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This month’s column is a reproduction of ACNC Commissioner Sue Woodward AM's foreword as published in the Australian Charities Report 10th edition, launched on 5 June 2024.


I am pleased to present the Australian Charities Report 10th edition – our annual analysis that helps quantify the contribution of charities to the community and Australian economy.

Charities work across multiple sectors, but the Australian Charities Report is of strategic importance as it aggregates charity data (from 51,536 charities) to provide a holistic picture or ‘sector-wide’ view.

Cost of living increases impact charities

Our data shows that cost of living issues had an impact on charities in 2022, with increases in expenses and liabilities outpacing increases in revenue and assets (in percentage terms).

Total revenue in the sector increased by $11 billion to a record high of just over $200 billion, but expenses increased by $22 billion in the same period.

Employee expenses also rose dramatically. The amount charities spent on employees in 2022 increased nearly 10% when compared to 2021 – the highest annual percentage increase recorded.

Donations grew by 4.4% in 2022. This was lower than the 5.3% increase in donations reported in 2021. For this reporting period, donations and bequests totalled $13.9 billion, an increase of more than $584 million over 2021 figures.

Philanthropy in the form of grant making continues to be important. Charities reported spending $11.7 billion on grants and donations to others, an increase of 21% on the previous reporting period, with most of that increase concentrated on grants within Australia.

Charity people

The report indicates charities remain a major employer, accounting for 10.5% of the Australian workforce. Still, the sector continued to depend on volunteers, with more than half of all charities reporting they operate with no paid staff.

Pleasingly, volunteer numbers increased to 3.5 million, although still below 2018 when the sector had 3.77 million volunteers.

Size analysis provides nuance

We base our analysis on charity size. The charity size thresholds changed in 2022. Data we have gathered since the change to charity size thresholds shows 74% of charities now report as small, compared to the 65% that did so before the shift. This was a proposal that arose from the ACNC legislation review.

This change more appropriately reflects a charity’s size as average annual revenue levels have risen since those set at the ACNC’s inception in 2013.

It is not compulsory for Basic Religious Charities to provide financial information to the ACNC. However, 7% did so in the 2022 reporting period and the information they provided is included.

Focus on extra small charities

Extra small charities – those with annual revenue of $50,000 or less – are a focus for this report because they comprise nearly a third of all Australian charities.

As part of this focus, we look at how extra small charities fared in 2022 in comparison to 2017.

And although extra small charities make up around 31% of the sector, they account for just 0.1% of the sector’s income. In contrast, extra large charities (those with more than $100 million in annual revenue) account for more than 54% of aggregate revenue, even though they only make up 0.5% of Australia’s charity sector.

Nearly 90% of extra small charities operate without paid staff.

The five-year figures show there was a significant drop in the number of volunteers (-17%) and paid staff (-18%) for extra small charities.

The data shows the cost of operating and delivering services has increased but extra small charities haven’t received sufficient revenue or donations to keep pace with these increases.

The differences between the smallest and largest charities could not be starker. When we talk about charities, set obligations or when policy is made, we must be mindful of the difference in resources and capacity. We don’t set policy, but we can highlight that most of the sector operates on low revenue with no paid staff.

In this edition, we have gathered a decade of data, providing both a snapshot and trends over time. And for the first time, using our Charity Data Explorer, people can interrogate the data further by using a new postcode filter.

The report is packed with valuable data that helps us understand some of the challenges affecting charity operations. It demonstrates charities make an enormous contribution to Australia’s social fabric, its economy and employment.

The report also highlights the enormous diversity amongst Australia’s charities. By publishing this report we meet one of our strategic priorities to share data back to the sector.

I invite you to read the report.

Warm regards,

Sue Woodward AM
Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission

See the foreword as published in the Australian Charities Report 10th edition.