Key points:

  • The External Conduct Standards are a set of standards that govern a registered charities operations outside Australia.
  • They apply to charities that operate outside Australia. Examples of operating outside Australia include a charity working on projects or programs overseas, sending money overseas, or working with third parties that are operating outside of Australia.
  • The Standards apply in addition to the ACNC Governance Standards. And while Basic Religious Charities do not need to comply with the Governance Standards, they must comply with the Standards if they operate overseas.
  • The ACNC will oversee the External Conduct Standards in line with our regulatory approach.

What are the Standards?

The External Conduct Standards are a set of four standards that govern a registered charity’s operations outside Australia.

The Standards aim to increase charity transparency and governance, as well ensuring any money or other resources a charity sends overseas – or provides overseas – reach their intended destinations and are only used for charitable purposes.

The Standards also aim to help protect vulnerable people overseas, be they those a charity seeks to help, or charity staff and volunteers themselves.

The Standards came into effect in July 2019.

What do the Standards cover?

In all there are four External Conduct Standards. Any charity subject to the External Conduct Standards – including small charities – must take reasonable steps to ensure appropriate standards of behaviour, governance and oversight when undertaking activities overseas.

The Standards cover:

The ACNC has compiled more extensive information on each of the External Conduct Standards via the links in the bullet points above.

Who must comply with the Standards?

Any registered charity that operates outside Australia must comply with the External Conduct Standards.

This requirement encompasses charities of all sizes, including small charities.

Charities classed as Basic Religious Charities must also comply with the ECS if they operate overseas.

Many small charities have or fund overseas operations, or work with third parties that carry out operations outside of Australia. In these circumstances, these small charities will be subject to the Standards.

Operating outside Australia isn’t limited to just major programs or significant projects either.

Even if a minor portion of your activities occur overseas, or your charity only sends a small amount of money overseas, it is likely your charity will be considered to operate outside Australia and therefore have to comply with the Standards.

What does my small charity have to do?

The ACNC will regulate the Standards in line with our regulatory approach.

We expect each charity that is required to comply with the External Conduct Standards takes the time to understand the Standards and how they affect its operations. We also expect that each charity required to comply with the Standards takes reasonable steps to ensure it meets them.

Those reasonable steps might vary depending on your charity’s operations, as well as its size. Larger charities with more complex overseas operations are will likely need to do more to comply with the standards than a small charity with relatively straightforward operations overseas.

The ACNC expects most charities will already be meeting the External Conduct Standards, and we focus on charities that have seriously or deliberately breached them - taking action where required.

alert icon A charity does not need to submit items like management plans, policies or procedures to the ACNC to prove it is meeting the Standards. But if the ACNC requests evidence that you are meeting the Standards, you must be able to provide them.

And the ACNC will ask organisations seeking registration with the ACNC (and charities applying for new charitable subtypes) about the steps they have taken to comply with the External Conduct Standards if they operate overseas.