Many charities undertake fundraising activities to raise money so they can fund their ongoing work.
Members of the public sometimes raise concerns with the ACNC about charity fundraising. These concerns can be about the methods used by charity fundraisers or agencies working on a charity's behalf, or about the way charity fundraisers make contact with them. We also receive questions about how much money charities can spend on fundraising and other associated activities.
This guidance provides answers to the most common questions and concerns we hear about charity fundraising.
Things to remember
- The ACNC does not regulate fundraising – it is regulated at a state and territory level. Because of this, the specific definition of fundraising can vary between states and territories.
- Charities must comply with any relevant fundraising laws in the state or territory where they raise funds, not just where they operate. See our Fundraising Hub for information about state and territory fundraising regulators.
- Charities need to ensure they retain their not-for-profit status and that their fundraising goes towards furthering their charitable purpose, particularly if there is a commercial element involved. Charities can make a profit, but any profit or surplus must be used for its charitable purpose.
The following section provides information on how charities can raise funds.
Charities raise funds in a number of ways to support the work they do.
Examples of fundraising activities include:
- soliciting public donations (either in person or online)
- holding public events where admission fees are charged
- staging raffles or other games
- entering corporate partnerships
- crowdfunding efforts.
Charities can also raise funds through other methods, like:
- engaging in fee-for-service work
- charging membership fees
- receiving grants from grant-making bodies and funders
- attracting sponsorships
- running campaigns through social media
- newer approaches such as micro-investing or social impact bonds
- running opportunity shops or selling items.
Ultimately, a charity’s Responsible People – the board, committee or trustees - have responsibility for all fundraising activities, whether these activities are conducted by the charity itself or outsourced to an external agency.
Because a charity’s Responsible People have overall responsibility for a charity’s actions, the ACNC sees the oversight of fundraising activities as a vital aspect of good charity governance.
Responsible People must have a clear understanding of how money is raised – including any fundraising operations – and must ensure there are appropriate and lawful processes in place to manage any money raised.
They must also ensure the charity generates funds in a way that is in the charity’s best interests. This includes considering the charity’s charitable purpose, its beneficiaries and the impact of its fundraising on the public and other potential donors. Some boards choose to adopt fundraising policies, or codes of conduct, like those developed by the Fundraising Institute of Australia.
No matter how a charity raises funds, its Responsible People must ensure that money is put towards pursuing the charity’s charitable purpose, and that any other expenses are reasonable.
Read more about the duties of Responsible People.
Because of the resources involved in large-scale fundraising, some charities might find it more appropriate and cost-effective to outsource fundraising work to external agencies.
Even if a charity has employed an external fundraising agency, the charity is still responsible for ensuring the fundraising activities are conducted in accordance with good governance practices.
There have been examples of external fundraising agencies using questionable tactics to get donors to commit to regular ongoing donations. This can impact public goodwill and damage the reputation of both the charity and the wider sector.
Where a charity decides to work with an external fundraising agency, its Responsible People carry the ultimate responsibility for any actions taken in the charity’s name.
It is legitimate for a charity to incur expenses when undertaking fundraising activities – or ‘to spend money to make money’ - as long as the spending is in line with its charitable purpose.
Decisions about how a charity raises and uses funds are made by the charity’s Responsible People (the board or committee members, or trustees).
Charities must not mislead the public in relation to their fundraising costs.
Charities should not mislead the public regarding the use or destination of funds raised, or about the need for donations.
For example, a charity should not solicit donations with a statement that ‘100% of contributions will benefit those in need’ if, in fact, a portion of donations will go towards its administration costs.
Charities should not mislead the public when referring to studies or statistics to support the need for donations. A charity should ensure there is a reasonable basis for any statistics quoted or research referred to for the purposes of soliciting donations.
Charities should also be transparent in relation to their fundraising arrangements, particularly where this impacts where contributions end up.
If charities make false or misleading statements, or act in a way that creates a false or misleading impression, they may contravene Australian Consumer Law. This, in turn, may be a breach of the ACNC Governance Standards.
Further information about the Australian Consumer Law for charities and not-for-profits is available on the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) website.
Questions and concerns about charity fundraising
The following section provides information and context on some common questions or concerns members of the public have about charity fundraising behaviour.
The decision to donate is always yours. If you do not wish to donate, you do not have to, and you should not be made to feel obligated to do so.
You can, and should, communicate any unwillingness to donate to the fundraiser.
Fundraisers can use a variety of tactics to appeal to you and encourage you to donate, but it is always your right to politely decline. If you decide not to donate, you can walk away from the fundraiser. The fundraiser must not prevent you from walking away, and must not harass you over your decision not to donate.
If you feel harassed, consider contacting the charity directly by using the details on its website or on the ACNC Charity Register. When you notify the charity of the situation, ensure you include the location where the approach was made.
If you are receiving unwanted calls, emails or letters from a charity, you should first try to contact the charity directly by using the details on its website or on the ACNC Charity Register, rather than telling the caller or replying to the email or letter.
Doing so will ensure that the charity gets the message directly, as:
- the caller may be from an external fundraising agency and not directly employed by the charity
- the email or letter to the charity may be lost or overlooked.
When contacting the charity, ask to have your details removed from its mailing and contact lists. As part of that request, include:
- the name of the person who wants to be removed from the charity's list
- the phone number being called
- the postal or email address where charity mail is being sent
- the number of times contact was made.
Also, find out if the charity is a member of the Fundraising Institute of Australia (FIA). FIA members must meet fundraising standards and principles, and the Institute can investigate complaints about its members.
Charities are exempt from the Do Not Call Register, meaning they can call people even if they are listed on the Register.
However, reputation and public perception are important for charities. If you have concerns about any calls you are receiving, you should raise them directly with the charity and request it removes you from any contact lists it uses. You can contact the charity by using the details on its website or on the ACNC Charity Register.
Charity fundraisers are exempt from laws linked to direct solicitation by salespeople - as outlined by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) in its Telemarketing and Door-to-Door Sales guide.
However, you can always ask any unwanted visitors to leave your premises.
If you feel harassed, consider making direct contact with the charity to let them know. When doing so, notify the charity of the address where the approach was made. You can contact the charity by using the details on its website or on the ACNC Charity Register.
If you are concerned about or offended by a charity's campaign messaging, it is best to speak to the charity directly. You can contact the charity by using the details on its website or on the ACNC Charity Register.
A charity’s Responsible People must ensure any information collected from donors is appropriately stored and used in ways that comply with relevant privacy laws.
If you are worried about how a charity is handling your personal information, we recommend speaking to the charity directly. You can contact the charity by using the details on its website or on the ACNC Charity Register.
Charities should have policies for managing people's information and data to ensure that personal information is handled in accordance with the applicable privacy law obligations.
If you are not satisfied with the charity's response to your concern, you may be able to lodge a complaint with the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC).
Note: A charity may be subject to both state and federal privacy laws, and the OAIC may only investigate complaints about the federal Privacy Act 1988 (Cth). Information about privacy in other jurisdictions can also be found on the OAIC website.
The following section provides information about fundraising regulation, as well as the circumstances in which the ACNC may intervene in fundraising-related matters.
The ACNC does not have responsibility for fundraising regulation. Fundraising is regulated at the state and territory level. You can find the list of regulators on our Fundraising Hub.
The ACNC has investigation powers and will be particularly concerned where it is alleged that a charity has not met its obligations to the ACNC. This may include a charity failing to keep or provide required information (such as financial information), or failing to meet the ACNC Governance Standards.
Fundraising issues that may trigger ACNC intervention (possibly in collaboration with another Australian regulator) are:
- failure to protect and account for all funds raised
- inadequate oversight of the charity’s activities or resources
- commercial participation or professional fundraising arrangements which do not comply with the law, and which cannot be shown to be in the charity’s best interests
- damage to public trust and confidence caused by
- the charity’s fundraising activities
- high fundraising costs
- serious risks to a charity’s reputation or assets
- methods of fundraising which would be a breach of the Governance Standards
- where conflicts of interest and private benefit have not been properly controlled, for example, if a charity conducts fundraising through related parties (such as through another organisation associated with board or committee members)
- serious or frequent failures in the conduct of fundraising (for example, persistent unlicensed fundraising or failure to provide required information) which put charity funds at risk
- criminality which exposes related concerns about misconduct and mismanagement in the administration of a charity - for example, fraud, theft, false accounting, tax fraud or failing to obtain legal authority to fundraise.
When deciding on the action to take, the ACNC will assess the level of risk to:
- a charity's compliance with the Governance Standards or other obligations
- public trust and confidence in the charity, or in the sector more broadly
- donor confidence.
If there are allegations of fraud or other criminal behaviour, these should be referred to the relevant police force.
If there are allegations of a breach of state or territory fundraising laws, these should be referred to the relevant state or territory regulator.
If you are concerned about a charity’s financial management, including how much is spent on fundraising activity, you may be able to raise a concern with the ACNC.
State and territory fundraising regulators
Charities need to comply with the fundraising legislation of the states or territories it raises funds in, not just the state where the charity is located.
Generally, charities need to register to undertake fundraising activities and may need a permit or licence. They may also need to provide a report on any funds raised to the state or territory government regulator. In some states and territories, special arrangements apply to charities that undertake fundraising through gaming activities such as raffles or bingo.
Australian Taxation Office (ATO)
If the charity is endorsed by the ATO as a deductible gift recipient (DGR), then it will also have requirements it must meet for the ATO. Refer to the ATO's website for more information.