Charities have different obligations for record-keeping. The record-keeping obligations depend on your charity’s size, complexity, activities, how it spends or receives money, and whether it has extra obligations from state regulators.

alert icon Important:

  • the ACNC obligations replace requirements that used to apply under the Corporations Act for ASIC-registered charities (such as companies limited by guarantee)
  • The record-keeping obligations below relate only to requirements under the ACNC Act. Charities may have additional record-keeping requirements under other legislation such as legislation relating to health records or privacy
  • If you are unsure about which financial or operational records your charity should keep, seek professional advice.

ACNC record-keeping obligations

Your charity:

  • must keep certain written financial and operational records
  • can keep the records in any format you choose , as long as they are easy to find (including in electronic form)
  • can develop its own system or process
  • must keep the records for seven years
  • must keep records in English, or in a form that can be easily translated to English
  • is not required to provide the records to the ACNC unless asked.

If your charity operates overseas it is required to obtain and keep records telating to its overseas activities. Refer to the information on External Conduct Standard 2 featured on this page.

Why keep records?

When your charity keeps good records of how it is run, this can help you:

  • show it is continuing to be run as a not-for-profit and working towards its charitable purposes (and so should remain eligible to be registered as a charity)
  • understand whether your charity is in good financial health
  • assess whether the right kinds of decisions are being made (operational and financial)
  • communicate about your charity’s activities and finances
  • prepare reports to meet your reporting obligations to the ACNC, other government regulators, donors/funders and members (if relevant), and
  • otherwise show that your charity meets its obligations under the ACNC Act, tax and other relevant laws.

Helps to meet the Governance Standards

Keeping records can also help your charity meet the ACNC Governance Standards, for example, records can show:

  • its charitable purpose and not-for-profit nature (Governance Standard 1)
  • it is being accountable to its members (Governance Standard 2), and
  • it is taking reasonable steps to make sure its Responsible Persons manage financial affairs responsibly, including not operating the charity whilst it is insolvent (Governance Standard 5).

External Conduct Standard 2

The External Conduct Standards apply to the overseas activities and expenditure of charities.

External Conduct Standard 2 set out the requirement for a charity to obtain and keep records necessary to prepare a summary of its activities outside Australia for on a country-by-country basis for each year it operates overseas or sends resources (including funds) overseas.

The ACNC does not currently require charities to provide this information to the ACNC as part of the Annual Information Statement or any other financial reporting.

However, if the ACNC considers there a need to review the overseas activities and expenditure of a charity, that charity needs to be able to produce such records if requested.

A minimum level of compliance with Standard 2 could be satisfied by a charity ensuring it has records that contain the following information:

  • the kinds of activities that the charity or third party conducted outside Australia, on a country-by-country basis;
  • details of how the charity or third party’s activities outside Australia enabled the charity to pursue and achieve its purpose, on a country-by-country basis;
  • details of all expenditure relating to the charity activities outside Australia including details of all expenditure provided to a third party (on a country-by-country basis);
  • details of any procedures and processes that the charity used to monitor its overseas operations and activities;
  • a list of the third parties that the registered entity worked with outside Australia; and
  • details of any documented claims of inappropriate behaviour by the registered entity’s employees or Responsible Persons outside Australia, and subsequent actions taken by the registered entity as a result.

Record-keeping for other regulators

Your charity may need to report to other government regulators, which may have their own record-keeping requirements. For example, you will need to maintain good business records to help manage your charity’s obligations with the Australian Taxation Office (ATO).

If you are following the ACNC record-keeping requirements it is likely that you are meeting most of your obligations to the ATO.

Under the ACNC Act, your charity must keep two types of records:

  • financial records, and
  • operational records.

Financial records

These must:

  • correctly record and explain how your charity spends or receives its money or other assets (transactions)
  • correctly record and explain your charity’s financial position and performance, and
  • allow for true and fair financial statements to be prepared and audited or reviewed, if required.

Even if your charity does not need to submit financial reports to the ACNC (because it is a small or a Basic Religious Charity), your charity still needs to keep financial records that meet these requirements. The ACNC Act or the ACNC Commissioner could require your charity to prepare financial statements.

Operational records

These are any other documents about your charity's operations. You must keep operational records that show how your charity:

  • is entitled to be registered as a charity and as its subtype
  • meets its obligations under ACNC Act, and
  • meets its obligations under tax law.

Charities can keep the records in any format that suits, as long as they are:

  • in writing
  • readily accessible (easy to find), and
  • in English, or in a form that can be easily translated to English.

Charities can keep records on paper or on their computer (in electronic form).

raise concern blue icon To make sure you can provide records if asked, you should back up your computer, and you can also print out a paper record of any important documents. This is because things can go wrong – files can go missing, computers can break or be stolen. When you back your computer up, keep your back-up in a different and secure place to your computer, for example, at a different location.

Your charity will have its own systems and processes for keeping paper records. Paper records will include the records you have printed from your computer and other paper records, for example, original receipts and letters you receive in the mail.

Points to remember when keeping paper records

  • Organise the paper records into files, boxes, folders or envelopes that allow the records to be found easily
  • Separate the different paper records into categories (bank statements, communication, bills, receipts), and
  • Separate these records according to your charity’s reporting period (for example, financial year 1 July to 30 June).

After seven years (and if your charity has no record-keeping obligations to other regulators), your charity can destroy the records it has kept for ACNC purposes.

But before you destroy records, check your charity’s records policy and other legal obligations - for example, privacy requirements - to make sure you are doing so appropriately.