Internal disputes within a charity are disagreements between individuals or groups about the charity's activities, decisions or policies.
For example, there 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.
Internal disputes and the ACNC
The ACNC does not directly intervene or mediate to resolve internal disputes.
We respect the autonomy of charities and their ability to determine their own goals, strategies and how best to fulfil them. It is the role of each charity to manage, administer and accept responsibility for its own governance.
To ensure that we do not impinge on the independence of charities, the ACNC refrains from taking an active role in mediating or resolving internal disputes.
Where appropriate, we will provide referrals to dispute resolution services.
For more information, see our Commissioner's Policy Statement: ACNC's approach to internal disputes within charities.
We recommend you seek legal advice if your charity’s internal dispute raises any legal questions, especially if you have to go to court.
Even during an internal dispute, charities must continue to meet their obligations to the ACNC. This includes maintaining eligibility for charity registration, reporting annually to the ACNC, notifying us of changes, meeting the Governance Standards and, if operating overseas, the External Conduct Standards.
Managing an internal dispute
There are several actions your charity and its people can take to help manage internal disputes:
- Develop a culture of open and respectful communication.
- Follow your charity's governing document and any applicable legislation. There may be a process your charity has 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 help in the meeting.
- Listen to each other and maintain a respectful and non-judgemental attitude. It is important that each person respects the position of others and is committed to reaching a resolution. Acknowledge what is being said and ask questions, without dismissing the other person's perspective.
- 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.
- Don’t ignore or avoid an issue. Disputes can drive down morale, affect your charity’s reputation 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 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.