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Top 10 Tips for Starting a Charitys

20 October 2015 at 11:35 am
Susan Pascoe AM
With the more than 54,000 registered charities in Australia and the number of new organisations growing rapidly, the Commissioner responsible for registering them, Susan Pascoe AM, shares her top tips for people to consider before deciding to start a charity.

Susan Pascoe AM | 20 October 2015 at 11:35 am


Top 10 Tips for Starting a Charitys
20 October 2015 at 11:35 am

With the more than 54,000 registered charities in Australia and the number of new organisations  growing rapidly, the Commissioner responsible for registering them, Susan Pascoe AM, shares her top tips for people to consider before deciding to start a charity.

According to Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) research, every day nine people in Australia decide they would like to start a charity. If you are one of them, planning first will help you to achieve your goals, as well as identify possible challenges or risks.

Before you start a charity, ask yourself these questions:

1. Do I really need to start a new charity?

What do you want to achieve? There may be an existing charity or not-for-profit that already does what you want to do or that may take on your idea as a project that it can support. There are already 54 000 charities operating across Australia, that’s approximately one charity for every 425 people. Search the ACNC Charity Register to find registered charities that you could support or work with on a project.

2.    What will be my charity’s purpose?

Write down in detail what you want to achieve with your charity – this will affect how you set it up and what you need to put in place to meet these goals. For example, who will the charity benefit and how?

To be registered as a charity with the ACNC, your organisation must be a not-for-profit with a charitable purpose that benefits the public.

3.    What resources might I need?

You may need to cover start-up as well as ongoing costs. It may be worth getting financial and business advice. Some of the resources you may need to plan for include: getting others involved (volunteers or staff), assets (such as an office, IT and other equipment), ongoing costs (such as utilities, rent, licences, insurance and supplier costs) and promotion.

4.    Will I need to look at fundraising requirements?

Charities raise money in many different ways, including charging membership fees, holding fundraising events and selling goods. Many fundraising activities are regulated by state and territory governments and you may need a permit before you start. Find out more about your local state or territory regulator before you start fundraising.

5.    Do you want to receive charity tax concessions?

There are a number of tax concessions available to charities. Your charity must be registered with the ACNC before it can receive Commonwealth charity tax concessions. Some charities may also be eligible to apply for deductible gift recipient (DGR) status with the Australian Taxation Office. You can apply for charity registration and charity tax concessions using the one online form on the ACNC website.

6.    What legal structure would work best for my charity?

Your charity's legal structure (if it is incorporated, or a trust, for instance) will affect many things, such as its legal identity (whether it can be sued), its governance structure (who makes decisions and how) and its responsibility for debts.

There are pros and cons for each structure and no one size fits all for charities. This is an important decision, so consider undertaken research and getting legal and other professional advice if needed.

7.    Are there other legal or legal and regulatory issues?

There are many legal implications in setting up a charity, and it may have to comply with a wide range of laws. You may want to get professional (including financial and legal) advice to assist you with things such as such as workplace health and safety laws, insurance and employment laws.

8.    Who will manage your charity?

Running a not-for-profit organisation, while rewarding, can be very time-consuming. Having more people helps share the load, making it more effective and sustainable. Having good processes for decision-making, and other good governance practices, will protect you and your charity and help it to achieve its goals. This is tied to its legal structure. For example, it may need a board to be appointed.

If you are thinking about employing volunteers, remember to check what legal requirements you have to meet. For example, like any employer you need to provide a safe work environment. Volunteering Australia has useful resources on their website about employing volunteers.

9.    How will you promote your charity and its work?

Look at your charitable purpose, and think about the kind of involvement you would like from the public and potential investors/donors. How will you reach your target audience to promote your charity’s work and encourage people to get involved? ACNC registered charities have a free profile on the Charity Register. You might also want to develop your own website or other tools to get the word out.

10.  Who can I ask for help?

The ACNC is here to support and sustain a robust, vibrant, independent and innovative not-for-profit sector. We have a range of tools and resources to help charities register and meet their obligations on our website, including our starting a charity factsheet.

You can also call and speak to one of our friendly advice staff on 13 ACNC (13 22 62) weekdays 9am to 6pm AEDT. Alternatively, you can email us at

The ACNC also has a list of other organisations and resources which may help charities on our website.

About the author: Susan Pascoe AM has been the Commissioner of the national charity regulator, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, since it was established in December 2012.

Susan Pascoe AM  |  @SusanPascoeACNC

Susan Pascoe AM is the president of the Australian Council of International Development and former commissioner of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission.

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