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Around 10% of Australia's registered charities operate overseas. The scope of their overseas operations varies.

Some might send money or goods overseas to support projects or programs, while 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.

But if a charity operates overseas – or intends to – it may need to address several 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 in Australia and charities may be exposed to greater risks.

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 overseas location
  • has clear policies, processes 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.

ACNC External Conduct Standards

Compliance with the ACNC External Conduct Standards helps 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 aim 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 – be they those that a charity works with, or a charity's own staff or volunteers.

Charities that undertake activities outside Australia must meet the External Conduct Standards, including 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 Governance Standards

The External Conduct Standards apply in addition to the ACNC Governance Standards.

The External Conduct Standards and Governance Standards operate in a similar way. Both are principle-based minimum standards that govern a charity's operations, and require a charity to have reasonable levels of oversight, rather than prescribing specific steps that a charity must take.

The Governance Standards are a set of core, minimum standards relating to charity governance. The standards require charities to remain not-for-profit and pursue charitable purposes, be accountable to members, comply with Australian laws, ensure Responsible People are suitable and fulfilling their duties, and maintain and enhance public trust and confidence in the Australian not-for-profit sector.

What to consider when operating overseas

If your charity is operating overseas you should:

Assess risk

  • Does your charity have a detailed project plan for its overseas activities?
  • Does your charity have a risk assessment policy for overseas operations?

Monitor funds

  • Do your charity’s Responsible People maintain oversight of overseas operations, including how the charity spends funds and how it carries out activities?
  • Does your charity verify that the funds or other assets it sends overseas are used for the intended charitable purposes?
  • Does your charity keep up-to-date financial and operational records, including records of its overseas transactions, activities and the details of third parties involved?
  • Do your charity’s Responsible People regularly review the charity’s financial and operational records?

Conduct due diligence on overseas partners

  • Does your charity verify the credentials and reputation of its overseas partners and check that they have the capability to undertake the work required of them?

Protect staff and beneficiaries

  • Does your charity have policies and procedures to protect vulnerable beneficiaries, as well as the health and safety of its staff and volunteers?

Protect against terrorism

  • Do your charity’s Responsible People ensure the charity does not provide support to individuals and organisations associated with terrorism, or that contravene Australian sanctions laws?
  • Does your charity have a policy on what to do if someone notices any suspicious activity?

Protect against fraud and financial crime

  • Does your charity have procedures for sending funds and assets overseas (with controls and clear financial delegations) that promote transparency and accountability?
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