As I write my final Commissioner’s column, I realise how much I have learnt from the sector over the past four months, a sector that employs just over 10% of the Australian workforce.
It has become increasingly apparent to me as I listen to discussions with boards, charities and advisers that at the heart of everything charities do, is purpose, also referred to as mission.
This was brought home to me when, in my first few weeks in the role, I attended one of the Assistant Minister’s Building Community Forums. There, ACNC Advisory Board member Heather Watson and I were chatting with a stakeholder who was frustrated that he had not been able to obtain Deductible Gift Recipient status.
He was telling us with such passion about what he was doing for a sector of the community, through the lens of a product – in this case an app. At exactly the same time Heather and I had a lightbulb moment. We both said, “Describe your purpose, not your app,” and bingo, he had a lightbulb moment too - the app was a means by which he could achieve his purpose, but not the purpose itself.
Because, of course, charitable purpose has a special legal meaning, and it is the basis on which charities are registered and categorised. A clear, agreed, well-articulated purpose must be the bright north star for a charity and the guide from which other decisions including activities are made.
Charities staying true to their charitable purpose is critical to delivering on their mission and ensuring they stay on track and meet their regulatory obligations.
A clear purpose supports innovation – especially important during times of disruption such as the sector has experienced in recent years. Importantly, supporters and donors will be loyal to charities that have a clear purpose that is close to their heart and aligns with their own values.
Most charities have clarity of purpose and whilst the organisation may evolve, its purpose evolves. However, in my short time in this role, I have also observed that some organisations have strayed from their purpose over time and not even realised. What they risk is disengagement, distraction and inconsistency in results because their purpose, values and activities are out of sync.
But the importance of purpose isn’t confined to charities alone. This sentiment was reinforced when I was at the Australian Institute of Company Directors Essential Director Update recently. Keynote speakers, Ann Sherry, Chairperson of UNICEF Australia, and David Thodey, Chair of Tyro and Xero, both referred to the importance of clarity of purpose. Whether you are a charity, a large multinational, or a small business – having it will guide your decision-making, outcomes and governance.
This brings me to my own purpose – which, for the last few months, has been to make a difference by providing leadership, as custodian, to this important organisation the ACNC - and contribute to maintaining a strong relationship with the sector.
I would like to thank the amazing staff at the ACNC and, in particular, Assistant Commissioner Anna Longley for supporting me during this time.
My thanks also go to the ACNC Advisory Board chaired by Tony Stuart, which comprises Deputy Chair Dr Martin Laverty, David Piggott, Heather Watson, Peter Hogan and Dini Soulio. I am also grateful to our Adviser and Sector Forums for their contribution.
I welcome incoming Commissioner Sue Woodward and wish her all the very best in her new role.
Finally thank you, to you, the sector, for welcoming me so warmly and providing open and constructive feedback so that we can all work towards our three objects.
Have a wonderful festive season and may you continue to achieve your charitable purposes.
Acting Commissioner ACNC