Australians respond generously in times of crisis, but ensuring help goes where it is needed is important, warns the charities regulator, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC).

“Charities play an important role in supporting the victims of natural disasters,” said ACNC Commissioner the Hon Dr Gary Johns.

“They provide essentials like food, shelter and counselling to people affected by disasters, and they often rely on public support to do this.”

However, there are potential pitfalls for people who wish to fundraise as well as people who wish to donate, the regulator warned.

“People starting up disaster charities can inadvertently get into strife if they don’t understand the regulations or their obligations.

“Even when they are responding to emergency, charities need to keep separate personal and charity accounts and obey fundraising guidelines,” Dr Johns said.

There are some basic checks people can do to ensure they are fundraising correctly or donating to a verified charity.

Tips for fundraisers:

  • Find out whether there are any organisations that are already involved in the recovery effort. It may be beneficial to contribute to, or partner with, an organisation that already has resources in the affected area or disaster expertise, rather than setting up a new charity.
  • Make sure any activities your charity undertakes are furthering its charitable purpose – the purpose for which the charity exists. Charities must only work towards their charitable purpose. If you’re unsure about what this means, contact the ACNC.
  • If you wish to establish an Australian disaster relief fund (a type of deductible gift recipient (DGR)), you will need to register with the ACNC or be operated by an organisation that is registered with the ACNC. Government agencies or funds operated by a government agency do not need to be registered with the ACNC.
  • The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) provides more information about establishing an Australian disaster relief fund and other categories of DGR. The ACNC will fast-track any applications that are made in response to a natural disaster.
  • Check with your relevant state or territory fundraising regulator before you undertake any fundraising activity. Your charity may need register to collect charitable donations and comply with fundraising regulation.

What not to do

  • Don’t start raising money until you are familiar with how fundraising is regulated in the state or territory you wish to fundraise in.
  • Don’t enter disaster areas without checking with local authorities first. Try to coordinate any practical assistance with other organisations in the area and consider the safety of your staff and volunteers.

For donors
Charities in Australia are regulated by the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission. To receive Commonwealth tax concessions, charities must be registered with the ACNC.

  • If you want to donate to a cause, look for established and recognised charities that are running verified disaster appeals. Registered charities will appear on the ACNC Charity Register.
  • If you receive a call from someone claiming to represent a charity, you can ask to call them back. Search for the charity on the Register and use the phone number published there.
  • Do not open suspicious or unsolicited emails – delete them.
  • Always ask for identification from door-to-door and street fundraising collectors.
  • If you think that there is something wrong, contact the charity directly and alert them of your concerns. You can also contact the ACNC on 13 ACNC (13 22 62).
  • Visit the Australian Government’s Scamwatch website for a list of known scams and information on how to avoid scams.

To contact the ACNC call 132262 or check the charity register at acnc.gov.au/findacharity

Media contacts: Call the ACNC media team on 0466 089 108 or email media@acnc.gov.au.