

The ACNC may revoke a charity’s registration on certain grounds, including if it is not entitled to registration, has not complied with the ACNC Act or Regulation, or is insolvent or in administration.

Revocation may also be appropriate where the charity has significantly and persistently failed to comply with ACNC Governance Standards, the ACNC External Conduct Standards, or reporting obligations, particularly where other enforcement options are not available.

If a charity’s registration is revoked, it loses its charitable status under Commonwealth law, including its access to Commonwealth tax concessions and, where relevant, deductible gift recipient status.

The ACNC Charity Register shows if we have revoked a charity’s registration. The charity’s history page shows information such as the date of our decision to revoke registration, and the date the decision took effect.

A revocation decision may be backdated to reflect the date a charity ceased to be entitled to registration. The ACNC Act sets out what we can publish following revocation.

Why does the Register show that some charities’ registrations as 'revoked', 'voluntarily revoked', 'revoked double defaulter' or 'revoked RTS'?

If a charity fails to meet its obligations to the ACNC, or fails to submit two Annual Information Statements, it may have its registration revoked.

Revocation is shown in a red bar across the top of the charity’s Register page, and may include other revocation details as follows:

  • Revoked Registration – the charity’s registration was revoked as it is no longer entitled to registration as a charity.
  • Revoked Double Defaulter – the charity’s registration was revoked due to the failure to submit any two Annual Information Statements.
  • Revoked RTS - the charity has been revoked as we have been unable to contact the charity (ACNC correspondence has been ‘returned to sender’)

Note: The ACNC was established on 3 December 2012. All charities registered with the Australian Taxation Office at that time were transferred to the ACNC and show that date as the date of registration. Some later had their registrations revoked for failing to submit two Annual Information Statements.

A charity can apply to re-register once it has lodged outstanding Annual Information Statements with the ACNC - see more in the Commissioner’s Policy Statement Revocation by the ACNC.

A charity may also choose to voluntarily wind up for a variety of reasons, and can apply to have its registration revoked by the ACNC at any time. This is shown as a voluntary revocation on the charity's Register page.

What does the ACNC do to check information charities submit?

If the ACNC finds material errors in a charity’s reporting, we contact the charity to help rectify the problem.

We have powers to gather information, monitor whether charities are meeting their obligations, and respond where charities that are not meeting obligations. View more information on how we ensure charities meet their obligations, and how we review charities' financial information and annual financial reports.

Are there different reporting obligations for different charities?

Charities have several reporting obligations to the ACNC.

There are ongoing operational reporting and record keeping obligations to ensure charities comply with ACNC Governance Standards and, if applicable, External Conduct Standards.

In order to retain their registration, charities must report annually to the ACNC. Charities' annual reporting obligations are dependent on whether they are small, medium or large.

Charities fulfil their annual reporting obligations by submitting an Annual Information Statement, as well as an annual financial report (medium or large charities). View more information on reporting annually to the ACNC.

Does the ACNC regulate Indigenous charities?

Charities that are also registered as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander corporations are regulated by both the Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations (ORIC) and the ACNC.

The agencies work together when compliance issues arise and work together to minimise red tape for these charities. Annual reports lodged with ORIC satisfy these charities' reporting obligations to the ACNC.

Are religious charities exempt from reporting to the ACNC?

All registered charities must submit an Annual Information Statement to the ACNC. A Basic Religious Charity is a registered charity with the purpose of advancing religion which meets six specific criteria. Only a small number of charities that advance religion meet all six criteria.

A Basic Religious Charity does not have to:

  • answer financial information questions in its Annual Information Statement,
  • submit annual financial reports regardless of its size, or
  • comply with the ACNC Governance Standards.

Further, the ACNC does not have the power to suspend or remove a member of a BRC’s governing body.

Basic Religious Charities must meet all other obligations, including submitting an Annual Information Statement each year, complying with the External Conduct Standards (if operating or sending money overseas) and notifying us of changes to certain details.

Religions or religious institutions delivering other services, including the provision of educational or aged care services, would typically fall under a different category and therefore need to meet reporting obligations based on their size.

The ACNC does not oversee fundraising, so what is the ACNC’s role in this area?

The ACNC is responsible for ensuring registered charities are operating for legitimate purposes and are complying with their obligations. The ACNC doesn’t have any direct jurisdiction over fundraising – this is the responsibility of state and territory regulators. View more information about fundraising.

However, a key part of the ACNC's role is to promote trust and confidence in the charity sector. We warn donors to be careful when donating to an organisation as the prevalence of scams damages public trust in the charity sector.

If an organisation claims to be a charity, it is important for donors to check the ACNC Charity Register to verify its credentials. An individual can raise funds for a cause. The cause does not have to be charitable and there is nothing wrong with this. However, doing checks in these situations can be harder and we urge donors to be careful. Donors can check with the regulator in their state to see whether the fundraiser has a license or permit to fundraise, for example.

We urge donors to find out as much as possible about the source of the fundraising campaign before donating, using the internet, searching the bona fides of the people or the organisations involved.

Following a disaster, we urge donors to find an established charity. They are often best placed to provide support because they have the infrastructure, personnel and systems to respond. Donors can search the Charity Register to find charities in a particular area with keywords such as ‘disaster’ or ‘relief’.

ScamWatch is run by the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission and publishes known scams. Donors should not donate to these organisations.

Can third parties raise funds for a charity?

Third parties can raise funds for a charity.

But it is important to remember that a charity has a legally-binding governing document (often more commonly called its constitution or trust deed) that sets out how it can use donations it receives.

This means that, regardless of any messaging about how a charity will use the funds raised through a third party, it can in fact only use donated funds for activities that advance its charitable purposes as stated in its governing document.

This was confirmed by the Supreme Court in the case of the NSW RFS Trust.

Does the ACNC regulate charities’ administration costs?

Running a charity costs money and all charities spend money on administration - without it they wouldn't be able to operate and pursue their charitable purpose.

The charity sector comprises many different types of organisations, including universities, hospitals, schools, social welfare organisations, and environmental groups. There is no one-size-fits-all standard ratio or percentage to measure reasonable spending on administration.

There is no mandatory standard accounting practice for reporting on charity spending – using the ACNC’s National Standard Chart of Accounts is optional. View more information about charities and administration costs.

Does the ACNC have concerns about charities that make a profit?

As a general principle, the ACNC recognises that charities can make a profit. However, any profit must be used to pursue a charity's charitable purpose or purposes.

A charity can keep profits as long as there is a genuine reason linked to its pursuit of its charitable purposes. For example, a good reason to keep profits may be to save up for a new project, new infrastructure or a building, or to accumulate a reserve to be sustainable.

If a charity indefinitely retains significant profits and does not use them in pursuit of its charitable purposes, this may suggest it is not working solely towards its stated charitable purposes, and therefore is not operating as a not-for-profit organisation.

Can charities advocate for political causes or political parties?

Some charities conduct public advocacy when working towards achieving their charitable purposes.

The charitable purpose of ‘advancing public debate’ is set out in section 12(1)(l) of the Charities Act 2013 (Cth). A charity can promote or oppose a change to any matter of law, policy or practice, as long as this advocacy furthers or aids another charitable purpose.

However, a charity must not have a ‘disqualifying purpose’. Purposes that will disqualify an organisation from being a registered charity are:

  • engaging in, or promoting, activities that are unlawful,
  • engaging in, or promoting, activities that are contrary to public policy, or
  • promoting or opposing a political party or candidate for political office.
How can I examine large ACNC data sets?

Go to data.gov.au. You will find data that charities have submitted in their Annual Information Statements since the ACNC was established in 2012.

Select the report you wish to view, scroll down to ‘Show full description’, click the arrow and scroll down to the data files at the bottom of the page, including:

  • datasets,
  • group reporting data sets - for charities such as schools which report as a group, and
  • explanatory notes.

Keep in mind that charities report to the ACNC annually. Data for the current year will not be available until after the date charities are required to submit it. The most recent available data is for the 2019 reporting year.

Does ACNC data show how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected Australian charities?

The latest Australian Charities Report sets the benchmark for our future understanding of the significance of the COVID-19 pandemic and the catastrophic 2020 bushfires — major events likely to have affected the sector. A clearer picture of those impacts will be available in the next edition of the report.

The data indicates that up until the end of 2019, immediately prior to COVID and in the lead up to the 2020 bushfires, the charity sector was robust, with increases in revenue of $10.5 billion and in assets of more than $30 billion compared with the previous year. Overall, charities operated at a surplus, supported by substantial assets.

ACNC leaders, including Commissioner the Hon Dr Gary Johns, often meet with charities all over Australia. Some advise that due to COVID-19 they have had to look at various ways to save money and new ways to generate funds.

Charities have yet to report their financial data for the period that COVID-19 has impacted, but it is anticipated fundraising losses will be significant.