Since joining the ACNC as acting Commissioner last month I have spent my first few weeks meeting with a large number of stakeholders across the sector individually, as well as with our Adviser and Sector forums. It has been a pleasure to hear directly from charities and stakeholders themselves, who have been very generous with their time and feedback.

Between us, Assistant Commissioner Anna Longley and I have also attended all of the Building Community Forums held around Australia, organised by the minister responsible for the ACNC, Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury, the Hon Dr Andrew Leigh MP.

In these forums, charities have spoken positively about our staff and our website as well as providing very constructive comments about what they would like to see us do differently. Happily, most of my discussions with charities have focused on the future, with charity leaders keen to know what is happening next with the ACNC and how they can work with us to be the best regulator we can be.

Charity advocacy

Advocacy is an issue that has come up in these recent conversations. I understand there is some confusion in the community about whether charities can advocate, what they can do and what actions would warrant ACNC intervention.

Charities can absolutely undertake advocacy when working towards their charitable purpose – I want to make that very clear. But there are rules around how charities can conduct advocacy, and in particular political advocacy.

Our guidance on advocacy, and on charities, elections and political advocacy, explain these rules. Put simply, if charities stick to advocating for their purposes and do not endorse a particular political party or candidate, they will be fine.

Consultation with the sector

Another issue stakeholders have raised with me is the timing and frequency of ACNC consultation with the sector. Stakeholders would like us to consult earlier in our processes and seek more input.

The ACNC is reviewing its current consultation processes, as we want to ensure that when we plan to make changes to policies, guidance or forms we ask the sector in a timely and effective way how any proposed changes could impact on charities.

We recently invited public comments during consultations on our reviews of the Commissioner’s Interpretation Statements (CIS) on Public Benevolent Institutions and Health Promotion Charities. The CIS provide guidance on how we understand the law that applies to charities and so we want to ensure they are contemporary, consistent and understandable.

Submissions we received will help us understand the sector perspective, and after we have reviewed them we will publish a detailed summary outlining our responses to issues raised.

It is likely, based on feedback received so far, that we will need to undertake further targeted consultation. I look forward to sector contributions to make sure we produce quality CISs that are helpful, accessible and meet the needs of our audiences.

We are continuing with our program of reviews of charities endorsed as deductible gift recipients (DGR). These reviews are part of reforms first announced in 2017, with the ACNC funded by the Federal Government to review 2% of DGR-endorsed registered charities annually.

DGR endorsed charities make up around 40% of charities registered in Australia which is a large proportion of all registered charities. The review work aims to help charities evaluate if they are maintaining their entitlement to registration, as well as confirm they are staying true to their stated purpose and charity subtype.

From our work, we see that mission drift can occur in long-established charities which can affect a charity’s entitlement to registration or may require administrative and governance changes to ensure a charity’s purposes and activities align.

We want our communications about these reviews to be as clear and helpful as possible. And we will seek feedback on revised communications about the review of DGR endorsed charities from the sector to ensure we achieve that.

We strive to be an approachable regulator that charities can come to for advice and guidance. Our goal is to work with charities to resolve problems. Engagement and consultation are very important to us - and my focus will be on refining our approach to stakeholder consultation.

We want to build a strong reciprocal relationship with the sector to ensure we are the best regulator we can be and, in doing so, help to sustain a vibrant, robust and independent charity sector that holds the trust and confidence of the community.

Warm Regards,
Deborah Jenkins
Acting Commissioner ACNC