As we launch the 2021 Annual Information Statement and as charities prepare to hold annual general meetings, it is a busy time for charity leaders across the nation. Their roles demand that they be active in the lives of their charities; they are not mere figureheads. An engaged board or committee is vital for a well-governed charity, so its leaders should be part of the process to approve and submit the AIS. We have an expectation that a charity’s Responsible People − directors, trustees, board or committee members − are fully across the content of their organisations’ Annual Information Statements.

Australia’s registered charities receive generous support from donors and volunteers, a measure of the confidence in the value of their work. The latest official data we published earlier this year in the Australian Charities Report shows registered charities generated $166 billion in total revenue, including $11.8 billion in donations and bequests. Millions of volunteers helped charities deliver their programs, and more than half of charities operated with no paid staff at all. Charity leaders who take their duties and obligations seriously are critical in maintaining and building the confidence upon which the entire sector relies.

To ensure high standards of integrity and common sense, the responsibilities of charity leaders are set out in Governance Standard 5. The standard requires that Responsible People act honestly and fairly in the best interests of their charity and for its charitable purposes, with reasonable care and diligence, that they disclose conflicts of interest and make sure finances are well-managed. It also requires that Responsible People don’t misuse their position or allow their charity to operate while it is insolvent. We provide a lot of guidance on these matters and they will be covered in our next free webinar on welcoming new Responsible People to your charity.

To support sector transparency and accountability we publish the names and positions of charities’ Responsible People on the Charity Register. In coming weeks, at annual general meetings around Australia, charities will welcome new board or committee members. Charities have a duty to notify us of leadership changes including any new Responsible People, or those who have stepped down from their post. Moreover, any change in the role of a Responsible Person must be notified, for example, if the Treasurer is elected as the new Chair of the board.

Strong leadership has been especially necessary to steer the sector through the additional challenges of ongoing COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions. It is critical that charity leaders keep up to date with current COVID-19 information that pertains to their charity, checking their local state and territory websites for directives, hotspot information and travel restrictions to ensure compliance and, importantly, that people are safe.

Amid the uncertainty, charity leaders have demonstrated they can adapt to changing operational circumstances, possess a remarkable commitment to lead their organisations to fulfil their charitable purposes and deliver crucial services to people who depend on them. I wish all charity leaders well in their important work.