Around 10% of Australia's registered charities operate overseas, and may do so in a variety of ways.
Some might send money or goods overseas to support projects or programs, some might directly undertake work 'on the ground' in another country.
Others may work in partnership with an overseas-based charity or organisation, supply staff or volunteers to overseas efforts, even advocate on overseas issues.
If a charity operates overseas – or intends to – it may need to address a number of issues. These can include ensuring:
- Any money, assets, goods, resources or other items that it sends overseas are used properly.
- Any overseas activities it conducts - or which it works with partners on - are overseen and managed responsibly.
- Any vulnerable people it works with are protected. This might include clients and beneficiaries, as well as a charity's own staff or volunteers.
Charities that work overseas must be able to identify and manage risks, handle money safely and protect staff and beneficiaries. Overseas activities are often harder to monitor than activities at home and charities may be exposed to greater risks. A charity must have strong policies, processes and controls to mitigate those risks.
Clear policies and processes for overseas activities will help your charity demonstrate that it has taken appropriate steps to safeguard its funds, assets, staff, and beneficiaries.
Your charity will be able to better mitigate risks that come with operating overseas if it:
- can demonstrate a clear understanding of the specific risks of operating in each location overseas
- has clear policies and procedures for its overseas operations (including financial management policies and procedures, as well as procedures for checking partner organisations)
- develops clear project plans explaining how it will implement, monitor and evaluate programs, and mitigate risks
- regularly monitors and evaluates its overseas operations to ensure resources and activities are directed towards its charitable purposes.
External Conduct Standards
Registered charities (and organisations seeking registration as a charity) that operate overseas now have to comply with the External Conduct Standards, which came into force on 23 July 2019.
Compliance with the upcoming ACNC External Conduct Standards will help charities minimise the risks that come with operating overseas.
The External Conduct Standards are a set of standards that govern a registered charity's operations outside Australia.
They are intended to promote transparency and provide confidence that the resources a charity sends overseas, or the services it provides overseas, reach the intended beneficiaries and are used only for charitable purposes.
The Standards also seek to protect vulnerable people overseas, as well as its own staff or volunteers.
Charities that undertake activities outside Australia must meet the External Conduct Standards. This includes charities recognised by the ACNC as Basic Religious Charities.
Importantly, 'operating outside Australia' is not limited to major projects or programs. A charity is generally considered to be working outside Australia even if its overseas activities are just a minor part of its work, or if it only sends a small amount of money overseas.
External Conduct Standards and the ACNC Governance Standards
The External Conduct Standards will also operate in a similar way to the ACNC's Governance Standards. Both are principle-based minimum standards that govern a charity's operations.
They both require a charity to have reasonable levels of oversight, rather than prescribing specific steps that a charity must take.