Dealing with internal disputes

Internal disputes within a charity are disagreements between individuals or groups about the charity's activities, decisions or policies. They may be a difference of opinion between a volunteer and the board about how a charity is run, or a disagreement between board members about a decision.

ACNC will not mediate in internal disputes

The ACNC will not directly intervene or mediate to resolve internal disputes. We will only get involved in a charity's dispute if there is a serious risk to public trust and confidence. For example, if the dispute has the potential to result in a breach of the charity's obligations to the ACNC.

For more information about the ACNC's approach to dealing with internal disputes, see Commissioner's Policy Statement (2017/01): ACNC’s approach to internal disputes within charities.

We recommend you seek legal advice if your dispute raises any legal questions, especially if you have to go to court.

Tips for managing an internal dispute

What to do

  • Develop a culture of open and respectful communication.

  • Check your charity’s rules and any legislation that applies to your charity. There may be a process you have to follow to resolve disputes, especially if it is a dispute between members of your charity.

  • Make time for those in dispute to meet face-to-face to discuss their dispute openly. Meeting in person can be a good way to build trust, develop a commitment to resolving issues and avoid miscommunication. Often a trusted other person can assist in the meeting.

  • Maintain a respectful and non-judgemental attitude. It is important that each person involved in a dispute respects the position of others and is committed to reaching a resolution.

  • Listen, listen, listen. Acknowledge what is said and ask questions without expressing an opinion. One of the greatest barriers to effective communication is a failure to listen.

  • If an agreement or compromise cannot be reached, consider using an independent mediator. An independent mediator may be needed when other attempts to resolve a dispute have failed. Discuss who will pay for the cost (if any) of mediation before engaging the mediator. In some states and territories there are free mediation services. For example, the Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria offers free dispute resolution services. Also consider speaking with your peak body to find out more.

What not to do

  • Don’t ignore or avoid an issue. Disputes can drive down morale, affect the reputation of an organisation and distract you from undertaking the important work of your charity. Reduce the impact of potential disputes by raising and dealing with issues quickly.

  • Don’t interrupt others while they are speaking, or dismiss different perspectives. It’s important that everyone feels that they are heard as part of the resolution process.

  • Don’t forget to review the progress of agreed actions. Once a strategy has been implemented, review how it is working including talking to those involved. Dispute resolution can sometimes be an ongoing process.