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This special webinar aimed to assist charities that have received an influx of donations or funding to help conduct bushfire-related relief efforts, or who are working in areas affected by the recent Australian bushfires.

Webinar transcript

Chris Riches

Hi, everyone. Welcome to a special ACNC webinar which will focus on charities and the bushfire disaster response. Today we’ll aim to help charities that have received donations or funding to conduct bushfire-related relief efforts or support work to try and avoid or address risks that their work or the influx of donations may present.

My name’s Chris Riches. I’m from the ACNC’s Education team. Joining me for our webinar today are Julia and Peter from the ACNC’s Compliance team.

Hello to both of you.

Julia Bielak


Peter McKerrow

Hello, everyone.

Chris Riches

Hello. Now, we’ve got a lot of ground to cover today, and I seem to say this at the start of most webinars. So what we’ll do, we’ve got some housekeeping points, and I’ll race through them to ensure that things are ready to go.

If you have any troubles with the audio for this webinar, you can try listening through your phone. You can call the number listed in the email you will have received when you registered for the webinar. You can put in an access code and listen in that way.

You can ask a question at any time throughout the webinar by using the tools in the GoToWebinar panel on your screen. We have our colleagues Matt and Gulnaar ready to respond to any questions that come through. We will try to answer all the questions that do come through. If your question isn’t answered during the webinar, we will endeavour to get back to you later on via email.

We also recommend that any queries relating to your individual charity are directed to our advice support line - that's 132262 - so that you can access some more specific information.

We’re recording this webinar, as always, and the recording as well as the presentation slides will be published to the website in the coming days. We’ll send a follow-up email to let you know when that’s available.

We have prepared some handouts for you already. You can access them now, pretty much. If you want to go and have a look at the GoToWebinar interface, you should see a Handouts section with some handouts available for you.

There’s a couple of them. One of them is the slides that you're about to see. The other is a set of web links that direct you to a number of relevant pages around our website. So, if you want to follow along, if you want to download them for later reference, go for it.

Finally, we value your feedback, so if you've got any ways we can improve our webinars, let us know. There’s a short survey at the end of proceedings today.

Righty-o, let's get in. What are we going to cover today? We’re going to examine several risks and issues that charities might face as they work on bushfire relief efforts or in areas that are affected by bushfires.

We’re going to look at I guess some of the things that you should think about and some of the measures you can take to address or at least mitigate some of these risks. And as we’ll go along, as always, we’ll cover some scenarios, some case studies, give you some takeaways, some tips, and all of that sort of stuff too.

So, risk. There we go. Through this webinar, the ACNC wants to help charities recognise and acknowledge the risks that they might face as well as offer suggestions on how they can address them.

Many of the risks we’ll discuss can be addressed through good governance, policy, procedure, good decision making. For many charities, these measures will already be a part of what you do.

It’s important that charities take a step back, even though it might be challenging, even though it might be difficult, and soberly consider any of the decisions that they need to make.

We will, through this webinar, also highlight some ACNC expectations in certain circumstances as well as the tools, templates, and other resources that we have available to help a charity. And look, of course we all know that you're busy at the moment. We appreciate the work, the ACNC appreciates the work that you are doing, and be assured the ACNC is here to help, guide, and support charities in the work that they do.

So, probably it's fair to say the first major risk that charities face goes along with perhaps the influx of funds or goods through donations or other income that may flow through during recent times.

This risk can manifest itself in several ways. The challenges it causes are ones that we will be returning to and focusing throughout the webinar. Now, there are another sort of set of risks, aren't there, Julia?

Julia Bielak

Yeah. Look, we’ll examine another set of risks during the webinar, and they're the risks that may affect your volunteers and your members if they're present in fire-affected areas, working with people who might be vulnerable after being affected by the fires, or in counting animals in fire-affected areas.

Chris Riches

Indeed. Now, Peter.

Peter McKerrow

It’s also important to remember that the risks charities face are very varied, and we acknowledge that every charity is different. There are several factors that shape and determine these risks, and charities themselves must be on the ball, be vigilant enough to not only realise that certain risks might exist, but then to assess them and mitigate them in the context of their own unique circumstances.

Chris Riches

Yeah. And look, this is a key point here. We know here at the ACNC obviously that charities are all different. Each is unique and each is varied in what it might do and how it's made up and how it's structured and size and all those sorts of things.

What's important to remember here as we go through some of these risks is that some of the stuff that we might mention today, it might not be relevant for your organisation right now, but it might be in the future.

So the important thing and the aim of what we’re going to be trying to do today is to raise awareness for charities to ensure that they're aware of these risks and that if they encounter them somewhere down the road, they've got an idea of perhaps what they should be doing.

So, risk number one. It’s one that’s come up a few times recently in relation to bushfire donations, bushfire appeals. To be fair, it's one that resonates with the public and in the wider community as well.

Issue is that your charity might not be clear on exactly how it can spend funds that it has received, or there may even be moves to spend the money that you've received or that you've raised in ways that are not consistent with your charity’s purpose or with public expectations.

This is a sort of issue that can strike at the very heart of charity integrity and also strike at the heart of the public’s perception, public trust and confidence in a charity. It’s also the sort of thing that can attract some not-so-positive, I guess, media coverage. So when we look at this, Julia, what are perhaps some of the things that we should be thinking about?

Julia Bielak

Yes, look, there’s a few things we should - that could guide you or you should think about here.

One of them is what's your charity’s charitable purpose or strategy, say. So your purpose might be the relief of poverty or advancing education. They're some examples. What does your governing document or trust deed say?

So your governing document is your constitution or your rules or your trust deed. It might set out some more detail about how you - what you can do and give you some more guidance.

Chris Riches

Yeah, give you some sort of parameters for what you -

Julia Bielak

Correct, that’s right, Chris, yeah. And look, the other thing is you need to consider what you've said in any appeal statements and what you've told people you will spend the money on. Because they've provided the donations for that reason.

Chris Riches

Yeah. And it's a sort of a good faith, isn’t it? They've said, “All right. We’re going to give you some money because you've said you're going to do this,” and that’s a bit of a trust basis, isn’t it, really? Yeah. So, these are sort of the three main things that perhaps you should be thinking about. What are some of the ways, Peter, that we can perhaps look at the risk and deal with it?

Peter McKerrow

Well, one of the things you've got to remember is that you must spend money in line with your charity’s stated purposes. That's the requirement of the Governance Standards of the ACNC, and a charity has to adhere to its charitable purposes.

Also, very important are public expectations as well. The public expect that the money that they've contributed will be spent in line with your purposes and with the basis on which they - you appealed for the money. And if you've said you're going to spend money on x but you start spending it on y, then that’s an issue.

What you do spend should be in line with your charitable purposes, and there should be a clear link between the money you spend and those purposes.

And the other thing you do must be in line with what you've told the public and the basis on which you've appealed for it or received it. Public perception and public trust is critical not only to your own charity but to the sector as a whole.

Chris Riches

And we’ve sort of emphasised this. I know that the previous slide we’ve had and now this one, we’re almost saying the same thing in two different ways, but it is important. These are very basic things, you know?

You’ve got a charitable purpose. You have to stay in line with that. You’ve got a governing document. You’ve got to - or a trust deed - you've got to go along with that.

If you've made statements about what you're going to spend the money on in appeals - that you've appealed for and you've received, you've got to go along with that. These are foundational things that charities need to go along with.

It’s vital that your charity has clear statements outlining the use of funds and assets, either overall - and it's a good idea to have one overall. That probably comes back again to charitable purpose.

But perhaps a statement that covers things for this appeal in particular or these times in particular. Information of how the funds are going to be used and how this ties in with your stated purpose should be communicated to donors and the general public. And we will talk about communication and that sort of stuff in more detail as we go on.

This can be done in several ways, and we’ll outline them as we go through.

Now, our second issue. Look, issues of I guess accountability through communicating to members, donors, supporters, and the general public. Julia, what are we looking at here?

Julia Bielak

Well, I suppose what we’re asking people to do is think about how you normally inform people of the ways your charity spends its money and donations and think about them within the context - your current context and whether or not they're still the right way to communicate with people.

We might mention it a few times today that we want you to examine whether these methods are still suitable. If you have an influx of money or goods, what works in so-called normal times might not be adequate during these times. And if that’s the case, then we might - you might need to consider different methods of communication or rethink how you’re remaining accountable to your stakeholders and to the general public.

I think it's about the accountability.

Chris Riches

Yeah, and communication aids that accountability, doesn't it, yeah?

Julia Bielak


Chris Riches

Now, some of the things to think about - we’ll just have a look at that - some of the ideas, some of the concepts that you might want to look at is - look, many of these obviously, again, have to do with communications and the way that you get your message across.

We acknowledge again some of these issues in relation to communication and that sort of stuff can be challenging during times like these.

It is worth charities having a little bit of a think maybe taking that step back to consider how they are going to successfully get their messages across.

Again, it might be something that charities do as a normal part of their operations, but in these circumstances, there might be need to be tweaks and a bit of a rethink about what you do. So, what are some of the things we can consider here, Peter?

Peter McKerrow

Well, I think you can look at different communication methods to get your message across. You might have to look at the sort of people that are donating to you. Some communication methods may work better than others.

Think of ways in which you can engage your donors, so letting them check in and see what you're doing from time to time. Also, social media. It can be a very, very effective means of communication and updating your donors and your stakeholders.

And it's also important to keep the perhaps direct contact with your members, particularly your donors and supporters. There are times when you might want to send out messages that are tailored for their interests and needs as well.

Chris Riches

Absolutely, yeah. And one thing that’s mentioned here too, also - and I know we’ve covered it - I’ll emphasise it again - is the frequency of communication. If you've received money for the work that you're going to be doing with bushfire-affected people or in bushfire-affected areas, it's probably advisable that you have a bit of a think about how frequently you want to communicate with those who you need to communicate with. Every six months is probably not going to cut it, let's be honest.

You’re probably going to need to perhaps spend a little bit of time thinking about how often you want to communicate with those donors who may have given you money towards these appeals and these purposes.

Is something every fortnight, even if it's short, is that good? Is a month adequate? That's up for each individual charity to have a bit of a think about.

Look, there are a couple of other things that you need to have a bit of a think about too. Do you have the expertise in terms of communications? Do you need to look at ways that you might need to improve that expertise?

If someone does donate, are they given the option to receive communications from you as an opt-in, perhaps, so you can stay in touch with them and tell them how their donation is being used?

Linked to communications expertise is your key people, they might be Responsible People. There might be others within your organisation, can they clearly convey the key messages that you want to communicate to the various people you're communicating with?

Make sure they can do it. Make sure they can do it competently, make sure they can do it clearly. Julia.

Julia Bielak

Another risk linked to communication is that of donor expectations. So, I suppose what we’re saying is you can use your communications to properly manage those expectations.

We’ve already seen that this can be an issue in the aftermath of the bushfires with donors and the media raising concerns about how donations are used. And it could be at odds with the community’s expectations.

So you could use your communications as an opportunity to educate donors about what you will spend the money on and be realistic about that. And educate them to be realistic too about what will happen with those funds, I think.

Another point I wanted to mention there, Chris, was if concerns are raised, it's probably appropriate to respond to them and not to let concerns build and people worry. But perhaps try and respond to concerns raised by the public.

Chris Riches

Yeah. And if you are looking to respond to these concerns that are raised, do so transparently and do so openly. Do so honestly, respectfully, all of those sorts of things as far as you possibly can.

Peter McKerrow

And it's all about accountability and transparency, which are fundamental principles of what a charity needs to be about. Not only is it good practice, but it's actually something that the Governance Standards require as well.

Chris Riches

Absolutely, absolutely. Now, there’s a few questions here perhaps that when you're looking in this area, charities could consider them. Peter, did you want to go through a couple of these ones?

Yes. Look, I think it's important that when your messaging is consistent that you clearly explain what you're doing and how that addresses donor expectations. And that you use your website tools, your email and your other statements as a means of communication and managing those expectations and tailoring the messages.

And also, keep track of - don’t lose contact with your donors, and let them know what you're doing. Build up their support, and encourage their further support for your charity.

Chris Riches

Yeah, absolutely. So when we look at these risks, some of the ways of perhaps mitigating it, again, we come back to the basic thing. Be aware of donor expectations. To communicate about and to respond to donor expectations, you need to know what they are. So, be very realistic about that.

That is probably going to mean that people at your charity are going to have to discuss what some of those donor expectations are. You’re going to have to keep aware of them and keep up to date about them.

When you know what your donors’ expectations are, you can more easily develop statements aimed at explaining what you're doing, the way your donated money will be spent, the safeguards and the measures that your charity has that ensure the money gets to where it's meant to. Again, these can be short key messages.

These can be - we’ll call them sound bites, for want of a better term, or short statements that you can use, you can tweak, you can reuse, you can base a number of things around.

Hand in hand with this is knowing what your donor expectations are, and of course, again, those communicating the messages need to keep donor expectations in mind when doing so.

Julia Bielak

I think, Chris, another thing too, that charities should keep in mind is to be proactive. Get on the front foot. Show what you're doing in words or images, videos.

You could put those messages on your Facebook site or your webpage, and directly communicate with those people that have supported you. That can be really effective.

Peter McKerrow

And it's the wonders of being able to very easily now grab a photo on your phone, take some video on a phone, upload it to whichever and whenever you want to upload it - Instagram, to Facebook, to Twitter, to your website. Use the communication tools that are easily accessible to your charity’s best benefit, and in this case, that is to be proactive and communicate directly with those who have donated to you.

Chris Riches

Next one. Peter.

Peter McKerrow

The biggest challenge and probably one that’s facing many of you out there is the fact that you suddenly - the scale of your operations, the scale of the money and the funds and the goods in kind, in many cases, coming in have increased substantially. We’ve seen some charities in other sectors go from less than a million to maybe 20 million in less than six months, so a phenomenal challenge.

And we’ve actually - the ACNC and our commissioner, Dr Gary Johns, has spoken about this, so recently given a few interviews, done a few press articles, and I’d certainly commend you to read those as a bit of an - to give you a bit of an understanding of how we understand - we’re aware of this and we’re seeking how we can support you through this process.

Chris Riches

Yeah. Those couple of articles, particularly Dr Johns has penned for some newspapers, they are included in - the links to them are included in one of the handouts that’s available.

And also, links to them will be included in the email that will go out after this webinar as well. So you’ll be able to link directly to them. Or just go to the site. Go to our media centre and have a bit of a scroll down. You’ll find them easily enough.

Now, some things to think about here. A lot of this stuff comes back again to policies your organisation already has in place, or should already have in place.

As we say a lot and we’ll probably say and continue to say through this webinar, good policies, good recordkeeping, good procedures are the absolute bedrock upon which risk management and mitigation is built.

So, let's strip it back and ask the question here. Do your charity’s current policies and procedures in relation to finances and financial matters still measure up in this environment that we’re talking about here? Relevant policies and procedures might cover things like financial recordkeeping, delegations and controls - that’s financial delegations and controls - and things like access to bank details - your accounts’ passwords, signatories for payments, receipts and transaction records, assets tracking - your assets register - use and authorisations linked to credit cards.

This probably in many ways comes under that broad heading of internal financial control.

Now, to illustrate I guess one such policy, one such scenario here, we do have a case study - and we’ll flick to there, there you go. And Peter, if you want to maybe go through that and share that with us?

Peter McKerrow

Yes. Look, I think this may be quite relevant to some of you who’ve expanded your operation. Let’s assume that you've expanded your operations, you've got staff and volunteers travelling all over the district to support those hit by the bushfires, give them the encouragement and support they need. Your volunteers and staff, they need money for petrol, meals, accommodation, the odd purchase.

The old petty cash, chequebook, and tin don’t cut anymore. So, your bank kindly suggests that a few credit and debit cards might make your operations more efficient.

And that’s certainly true. They can be used to control and monitor your spending and enable your charity workers to concentrate on helping beneficiaries. But you've got to be a little bit careful.

We’ve identified a few issues. Example, you give a card to an employer or volunteer. If that person leaves the charity but no one tells your finance people, the card remains valid, and weeks later, you may find suddenly there are multiple unexplained transactions on that card, very embarrassing.

Julia Bielak

You don’t want to be in that kind of situation, do you? No.

Peter McKerrow

You don’t want to be in that situation, no. And look, the very first step, I think, is to actually think do you actually need to give a card to that person. Does that person really need a card. Are there less risky options?

And certainly, internally, you have a system whereby if a volunteer doesn't turn up, they've got a card or an employee leaves, you tell your finance people, you’ll tell your accounting people, your bookkeeping people that that person is no longer there, and they should immediately cancel that card or retrieve it.

Chris Riches

What else have we got here, Julia?

Julia Bielak

I think that it might be appropriate to review your card limit. So for example, if you've got - your credit cards or debit cards have a $20,000 a month limit, but the most you ever - that’s a lot of money, yeah.

Chris Riches

That's a lot of money, yeah.

Julia Bielak

The most you ever spend is a few thousand dollars. There’s a risk to your finances if you leave it open for unnecessary expenditure to be incurred. So I suppose just a review of those things might be helpful.

Set realistic limits on the cards that reflect their intended use. Those cards also earn a lot of reward points, so it's probably worth having a think about who those points are going to be applied for the benefit of.

Chris Riches

Yeah. And that’s one that a lot of people might not think about straight away. Where are these reward points going to go? So have a bit of a think about it. If you need a policy or if you need a pretty clear statement, guidelines, put them in place.

Now, if worse does come to worst, you've found unauthorised transactions on the card - car repairs, iPhone apps, whatever - local media might pick up the story, your charity might end up in the media for the wrong reasons.

Now, to avoid this, to mitigate this, your credit card use policy should make it clear there is zero tolerance for fraudulent use of the card. And it will result in the dismissal of the employee or whatever the appropriate term is for the volunteer.

If you don’t have a policy, your charity lacks adequate financial controls and it risks damage to its reputation as a responsible manager of its financial affairs.

Finally, again, we say - in a number of webinars we say today, lead from the top. Your board members’ use of credit cards should be beyond reproach. So, they are some of the things that you should be thinking about in relation to this situation and this scenario.

Another, I guess obvious, step is to re-examine your policies, to revisit them, to update where required to ensure the relevant people in your charity are familiar with them. We’ve talked about leadership from the top here. In addition, you record decisions about major expenses or contracts.

Keep records of the amounts spent. Think about do you need separate accounting and recordkeeping for your normal operations and your - we’ll call them disaster-related. That's not a really nice term, I know, but your disaster fund or your bushfire relief fund and donations.

Again, this is where recordkeeping and good recordkeeping comes into play. You’ve got to have a recordkeeping policy, of course. That's part of what we ask for here at the ACNC.

Be clear about what records you keep too, and of course we’re not just talking about financial records. We’re talking about operational records. They're things like decisions and decision making processes. Now, Peter, I know that you have a couple of things to say about that.

Peter McKerrow

Yes. Look, putting my compliance hat on, I can say that one of the first things we ask a charity to provide if we have had concerns about a charity is a copy of its board minutes. And those minutes should record the significant decisions that the charity makes and the reasons for them.

And often, we don’t see enough information there. It’s not to say the decisions were bad or that they were wrong, but they're not really documented. And that means we can’t tell that everything’s worked effectively.

And I always say to my colleagues, I think it's not so much the most important person in the room is the chair of the board. It’s often the person taking the minutes.

Don’t forget that that person will need some support, possibly some training to do that job effectively and to support your board members and the charity.

Chris Riches

Now, we’ve got - again, I’ll give a plug to not only the handout that we’ve got available but also just to the website properly. We’ve got a whole heap of bits and pieces, resources and templates in relation to meetings, minutes, agendas, that sort of stuff.

So, some of them are in our Small Charities Library, so if you want to go and have a look, that’s, if my memory serves me correctly. Go have a look there. There’s some very useful, very simple templates that will provide a really good basis upon which you can do the job in that respect.

There we go. We’ve gone through that slide already. We’re whizzing through. Our next risk, inadequate decision making processes or a lack of expertise among those making the decisions, particularly in this time, where there’s what we’ll call and/or say it's a crisis.

The problem this issue can cause is only heightened during these times. This is where strong, considered decisions may need to be made quickly, or in times when there’s simply quite a lot going on. What are some of the things we should think about?

Julia Bielak

I think that we should think about - well, you should think about whether your people have the experience to manage particular decisions that might need to be made in a time of crisis.

So the larger sums of money than normal may be being dealt with due to an influx of donations or goods. And as Peter has spoken about, charities can find themselves in a position where their finances have grown very quickly.

Snap decisions might need to be made in testing of ever-changing circumstances. There can be complex or challenging logistical decisions to be made, challenging supply chain issues, transportation issues, procurement issues may come to the forefront.

Chris Riches

And Peter.

Peter McKerrow

Yes. Look, I think the other thing is to acknowledge that not everyone is necessarily suited to managing or leading in a crisis.

Often, we see people who’ve founded a charity, small charity that put their heart and soul into it, they are very effective at garnering support, but perhaps they may not be the right person on your board or as even chair of the charity when things get really difficult and challenging.

And I think a board needs to sit back, a charity needs to sit back and consider and take some - make some hard assessments, if necessary, about whether they are equipped enough to manage the crisis.

Chris Riches

Some things to, I guess, ask yourselves to look at here, again, what Peter just mentioned is pretty much the thrust of things here.

Look at your people and be honest about whether they have the knowledge, ability, and the time, clearly, too, that’s required to fulfil their roles in these changed circumstances.

Make sure your board has a sufficient degree of financial literacy. Can they read the monthly financial report? If you're not sure about reading the monthly financial report, there are plenty of free resources out there.

If your people don’t have the expertise, it might be a good idea for them to do a bit of a swot up to help themselves out and to help your organisation out.

In turn, consider how your charity could offer support as well. Can you appoint people to help in these key roles? Can you bring in people with specific knowledge? Even if it's just on a temporary basis.

Have a think about how you can perhaps offer some support. And again, ensure your meeting and decision making processes are relevant too.

Make your board or committee meetings relevant, interesting, topical. Would 10 minutes at a meeting upcoming talking about charity scammers, credit card security, is that going to be useful for your charity going down the track?

If it is, schedule it. Maybe talk about it. It might raise a whole heap of points that you've never even thought about.

Peter McKerrow

Yeah, Chris. And I think we’ve got some good case studies in some of the materials on our website as well illustrating these issues of cyber security and credit card -

Julia Bielak

Yes, yeah. Definitely some great, great resources there. It might be a good time also to re-examine your policies to make sure they're fit for purpose or suitable for the changed circumstances you've been facing, and continue to face. Edit them, include references to changes or new people in the organisation.

Perhaps you didn't have a chief financial officer before, and now you find that you needed to employ one.

Revise the relevant documentation, and ensure everyone in the charity’s familiar with your policies and procedures, perhaps even a refresh for people. You may even want to consider collaborating with other people that have the expertise you need or to enable the effective use of funds.

So that could be other people, that could be other organisations that you could tap into formally or informally to help you deliver your charitable purpose.

Peter McKerrow

Indeed. Yes. And look, the next risk - and this is another one that we see a lot in our compliance role here - is when charities get into strife or trouble because they can’t manage or they don’t have the processes to address conflicts of interest.

And often, conflicts of interest are manifested in what we call related party transactions. That's business dealings or transactions, financial transactions with another party who has a relationship with the charity.

And we can understand why sometimes these are overlooked. If you've got an influx of funds, you're trying to get things done or you're just very busy, you want to get the money out, you want to get the services organised, you want to get the goods in, but it's very important to think about this issue.

Julia Bielak

Yes. Well, I think sometimes, a risk can be that you're hurrying to get funds out and perhaps might be tempted to take some shortcuts with processes, and getting mates to do the work or other related parties just without proper safeguards in place to ensure that your reputation is protected, I suppose, and things happen the correct way.

We’re not saying that there’s an intention to purposefully go out of - your charities want to go out of their way and do the wrong thing.

Chris Riches

That's a very important point, that.

Julia Bielak

It is, yeah. That's right. People do want to do the right thing. It’s about - and get out there and help. It’s just about taking that step back and making sure you follow a bit of a process, and make sure that you're - yeah, that you follow a bit of a process and there’s - because of the potential for public trust and confidence to be impacted if something gets out into the media or a decision’s not appropriately recorded -

Chris Riches

And not only that too. Beyond the public trust and confidence issue as well, if you don’t have those safeguards, if you're just wanting to get stuff done and getting out there and do take those shortcuts, you do run the risk as a charity of having your money not used effectively and efficiently as well.

So it becomes more than just a public trust and confidence - it becomes an issue in relation to improper use of your hard-earned - and that’s something that no charity wants.

So, look, there’s some things here that you should look at. The first one, big, bold writing here, resist temptation. Take the step back and don’t just jump in and go for the quick fix with this sort of thing. Follow the proper procedures and the processes that you have set out.

Ensure your interest register is up to date. Ensure that everyone who needs to update that register does so. We’ve got templates again on the ACNC site too. Ensure access to the register is available for those who need it.

Make conflict of interest something that is in the front of your mind, or at least there, and you're aware of it. Make it a constant or consistent point of consideration in your decision making processes so that any conflicts - actual, perceived or potential - are considered and declared openly and transparently.

Further to that, you've got to keep records of these deliberations and declarations of the conflicts of interest. Recordkeeping, minute taking, which we’ve clearly mentioned before, they have to be of good standard to ensure that any decisions, if they're questioned down the road, you have documented proof as to the proper deliberations and decision making processes that you have.

Finally, again, lead from the top. Set the example from the top. Charity leaders should be conspicuous in ensuring that they declare interests, follow processes and procedures if they need to - they walk out of the room when decisions are being made, all that sort of stuff.

Now, next. Next issue we’ve got here. And we’ve got another quick scenario, but Peter.

Peter McKerrow

Yes, look. The next issue of risk is one we’ve touched on where the charity has inadequate ability or expertise to monitor and report on spending and activities.

So, with a little bit of a scenario, I’ll pass to Julie and give you a bit of a flavour what we’re talking about.

Julia Bielak

Yeah. Look, what we can see here in the compliance directorate is where people are trying to get resources out on the ground, they might be friends, three people on a board of management. They meet informally. They don’t document decisions that are made. They're growing quickly and perhaps need some help with running the charity.

So you might think, “Oh, well we’ve had a situation perhaps before where one of the directors might have a company that can provide, say, the accounting and HR services for your charity that’s grown incredibly.

Decisions are made based on trust, which is fine, but you need to demonstrate to use why you have that trust and document that that decision was made in the best interests of the charity. Sometimes, when we ask people for documents to demonstrate those things to us, they can’t provide the evidence.

And that’s where recordkeeping really comes into it. Informal decisions making, where the decisions are not recorded, can leave you in a little bit of hot water, and your charity may have received value for their money for the services that they've bought from the related party, but if you can’t demonstrate it, then it might be quite difficult.

Chris Riches

Indeed, indeed. Now, again, some of the things that you should think about in relation to this sort of situation or scenario is, look, it's vital that your charity - we’ve gone back to it a few times now, we’re going to keep going back to it - recordkeeping policies and processes. In this context, they need to adequately monitor the distribution of funding and donations.

Do they do so? Do they adequately monitor the decision making processes leading to the distribution of funding? It’s an issue that’s already come to the public’s attention in the wake of the bushfires, something that’s been highlighted in the media too. And it goes to the heart of transparency and good governance, public trust, and confidence. Peter?

Peter McKerrow

Yes. Look, you need to be aware that - obviously, you are aware of the challenges that extra funding might present, and having in place processes, policies, and plans to address them.

And I know policies and processes can sometimes be seen as an impediment to progress and to getting things done, but I think an analogy for me, it leads to a roadmap to getting to the end of your journey in a safe way, and without getting into any difficulty.

And it's always good to double-check your policies and procedures and ensure that they're practical and that you've got proper processes in place. I must say that sometimes we see charities that adopt a lot of policies but no one actually ever reads them -

Chris Riches


Julia Bielak


Peter McKerrow

And to be quite frank, sometimes - you shouldn’t just download our template and put your name on it. You’ve got to tailor it for your own circumstances. Make sure it's imparted to the people who have to comply with it - your staff, your volunteers - and that you have a process to review it regularly.

Chris Riches

All right.

Julia Bielak

So, proper recordkeeping is an ACNC requirement. And it's key, as we’ve just discussed. It’s up to your responsible person, so your board members, your committee members, to ensure that your policies are adhered to and that proper records are kept.

If your charity needs extra expertise to get that recordkeeping right, don’t be afraid to consider it. You may have to purchase in additional expertise, and that’s okay too.

It’s appropriate to get it right, and it’s appropriate to consider spending money on it if you do have the money. An increase in size could mean that you have increased administrative costs. And -

Chris Riches

And that’s something too that Dr Johns has written about in those articles that we’ve referenced earlier talking about sometimes there is a need to spend a little bit of money to make sure the administration of what you're trying to do is up to scratch.

It’s something that you should not be afraid of considering. And spending that little bit of extra money as long as it's reasonable - for the larger benefit to get things right, it's perfectly reasonable.

Julia Bielak

And you might have surplus funds that you're planning to spend in the future. Just make - we would recommend that you make sure you transparently manage that and you report, perhaps, on those matters.

Chris Riches

Yeah. Now, we’ve talked a lot about financially related stuff, recordkeeping policies and these sorts of things which slightly shift track a little bit here.

We’ll look more at the staff and volunteer side of things. Management of staff and volunteers as well as how you work with any partners you might have, that might be another issue a charity will need to be very aware of.

Looking after your people is always a priority, but it's especially important if you're working in post-bushfire recovery efforts or in communities hit by bushfires.

Peter McKerrow

Yes. And look, you need to make sure that your policy for managing your volunteers is adequate.

If you've got an influx of volunteers, you might need to have a look at it and see whether it's still relevant. Particularly if you're sending people out into the field to dealing with vulnerable people who might be distressed or in zones where there may be still some risks from the aftermath of bushfires, make sure you have a - you assess the risks and you make sure that your volunteers are aware of them and that you've got measures to help them mitigate those risks.

There are sometimes unfortunately physical or psychological injuries, if you like, or trauma that results from volunteers working out in the field.

Do you have the appropriate systems in place to identify those and make appropriate referrals to other agencies to help them? And are there - do your volunteers and your staff understand the procedures for working with vulnerable people in the field?

When they might be maybe travelling alone or maybe with another person, how do they manage some of those risks?

And I think one of the key issues is to make sure that you're aware of things like workplace health and safety issues for your staff as well.

And I know that is a challenge because it does differ from state to state, but it's very important if you're operating in other states or territories you understand that legislation.

Julia Bielak

You might also like to just consider whether people are properly trained. Are they insured? You should have an induction policy and make sure it's up to date and fit for purpose. You might like to review it. If you're working in conjunction with a new partner, perhaps consider having a dedicated person. Oversee that relationship -

Chris Riches

Go-between or a liaison or something -

Julia Bielak

Yeah, that’s right, and there’s clear boundaries about who is doing what, and there’s good communication. Perhaps have some rules also about who can post to your website or your social media page.

Chris Riches

Of course, yes.

Julia Bielak

And ask questions like do you have permission to post photos of those beneficiaries or their names. We’ve got some guidance on our website, I think, about social media as well.

Chris Riches

Yeah, I think we have, yes. Yeah. Now, there’s obviously a bit - a few things to think about there. How do you perhaps address those risks or at least step towards doing so?

We’ve mentioned a few things already. Many of the tips involved, again, examining your existing policies to see if they're suitable or if they need tweaking. So, your OHS regulators website, probably worth a visit. Have a look. Get some information on your obligations.

Revisit your volunteer management processes, and ensure that they are up to the mark for the circumstances that you're operating under at the moment. Induction policy, is it suitable. If you've have an influx of people come in and you have to induct them, make sure it's up to scratch.

Your policy for working with vulnerable people. Safeguarding. Again, there’s info on the ACNC website about this. One for helping or handling injured wildlife, there would be a lot of wildlife-related charities that would have these things as part of their normal operations. So refer back to them, check them out, make sure they're still okay.

Safety guidelines for working in affected areas as well. Again, you might have something already. You may need to talk to the authorities about safety and that sort of thing as well.

More stuff here. Permits, insurance, permissions from relevant authorities. Are you allowed to do what you wish to do? Adequate support processes and procedures for volunteers. As we mentioned before, if they need support to help them talk some things out that they might have seen or work through some issues, you need to be able to offer that. Social media use, again, we’ve covered that one.

Ensure that you expectations are communicated and that you can conduct due diligence relevant to the task. Are people adhering to your policies? Has your organisation balanced checks? Are there other checks or balances required?

Now, we’re moving towards the end of proceedings here. Thank you for being with us, and thank you for listening. Continue to send through your questions if you wish. We’ll madly answer a few.

Now, we’ve got - that looks a bit painful, doesn't it? We’ve got, look, five key things perhaps for you to take away to remember.

I’ll launch off on the first one. What is your plan? That sounds really overarching and very high-level, but always return to your plan. The things that you're aiming to do with the money that’s been donated to you or the goods that have been donated to you, have you explained or communicated that plan, and has what you said your plan is, are you sticking to it? Are you going along with it? How will you communicate that plan now? And also, how will you communicate it in the future?

Peter McKerrow

Yes. And look, the other thing to reiterate, the policies, and procedures, we’ve mentioned a few things that you might want to have a look at during this webinar. But good governance dictates that you review them or charities should review them regularly and update them so they're relevant and fit for purpose.

And also, again, we emphasise to make sure that they're understood and applied throughout your organisation.

Chris Riches

Yeah, definitely.

Julia Bielak

Communication. What are your key messages? Communicating properly with everyone who’s relevant. Don’t underestimate the importance of that. What communication streams or channels will you use? Who’s delivering your key messages? Who are your spokespeople? Consistency in communication.

Chris Riches

Yeah, definitely. Recordkeeping. We return to it again. Again, we emphasise, it's not just financial recordkeeping we’re talking about here. It’s operational as well.

These are key requirements, these are requirements that charities need to adhere to that the ACNC put in place. So where and how are you records kept? What recordkeeping processes or procedures do you have? Are you ensuring that your operational records, especially those that support important decisions that your charity is making, are they properly recorded and retained?

It isn’t, again, just about financial records. It’s about operational records as well. If you set in place streamlined procedures during a time, say, of crisis, do not allow them to become the norm or business as usual. That's pretty important too, isn’t it, Peter?

Peter McKerrow

That's right. I mean, you go back and make sure that you've got everything up to date. And there is an emergency that you need to sort of depart from the normal processes. So just to make sure that that is time-limited and that any issues are addressed, any risks are mitigated.

Chris Riches

Yeah. You don’t want to continue to operate under certain procedures into the future forever. It’s just not going to work. It’s not practical, but also, it may see you not able to offer proper oversight to what you need to do and that sort of thing as well.

Now, look. We’ve reached a point where we’ve got some question marks up on the screen. Continue to zoom through your questions. Matt and Gulnaar are typing away.

Again, if you've got a question about your individual charity’s circumstances, it might well be worth ringing our advice line and talking to our friendly people there. They will be able to help you out. They might be able to refer you to certain places and all that sort of stuff.

We have had I guess a couple of questions come through as we’ve gone along here, and one of them has been I guess the conundrum that some charities might face when they're asking people or looking to evaluate whether some people’s needs are genuine. And that’s always a challenge at these times.

The challenge is to I guess establish genuine need. It’s tough. You have to respectfully work with people to ensure that their needs are genuine.

But you've also got to work towards I guess a good-quality allocation of assistance to meet those needs. This is going to be very based on what your charity does too, but your charity should already have a solid idea of who it's helping. I mean, if it doesn't, that’s really not good.

You should have a really solid idea of who it's helping, who its - I guess its target beneficiaries are. As we mentioned earlier, that’s going to be in line with your appeal aims, your charitable purpose.

You should have some criteria in place. And look, ask people questions that give you the information you need to assess them. This criteria will depend on a few things. Obviously, what your charity does, who it helps, how it's helping, what it's helping with.

So, be respectful, but you do need to ask the questions - charities do need to ask the question straight will help them ensure that people I guess match your criteria and in turn get the assistance and the support that they need.

Don’t be afraid of getting a pen or paper out and even working through this exercise deliberately. Don’t be afraid of asking help from other charities too. Maybe there’s some other charities around that are in a similar boat to you. So maybe have a bit of a brainstorm. Have a bit of a chat with them. So -

Peter McKerrow

And you can always review eligibility criteria if you find they're not quite appropriate or a situation’s developed and people’s needs change.

Chris Riches

Absolutely. Now, we did have one other question, Julia. Now, what was it about with -

Julia Bielak

It’s about - oh, okay. Big influx of items.

Chris Riches

Influx of items, yeah.

Julia Bielak

And feeling overwhelmed by that. How do you get those funds or goods out equitably and in accordance with fundraising guidelines?

Chris Riches

Look, there’s probably a few things you should consider here. the first key one clearly is what are your guidelines.

What is your plan? Make your plan, follow that plan, make sure everyone knows what's involved. Criteria, we just mentioned eligibility criteria. Criteria for being eligible for funds, looks, it's got to be at the heart of the plan. If you have a clear idea of who your charity is going to help, and how to identify the people that you are going to help - and a plan for delivering that help - you should be able to work through the distributions pretty steadily and pretty fairly.

Now, again, we’re probably going to just veer back to maybe putting a little bit of outline into getting some help here, aren't we?

Julia Bielak

Yeah. So look, you might need to hire people or help out to help out, or pay for systems that will help too. These sorts of costs are reasonable when they're in line with achieving your charitable purpose.

Chris Riches

Now, don’t - again, when we talked about conflicts of interest and things like that, we talked about not rushing and not cutting corners and that sort of stuff. Again, don’t do it.

When it comes to pushing out funds, don’t cut those corners to get it out quick. As we’ve talked today, make sure you're doing things the right way. Have those documented criteria and a plan and a process. Make sure that’s agreed on by all and communicated widely, and reviewed, as Peter mentioned earlier on too.

These things can be reviewed. Make sure everyone knows about them. Make sure everyone knows about them as well.

Look, again - and I’ll put in a plug here for our commissioner - are those two articles. One was in The Australian, and one was in The Australian Financial Review, but both of them are up on our website.

Look, go have a read of them. Again, we’ll send out the links to them as part of what we’ll do. There’s also a very good episode of our podcast that, again, features, Dr Johns. He talks about some of the challenges that charities might be facing in these times. Go and have a listen. That's

So look, that’s well worth a listen to, as pretty much all of the Charity Chat episodes that we’ve got.

Look, we’ve - oh, there we go. It’s 12:55 here. So we might just finish things up and let you get back to what you need to do.

Thanks to everyone who came along. Thanks to everyone who’s attended. Thanks to everyone who might be watching a recording of this webinar at a later date as well.

All of our past webinars are available, as you can see here, at Feel free to go have a look at some previous sessions. While you're there, maybe register for one of our coming webinars too over the next couple of months, and we’ll be putting some more scheduled webinars up in the next little bit too.

Stay in touch with us. There’s a number of ways you can stay in touch with us here. If you need to contact our advice team, that’s easy to do. They're available nine till five, Monday to Friday. That's Melbourne time. 132262. You can email them anytime via the online enquiry form on the Contact Us page on our website too.

Before we finish, we would really appreciate it if you have a few seconds just completing the survey very quickly that pops up after we end the webinar. I think it's only two, three questions. It’ll literally take you 25, 30 seconds. But we get a lot of feedback out of that, and we always strive to improve that we’re doing here.

Again, thanks to everyone, thanks to Matt and to Gulnaar for answering and typing and helping out. Thank you hugely to Peter and to Julia. It’s been great to catch up with both of you. Thank you very much.

Peter McKerrow

Thank you, Chris.

Julia Bielak

Thanks, Chris. Thanks, everyone.

Chris Riches

And look, to everyone who’s attended today, thank you, good luck with your continued work, and we’ll catch up again soon. Bye.

Julia Bielak