Charities fulfil an important role in our society. They deliver vital services, respond to disasters and address a wide range of community needs.
They have a unique capacity to respond to specific issues and conditions that aren’t addressed by mainstream services or systems – local causes or rare conditions can find advocacy and support through a charity, often championed by individuals driven to make a difference.
Charities also represent the spirit of giving and helping – an outlet for our best intentions and a channel for our desire to reach out to others and support our communities.
The importance of the sector cannot be underestimated and is demonstrated in the findings of the latest edition of the Australian Charities Report, which we published last week.
The Report shows that charity sector revenue grew over 6%, three times the rate of the Australian economy during the same period. Alongside an increase in revenue to more than $155 billion, donations were up $600 million, totalling $10.5 billion across the sector. And, importantly, charities provided employment to over one million people.
These numbers point to an economically significant sector.
But in many ways, the charity sector is the little engine that could. Beyond the big numbers, there are tens of thousands of charities, the majority small, that work day in and day out to meet the needs of Australians, often with volunteers alone. The Charities Report shows that half of all charities operated with only volunteers and the sector is underpinned by a volunteer contribution of 3.7 million people.
The sector would not be what it is without the dedication of its millions of volunteers.
While the majority of charities reported benefiting the general community, it is in the detail that we see the range of causes that they serve; helping wildlife and the environment, fostering Aboriginal culture, assisting communities in drought, refugees or veterans and their families are just some of the hundreds of causes reported in the sector.
Charities improve the lives of millions of Australians every day.
One of the aims of this report, aside from providing valuable data back to the sector and the public, is to analyse the state of Australia’s charities: Are they flourishing? What factors underpin financial viability? Is the sector robust and adaptable?
And due to recent events, these questions are more pressing now than ever. We have just been through a nationwide bushfire crisis that prompted unprecedented giving and now are dealing with a global pandemic that has seen demand for charity services increase while charities themselves struggle to stay afloat.
Many charities may have been able to survive a downturn with assets and investments and diversified sources of income. We have seen charities adapt to deliver services online and change to meet new needs arising out of the pandemic. However, we will no doubt see some charities fall.
In truth, the charity sector is a collection of thousands of parts working for thousands of causes and many more people. It is an engine room for essential services for both the many and the few. The Charities Report reinforces its contribution and importance.
I invite you to read the report and I discuss the findings in more detail in our Charity Chat podcast. Personally, I am very keen to get out and about again to meet charities face-to-face, the best way for me to understand grassroots activities and issues. Happily, I can report that I will be back in Melbourne from Tuesday 9 June.
The Hon Dr Gary Johns