Earlier this week, we sat down with Gary Johns to discuss his first year at the ACNC. Today marks the anniversary of his appointment as Commissioner.
You have been in the role of Commissioner for a year – what has been the highlight so far?
Visiting charities across Australia has been very enjoyable. The best thing about visiting is the opportunity to have concentrated discussions about the charity’s work – the charity personnel tell me in plain, simple language who they’re helping, how they’re helping and where they’re helping.
It would be a serious contribution to the charity sector to get such simplified information to donors and the public through the ACNC website. But, more on that later …
What is the most important thing you have learned?
I have learned that this sector is a lot bigger than the opinions and beliefs of those with the loudest voices – it is as wide as Australian society itself, and there is no single view which accurately represents 56,000 charities across multiple charitable purposes, hundreds of thousands of members, tens of thousands of volunteers, and millions of donors and taxpayers.
The sector is big enough, bold enough and confident enough to look after itself and use its voice in the places that matter – be that in the Parliament of Australia, in the media, or elsewhere.
What has been the biggest challenge?
Encouraging people to think more widely than just about charities. While charities are a wonderful vehicle for assisting beneficiaries, the regulator’s focus must centre on the importance of charitable purposes and keeping the public informed about how charities are helping beneficiaries.
A primary objective of the Commission is to help the sector report to the ACNC in a way that makes sense to the public. The trick is to provide charities with the right tools, and we are working on this exciting project, to make what charities do more visible to the public.
What has surprised you most about working at the ACNC?
It is not so much a surprise but a refreshing realisation that the ACNC is an incredibly professional organisation. Our staff are dedicated public servants, with an impressive understanding of the laws they administer and the sector they support.
The best support is to be good at the job. In this, I am confident that the ACNC staff can make a real difference to the work of the sector.
Has your view and understanding of the charity sector changed in the last 12 months?
My understanding of the sector has not necessarily changed, but it has deepened. Fundamentally, this year has reinforced that the charity sector is a large element of Australian society, and represents the same high level of diversity as Australian society.
Charities are competing for a limited number of dollars, from either donors or government, and each charity is trying to tell a story about how important their beneficiaries are. To enhance the possibilities of public support, in a crowded market with many voices, it is important to ensure that each voice is clear and communicating well.
What are your priorities for the next four years?
Our main priority is to enable charities to communicate with donors about what they do, for whom they do it, and where they do it. We are looking to provide a common language for charities to be able to communicate those messages and connect with donors, philanthropists, volunteers and more.
If you could teach the wider Australian public one thing about the charity sector, what would it be?
While some charities are very commercial in their operations, others are real bootstrap organisations working with only the support of volunteers. All varieties and combinations of charities are valid, and the ACNC is available to assist them all to continue their work while also helping them to attract more supporters.
Interested in hearing more from the Commissioner? Sign up to receive the fortnightly Commissioner’s Column direct to your inbox.