The number of registered charities in Australia

Are there too many charities in Australia? The issue has again been raised in the mainstream media, with the claim that the number of charities is undermining charitable giving.

As regular readers of this column will recall, I have discussed this issue a number of times in the past - most recently in my blog post for the Huffington Post.

Australia actually has fewer charities per capita than Canada, England and Wales, the USA, Scotland, and New Zealand. When one considers the vast size of Australia’s continent, the distribution of population and breadth of services provided by the sector, the headline figures about the number of charities makes sense.

Some commentators disapprovingly quote the ACNC’s data that 10 new charities are registered each day. What they fail to followup with is that a similar number voluntarily deregister. In fact, since the ACNC was created in December 2012, some 8,500 charities have been registered, and over 13,500 charities have been revoked during this period.

I’m always impressed by the dedication and selflessness exhibited the Australian charity sector. They are adept at achieving great results with very limited resources, so I was particularly disappointed to see a headline just this morning that suggested that charitable giving in Australia is being wasted.

I do not support this caricature of the not-for-profit sector, nor is it supported by the evidence gathered by the ACNC through the comprehensive reporting regime.

The key findings from the 2014 Australian Charities Report tell the real story:

  • Four out of five charities engage volunteers
  • Nearly half (44%) of registered charities are run solely by volunteers
  • The majority (64%) of Australia’s charities are small, with annual revenue of less than $250,000
  • One third of registered charities are considered micro, with annual revenue of less than $50,000
  • Most charities operate with a balanced budget with a surplus or deficit of no more than 20% of their total income

I encourage everyone to base their views about the sector on evidence, as I do, and to continue to support the amazing charities that we have in Australia, either financially, with your time as a volunteer, or through positive commentary if you have a public voice.

2014 Australian Charities Report

Speaking of the 2014 Australian Charities Report, the ACNC has recently updated the datacube, which houses the information used to build the report.

The datacube now holds the records of 43,153 registered charities, which is effectively a census of registered charities that are required to report financial information. This is an even richer dataset than before and will continue to improve and grow over time.

The datacube is a fantastic free resource. It provides new insights into Australia’s charity sector and an evidence base for charities in their planning, policy development and engagement with donors.

Researchers, members of the public and the sector are able to manipulate the data on the website and build their own reports at australiacharities.acnc.gov.au. If you haven’t yet done so then I’d really encourage you to take a look.

Advisory Board Chair

In my last Commissioner’s Column on 11 May I announced the membership of the new ACNC Advisory Board and paid tribute to the outgoing members.

Last Friday at the ACNC’s Melbourne offices I met with the new Chair, Mr Tony Stuart. Tony showed great understanding and appreciation of the charity sector in Australia and overseas. This is underscored by his involvement in the Prime Minister’s Community Business Partnership.

Tony toured ACNC headquarters and also took the time to speak to the ACNC’s staff, thanking them for choosing to work for an organisation that can make a real difference to Australia’s charitable sector.

Tony brings a variety of skills and experiences to the role, from both the commercial and not-for-profit sectors. I am very much looking forward to working with Tony over the next three years in his role as Advisory Board Chair.

149 charities lose ACNC registration

Since the ACNC was established in December 2012, we have worked diligently to provide the public with an accurate and reliable database of registered charities. The Charity Register, available free of charge at acnc.gov.au/findacharity, has been searched over 1.5 million times, showing that it is increasingly relied upon by donors, grant-makers and the community.

Last week this process saw 149 organisations lose their charity status. While this group had been in contact with the ACNC at some point since we were established, they failed to complete two Annual Information Statements, despite a number of reminders and warnings.

There will now be a clear marking against their name on the register warning that they are no longer registered.

Helping charities correct errors in reporting

To ensure the integrity of the information of the Charity Register, the ACNC’s Reporting team is writing to just over 4,000 registered charities to identify potential errors in their Annual Information Statements or annual financial reports.

Common errors include:

  • Incorrect totals
  • Entering numbers with decimal places rather than whole numbers
  • Rounding errors (e.g. rounding numbers to the nearest thousand)
  • Excluding negative signs in totals
  • Leaving mandatory fields (such as totals) blank
  • Addition errors
  • Inclusion of other comprehensive income
  • Misclassification of trust distribution
  • Consolidation errors, and
  • Differences in the financial information stated in the Annual Information Statement and the charity’s annual financial reports.

While the ACNC has the power to impose financial penalties on registered charities, this is used where charities have deliberately provided misleading or deceptive information. Most of those that will receive an email alerting them to the potential errors will not be penalised. We encourage registered charities to correct the identified errors as soon as possible.

If your charity receives one of these emails, you can find more information by reading our FAQs on 2015 Annual Information Statement reporting errors at acnc.gov.au/2015aiserrors. Our friendly team are also here to help, email aiserrors@acnc.gov.au or call (03) 8601 9159 between 9am to 5pm AEDT.

International Fundraising Forum

Last week the ACNC hosted the International Fundraising Forum here in Melbourne. The event was the third in a series of sessions of events that discussed fundraising regulation in Australia and abroad.

I’d like to thank those that attended, and our expert panel of speakers:

  • Dr Oonagh Breen – University College Dublin, and Potter Foundation Visiting Fellow
  • Professor Myles McGregor-Lowndes – Queensland University of Technology
  • Paul Ronalds - CEO of Save The Children Australia
  • Simon Cohen - Director Consumer Affairs Victoria

We are looking to hold similar events in other capital cities and regional centres over the coming months. As a subscriber to this column, you will be first to know of those events. In the meantime, you can access the presentations from Melbourne’s speakers at acnc.gov.au/fundraisingforum.

NFP Governance and Performance Study

The Australian Institute of Company Directors has launched the survey for its annual Not-for-profit Governance and Performance Study.

This year is the seventh year the AICD have run the study, making it the largest and longest study of its kind in Australia..

This year’s study will focus on the health services sub sector, and the financial stability of the sector generally.

If you are interested in not-for-profit governance, you can find past reports and participate in this year’s study at aicd.com.au/nfp-governancestudy.

New research: Whistling while they work

Griffith University’s Centre for Governance and Public Policy have commenced a three-year research project to assess organisational responses to whistleblowing in the public and private sectors.

The research will focus on:

  • adequacy of organisational responses to whistleblowing
  • organisational and managerial experience across the public, private and not-for-profit sectors
  • building a more effective understanding of whistleblowing

Any organisation with ten or more employees with significant operations in Australia or New Zealand can participate in the research.

The first stage of the research project closes on 30 June 2016. Visit whistlingwhiletheywork.edu.au for more information.


Good wishes
Susan Pascoe AM

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