Key points:

  • A charity board provides leadership and oversees and implements the charity’s ongoing strategy.
  • Responsible Persons are those responsible for governing a charity. Generally, a charity’s Responsible Persons are its board or committee members, or trustees.
  • Governing documents set out a charity’s charitable purpose, as well how its governing body makes decisions. Charities must provide their governing documents to the ACNC.
  • Think carefully when engaging volunteers or hiring staff – ensure you have planned properly and know your responsibilities.

The role of the board

Charity boards are responsible for leading their organisation, as well as overseeing and implementing the charity’s ongoing strategy. The board also bears ultimate legal responsibility.

A charity’s board should be active in a number of areas:

  • overseeing accountability – ensuring the charity meets its obligations, manages its finances and operates transparently
  • development of strategy - setting the charity’s long-term goals and making sure it pursues its charitable purposes
  • resourcing - securing funding and other resources to support the work of the charity
  • advocacy - representing the charity to the community and to its members and stakeholders (along with a chief executive officer and staff, if any)
  • monitoring – ensuring the charity complies with its governing documents and the law.

Read more in the ACNC’s Governance for Good publication.

Responsible Persons

For the ACNC, a Responsible Person is not just a charity’s nominated contact person – the term also refers to those responsible for running the charity.

Generally, a charity’s Responsible Persons are its board or committee members, or trustees.

To comply with ACNC Governance Standard 4, charities must ensure their Responsible Persons are suitable. Governance Standard 5 compels charities to ensure their Responsible Persons are aware of their duties and comply with them.

Charities must inform the ACNC if their Responsible Persons change.

Governing documents

A charity’s governing documents are formal documents that set out:

  • the charity’s charitable purpose or purposes
  • that the charity operates on a not-for-profit basis, and
  • the way the charity’s board or committee makes decisions and consults members.

When applying to register a charity, you must provide the ACNC with a copy of your current governing documents, or a link to a place on your website where they can be found.

The information charities provide will be made available on the ACNC Charity Register, which is open to public view.

Under the ACNC Act, charities must notify us if their governing documents change, and also provide a copy of the changed documents. This can be done online through the ACNC Charity Portal.

Staff and volunteers

When engaging volunteers, a small charity should:

  • Think about the role you want volunteers to play before you start recruiting. Consider developing a role description to clarify.
  • Ensure you properly support volunteers. Map out how you will induct them through training and ongoing support, as well as through the provision of a safe and stimulating environment.
  • Ensure you carry out appropriate background checks.

Taking on staff is something small charities need to approach methodically.

  • Know your obligations under workplace or employment law.
  • Ensure you can afford to pay staff, and that you can properly manage them.
  • Ensure staff understand their conditions of employment, and that you as an employer are clear on your obligations.

Your charity will have different legal obligations depending on whether a person is an employee, contractor or volunteer. Don’t confuse them.

Legal obligations

Beyond complying with the ACNC’s legislation, registered charities may have further obligations to other regulators. These might include state and territory regulators, as well as the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) and the Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations (ORIC).

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