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Australia’s Smallest Charities Offer Big Community Benefits – Report  

3 May 2017 at 12:49 pm
Lina Caneva
Australia’s “extra small charities” reported a combined income of more than $300 million in 2015, and held assets worth more than $5 billion, according to the latest statistics from the charity regulator.

Lina Caneva | 3 May 2017 at 12:49 pm


Australia’s Smallest Charities Offer Big Community Benefits – Report  
3 May 2017 at 12:49 pm

Australia’s “extra small charities” reported a combined income of more than $300 million in 2015, and held assets worth more than $5 billion, according to the latest statistics from the charity regulator.

The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) analysis of Australia’s smallest charities found they accounted for more than a third of the national charity sector.

“The income of small charities is different to the wider sector,” ACNC commissioner Susan Pascoe AM said.

“For example, extra small charities received 38 per cent of their income from donations and bequests  –  this figure is only 8.3 per cent for all charities.

“Similarly, extra small charities only received 5.7 per cent of their income from government grants – whereas government grants comprised 41.4 per cent of income for all charities.”

The report, Australia’s Smallest Charities, was produced in collaboration with the Centre for Social Impact and the Social Policy Research Centre at the University of New South Wales.

It is a sub-report of the Australian Charities Report, an annual analysis of the data reported by charities of all sizes in their Annual Information Statement.

Pascoe told Pro Bono News that the extra small charities made a significant contribution to the sector and the wider community.

“There are almost 19,000 extra small charities in Australia – that is, charities with annual income under $50,000. Extra small charities account for 37 per cent of charities in Australia,” Pascoe said.

“If you look at the 67 per cent that are [regarded as] small charities – those that are under $250,000 –  there was a really big group [of extra small charities] at the bottom in the same way as there is that huge group at the top where 1,500 [charities] own 80 per cent of the assets in the sector. So in many ways it replicates the business community where you have the ASX 200 and then you’ve got Sammy’s Pizza and all those other tiny little sole traders out there.

“The other thing, as a regulator, is that it is incredibly helpful to have a sense of the smallest charities because they are likely to be the ones that need the most support from us to meet their obligations.

“These charities are more reliant on donations and bequests and again it is probably consistent with being community connected. Communities are more comfortable to give to charities that they know and often they are donating to organisations where they know the people involved. It’s a local form of due diligence. You probably went to school with some of those people running the charity. It does give you a high level of confidence when you are giving.”

The report, which includes case studies from seven of Australia’s smallest charities, highlighted the variety of activities undertaken, and the causes supported by registered charities across Australia.

“As with the sector itself, the most common main activity for extra small charities is religion,” Pascoe said.

“Social services, culture and recreation, and philanthropic activities are also popular activities for extra small charities.

“The case studies serve to show the value of an organisation which focuses on providing niche services of importance to their communities.

“They provide a snapshot of the incredible impact small charities can have locally, nationally and globally.”

The ACNC said despite undertaking activities to support the general community in Australia, four in five extra small charities engaged no paid staff.

“Volunteers are incredibly important to all charities across Australia,” Pascoe said.

“These charities in particular often provide more specialised, locally-focused services – services that probably wouldn’t get to those communities if they weren’t volunteer-led.

“According to the report, over two-thirds of extra small charities operated with volunteers only, compared to only 39 per cent of all charities.

“More than 430,000 people generously donated their time and expertise to extra small charities in Australia.”

Gary Burke, treasurer of the Diamond’s Creek Men’s Shed in Victoria said he hoped the report would help to highlight the importance of small charities across Australia.

“Small charities provide great services to their local community, from helping people to get back on their feet and providing support, to offering safe spaces, providing education and more,” Burke said.

“In our organisation specifically, we provide support services to men in our local area – but we also provide an opportunity for men to give back to their communities, by getting involved in projects and working with other organisations locally.

“There are many positive benefits that a charity can provide – beyond helping the community and making a difference, many organisations provide a positive environment where people are able to build networks and friendships.

“Our organisation is entirely volunteer-run. So volunteers are absolutely critical for our Men’s Shed, and every other small charity.”

If you have a story about the not-for-profit sector email our news team at

Lina Caneva  |  Editor  |  @ProBonoNews

Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years. She was the editor of Pro Bono Australia News from when it was founded in 2000 until 2018.

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