This is my last Commissioner’s column. As I announced earlier this year, I will step down as ACNC Commissioner at the end of the month.

It has been an honour to serve the charity sector, meet with so many of you all over Australia, in remote, rural and regional areas and in the cities. This has deepened the ACNC’s understanding of matters that impact charities on the ground, and in turn, strengthened our capacity to support the sector.

Over my time as Commissioner, I have come to understand that good governance is the backbone of Australia’s charity sector. The ACNC understands how crucial it is that we support it, and later this month, we will launch a major free resource for board members and other charity leaders to strengthen governance in the Australian charity sector.

The ACNC Governing Charities online learning program is designed to support sector leadership and transparency. Anyone who wants to improve their leadership and governance of an Australian charity will benefit from the program. If you are on the board or committee of a charity, or in another kind of leadership role, the program will boost the skills and expertise you need to perform your role effectively. It is self-paced, online and free.

The official launch is on Thursday, 28 July at our annual Regulators Day. We will provide further details and links to the program after the launch.

We are working with the Australian Taxation Office on Director IDs - an initiative that will boost accountability and transparency in the sector. Directors of charities that are either companies, or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander corporations, must apply for a Director ID. Director IDs are unique 15-digit identifiers that are designed to help eradicate illegal phoenixing and other fraudulent activity. Directors apply once and keep their number forever. There is more information about who needs to apply and application deadlines here.

Due to recent reforms, it is anticipated that some not-for-profits with deductible gift recipient status will be entitled for registration as charities. The ACNC is also working with the ATO to ensure that those organisations that have charitable purposes become registered as soon as possible.

Over the course of my term as Commissioner, we have put a lot of effort into improving the quality, detail and clarity of data on the Charity Register, and to boost the Register’s visibility in the community. It is pleasing to see how much public awareness has grown. The Charity Register attracts millions of views each year as donors and others use it to check a charity’s credentials and good governance before donating, or for a range of other reasons.

I am especially proud of the new charity program data and search features launched in March. These enhancements make the Register even more useful, as sector stakeholders use it to collaborate with each other, and charities see its value to promote themselves to potential donors and volunteers.

Our work on the integrity of Register data is ongoing and is a key focus for the ACNC as a regulator. Identifying any possible gaps in Register data allows us to provide guidance and advice to a charity that may be at risk of falling short in meeting reporting obligations, or has out of date information on the Register – for example, the names of its Responsible People, or if it has only nominated one Responsible Person. An emphasis on education is the foundation of our approach.

It is important that we promote awareness of the many excellent governance tools and resources we provide for charities. One key resource that will have ongoing value is Annual financial report disclosures - best practice. It is a great example of the guidance that supports the accountability and transparency on which the sector depends. As I prepare to move on, I am assured that the charity sector is in a strong place. Key data in our latest Australian Charities Report (8th edition) shows sector revenue rose by more than $10 billion to $176 billion, donations increased by 8% to $12.7 billion, and charities employed 10.5% of all employees in Australia. Approximately 80,000 charity programs serve hundreds of charitable purposes.

As I sign off, I would like to thank ACNC staff and the management team for their diligence, the adviser and sector stakeholders for their practical and expert insights and the members of the Advisory Board for their sound advice.

To everyone who works with or for a charity, as well as the millions of people who generously volunteer their time, I applaud your commitment and wish you well as you strive to make a difference day in, day out. Assuredly, the ACNC will continue to support you in your charitable endeavours.

Best wishes,
The Hon Dr Gary Johns