Welcome to the March issue of ACNC Quarterly

ACNC Quarterly is your source of information about the ACNC and tools to help your charity meet its obligations to the ACNC.

Introducing our new Commissioner, the Hon. Dr Gary Johns

In December 2017, the Assistant Minister to the Treasurer, the Hon. Michael Sukkar MP, announced that the Honourable Dr Gary Johns had been appointed as the Commissioner of the ACNC, for a period of 5 years.

Dr Johns has previously held roles as a Director of the Australian Institute for Progress, an Associate Professor at the Australian Catholic University, and an Adjunct Professor at the Queensland University of Technology Business School.

He has served as a member of the Prime Minister’s Community Business Partnership, and has wide-ranging experience in regulation, public service and policy, serving as an Associate Commissioner of the Productivity Commission and representing the electorate of Petrie in the Federal Government from 1987 to 1996. He also served as a Minister in the Keating government across a range of portfolios.

Dr Johns was also a columnist for The Australian, and has authored a number of books on charities and the not-for-profit sector.

We sat down with new ACNC Commissioner to learn a little more about him and his priorities for the ACNC.

Why did you take the role of ACNC Commissioner?

I have been observing the charity sector for a long time and I thought this was an opportunity to see if I could do some good within the very disciplined role of Commissioner. As Commissioner, my job is to provide information to help the public understand the work of the sector and to support transparency and accountability in the sector.

What do you hope to accomplish within the next year?

The key thing will be to make it possible for donors to come to our website and find relevant charity information that helps them fulfil their desire to give to a particular cause. The ACNC Charity Register currently allows donors to verify individual charities and access their records, but it is not possible search by cause. We are currently exploring options to make this happen.

Describe the charity sector in Australia in three words?

Huge, variegated and opaque.

What is the proudest moment in your career?

Being elected to the Federal Parliament and subsequently into the Ministry.

What is your secret talent?


What is your first job?

I was a storeman in a wine warehouse in Melbourne; it was a great job!

Away from the ACNC, what are your interests?

I have always loved sport, especially golf and tennis. I also love conversation and crime novels. My favourite authors are Ian Rankin and Michael Connelly.

The 2017 Annual Information Statement may now be overdue for many charities. Those charities that report on a standard financial year, 1 July to 30 June, were required to submit their annual reporting to the ACNC by 31 January 2018.

Submitting the Annual Information Statement, and for medium and large charities providing reviewed or audited financial reports, are key aspects of maintaining charity status.

Failing to submit your Annual Information Statement may result in consequences. For example, receiving a red mark on your Charity Register listing, financial penalties, or ultimately the revocation of charity status, which removes entitlement to Commonwealth tax concessions.

The ACNC has produced a range of resources, designed to assist all charities with the submission of their Annual Information Statement – including the 2017 AIS Guide and checklist, as well as helpful how-to videos.

Visit acnc.gov.au/2017AIS to access the resources or to submit your charity’s reporting.

Our friendly Advice Services team can help – just call 13 ACNC (13 22 62) from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday, or email advice@acnc.gov.au.

With the support of Commonwealth Government funding in 2017, the ACNC commenced a large-scale IT development project to implement a new fit-for-purpose infrastructure. The new system will ensure system stability, increase the speed of the ACNC Charity Portal, and enhance the overall user experience of the ACNC website.

We apologise for any inconvenience caused in the meantime, look forward to bringing you updates on the progress of the project throughout the year.

More than 600 new charities have successfully registered with the ACNC in the past three months, congratulations!

These charities will provide support for people living with disabilities, shelter and services for the homeless, aged care, health care, education, and environmental protection.

We thank these charities, and your charity, for striving to make our communities better places.

More information about the newest registered charities is available on the ACNC website at acnc.gov.au/recentlyregistered.

In December 2017, Assistant Minister to the Treasurer, the Hon. Michael Sukkar MP, announced the terms of reference for the mandated five-year review of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission Act 2012 (Cth) and the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (Consequential and Transitional) Act 2012 (Cth).

The review presents an opportunity to evaluate the performance of the ACNC’s legislative framework, the regulation of the sector and to identify any improvements that can be made.

Following sector consultation, the review panel chaired by Mr Patrick McClure AO, will provide a report to the Minister.

Submissions and consultation opportunities are being published throughout the review at acnclegislationreview.com.au.

The ACNC has published its submission to the review panel, it can be accessed on the ACNC website.

The submission focuses on what changes could be made to improve the sustainability and effectiveness of Australia’s national charity regulator. Three key focus areas identified in the ACNC’s submission are the secrecy provisions, the collection and display of charity data, and the objects of the ACNC Act.

ACNC Commissioner, the Hon Dr Gary Johns, discussed the ACNC’s submission in more detail in a recent Commissioner’s Column.

More information about the consultation process is available on the Treasury consultation website.

In 2017, the Australian Government announced new pieces of legislation designed to add transparency in relation to foreign involvement in political campaigns and policy issues. Several Parliamentary Inquiries are currently underway in relation to the proposed changes.

The Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform Bill as it stands would require charities whose political expenditure in any of the past four years has exceeded $100,000 to register as a political campaigner – which has the potential to add regulatory burden to Australian charities.

The ACNC’s submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters highlighted areas of concern with the proposed bill, including the increased regulatory burden on charities, the significant penalties for non-compliance, and the legislative inconsistencies between the proposed bill and the ACNC Act.

The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters is set to provide a report on its findings by Friday 2 March. More information on the proposed bill and the related inquiry is available on the Australian Parliament House website.

The proposed Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill would require persons to register when undertaking activities on behalf of a foreign principal, disclose relationships with foreign principals and more.

The ACNC’s submission to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security also highlights concerns with the potential regulatory burden on charities, the significant penalties for non-compliance, and the broad definitions of activity identified in the proposed Bill.

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security is set to provide a report on its findings by Friday 23 March. More information on the proposed bill and the related inquiry is available on the Australian Parliament House website.

Australian charities have reported $142.8 billion in annual revenue in 2016, according to research published by the ACNC in December 2017.

The report, launched at an event in Canberra by the Assistant Minister to the Treasurer, the Hon Michael Sukkar MP, examined the 2016 annual financial reports of over 52,000 charities.

Though charity revenue was reported to be over $142 billion, nearly half of all charity revenue in 2016 was generated through membership fees, user-pays services and other income sources.

While charities reported an overall increase in revenue, they also reported a fall in donations – with figures dropping from $11.2 billion the year prior to $10.5 billion.

The report also found that 67% of all registered charities in Australia are small, with an annual revenue of $250,000 or less. Of this group, over half (or 40% of all registered charities) are considered to be ‘extra-small’, with annual revenue under $50,000.

Charities remain one of the major employers, with 1.3 million Australians employed by registered charities nationwide – accounting for more than 10% of Australia’s total workforce. A further 2.9 million Australians volunteered with a registered charity during 2016, providing invaluable support to the sector.

The full report, infographic and interactive datacube are available to explore at australiancharities.acnc.gov.au.

Last month the ACNC released the National Standard Chart of Accounts (NSCOA) environmental scan report.

The NSCOA is a resource for not-for-profit organisations which includes a standardised list of financial account categories and a comprehensive data dictionary designed for use by NFPs in their accounting systems.

The environmental scan of the NSCOA set out to canvass not-for-profit organisations, professional advisors, non-government grant makers and government agencies, to analyse the current use and awareness of the NSCOA, as well as the challenges or benefits.

There were over 750 responses to the environmental scan, providing many insights. In response to the environmental scan, the ACNC has developed a strategy for its ongoing support and development of the NSCOA over the short, medium and long term. Download the report and NSCOA related resources at acnc.gov.au/NSCOA.

The ACNC has published the latest edition of the Compliance Report, which examines our compliance and enforcement activities in 2017.

While we are limited by the secrecy provisions in the ACNC Act, we publish the Compliance Report each year to increase the level of transparency in the work of the ACNC, and to also help charities learn from the trends and emerging issues we have found.

The report includes facts and figures, and hypothetical case studies that explain the compliance themes we have identified during the year.

In 2017, the ACNC finalised 82 investigations, resulting in 26 charities having their registrations revoked. A further 780 ‘double defaulter’ charities had their registration revoked for failing to file two consecutive Annual Information Statements. These charities were stripped of their entitlement to access Commonwealth charity tax concessions.

Following investigations, one charity entered into an Enforceable Undertaking with the ACNC, and a further 16 charities entered into Compliance Agreements to address concerns around governance and mismanagement.

Over 100 charities were issued with penalty notices, up to a maximum of $4,500, for failing to submit their Annual Information Statement. These charities had total combined assets in excess of $121 million.

In 2018, the ACNC will continue to increase its capabilities in responding to breaches and non-compliance that could impact on public trust and confidence in Australia’s charity sector. Key areas of focus include fraud and financial mismanagement, terrorism, harm to beneficiaries and political or unlawful activities.

The Charity Compliance Report 2017 is now available on the ACNC website at acnc.gov.au/compliancereport.

More information about the ACNC’s compliance work can be found on the ACNC website at acnc.gov.au/compliancedecisions.

The Australian Government has a number of reforms underway to simplify and standardise grants administration. GrantConnect, the new whole-of-government grants information system went live in February 2017, providing a central point to discover all Commonwealth grant opportunities.

You can register on GrantConnect at grants.gov.au to find out about current and upcoming opportunities. In addition to new opportunities, information on grants awarded are now being published on GrantConnect. For the first time, the reporting of grants awarded is centralised in one location, in a consistent and transparent format.

The Commonwealth is also developing standardised whole-of-government templates for grant opportunity guidelines and grant agreements. These key documents will have the same look and feel across government agencies and have been developed in consultation with non-government stakeholders.

The grant opportunity guidelines templates aim to provide clear, consistent and adequate information for potential grant applicants in a format that is expected to be easier to navigate and clearly assist applicants to submit a grant application.

Trialling of the grant agreements templates is underway and will continue over coming months. These templates build on the Australian Government’s low-risk grant agreement template, launched in 2014. The grant agreement templates seek to standardise terms and conditions as well as ease legal costs and timeframes for non-government organisations. Eighteen agencies are currently trialling the grant agreement templates.

When finalised, the templates will be published on the Department of Finance website for agencies, organisations and interested individuals.

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We spoke with Tracey Sawyer, Founder and CEO of Testigo Projects Inc., to discuss the work of the charity.

What does your charity do?

Testigo Projects Inc. fundraises in Australia to support our Tanzanian charity Testigo Africa, to provide food and water solutions using the Australian devised permaculture principles.

We have focused on the Masai tribe, who are traditionally nomadic pastoralists whose lifestyle is changing due to restrictions on land use and schooling for the kids (women and children stay in one village rather than follow water and pasture land), by helping them to become first time household farmers. We do this through a train-the-trainer approach as our Masai trainers on-train new villages and primary and secondary schools in the heart of Masai land. We’ve so far trained 36 Masai sub-villages and four schools – directly impacting over 10,000 Tanzanians.

What challenges does your charity face and how do you overcome them?

Elephants, ostriches, warthogs! Our work in Tanzania is in the area of the great Rift Valley, and in times of drought our Masai permaculture gardens become very attractive to the wildlife. To protect the gardens each Masai woman encloses her permaculture gardens within her mudhut home’s thorn bush enclosure.

What’s the most rewarding thing about your work?

Our impact - knowing that every Tanzanian Masai and school student we’ve trained in permaculture has a new set of life changing skills by learning to grow and eat their own vegetables for the first time, a new source of income through selling their organic greens (it’s often the first time Masai women have entered the local economy) and improved nutrition and health.

What tips do you have for charity governance?

In the early years of Testigo we partnered with a medium sized international charity and through them, we were able to secure small Australian Aid grants. This partnership was invaluable in ensuring we not only adopted excellent policies on child protection, the environment, disability etc. but it also required very detailed and thorough reporting of our impact and financials which we’ve continued to provide to our other sponsors and donors.

Charity Chat

The ACNC’s Charity Chat podcast series has returned for 2018, with our two new episodes available for download.

For our first episode of 2018 we were joined by corporate partnerships consultant Linda Garnett for a look at how charities can work with businesses and the corporate sector. And our written guidance on corporate partnerships can be found at acnc.gov.au/corporatepartnerships.

Our latest episode sees us joined by ACNC senior compliance manager, Ian Parry, for a discussion about conflicts of interest. Again, we have written guidance on the topic here acnc.gov.au/conflictsofinterest.

You can listen to our past episodes of Charity Chat at acnc.gov.au/podcast, or wherever you normally get your podcasts.

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Upcoming Webinars

Our 2018 webinar schedule is now available, with registrations now open for all upcoming webinars at acnc.gov.au/webinars.

  • 20 March : Managing charity finances: Covering basic financial management topics.Relevant for smaller charities.
  • 27 March : Charity tax concessions.
  • 17 April : Managing staff and volunteers: Effectively managing the people involved in a charity. Relevant for smaller charities.
  • 27 April : Staying on track – tips for charity management and meeting obligations: Ensuring a charity is well run and meeting its obligations.
  • 22 May : Help with the Annual Information Statement: Outline of information required and tips to answer the questions.

We are increasing the number of webinars we are staging this year to 14. Webinars will cover a variety of topics, including:

  • Charity staff and volunteer management
  • Tips to help charities meet their obligations
  • Managing conflicts of interest
  • Managing and resolving disputes
  • Board basics and board essentials
  • Fundraising good practice
  • Charity tax concessions (with our friends at the ATO)
  • Holding your annual general meeting

A number of these webinars are especially relevant for smaller charities. Visit acnc.gov.au/webinars for more information.

Advice Services’ most frequently asked questions

I have missed my due date for the 2017 Annual Information Statement. What can I do?

You need to submit your overdue Annual Information Statement as soon as possible. Charities that have failed to submit their 2017 Annual Information Statement may face financial penalties, or even loss of charity status in the case of those charities who have failed to submit twice.

If you require further information or support with the 2017 Annual Information Statement, you can access the ACNC’s resources including the 2017 AIS Guide and checklist on the ACNC website at acnc.gov.au/2017AIS. You can also contact our Advice Services team on 13 ACNC (13 22 62) Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm AEDT.

I can’t access the ACNC Charity Portal. How do I reset my password?

Your password can be reset by following the instructions on our website at acnc.gov.au/passwordreset. It’s a simple process and is quicker than calling or emailing our Advice Services team.

To reset your charity’s password, you will need to be a responsible person, authorised person or an agent of the charity.

Make sure you have your charity’s ABN and contact details handy. You will also need to be able to answer a few questions about your charity. We use these answers to confirm that you are authorised to reset the password on your charity’s behalf.

How do I check if my charity has submitted its 2017 Annual Information Statement?

Annual Information Statements are published on the ACNC Charity Register. Simply search your charity’s listing at acnc.gov.au/findacharity, and determine if your most recent Annual Information Statement and Financial Report (if applicable) are displayed.