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New Review Platform Highlights Charity Star Performers

1 May 2018 at 8:41 am
Wendy Williams
Australia’s most well-known charities are coming under scrutiny with the launch of a series of independent expert reviews.

Wendy Williams | 1 May 2018 at 8:41 am


New Review Platform Highlights Charity Star Performers
1 May 2018 at 8:41 am

Australia’s most well-known charities are coming under scrutiny with the launch of a series of independent expert reviews.

Philanthropic consulting company the Good Cause Co has released a new “Should I Give To…” series of 50 critical reviews of Australian charities, including World Vision Australia, National Breast Cancer Foundation and The Royal Flying Doctor Service.

The series aims to help people understand the quality of the charity they give to and identify charities that are “star performers” and are using donations to make a real difference.

The Good Cause Co founder Jessica Bowman told Pro Bono News she developed the initiative after seeing too many people lose faith in the charity sector because of a bad experience.

“The real aim is to help people have more confidence in the charities that they give to,” Bowman said.  

“Right now there is no independent verification for whether or not a charity is good quality or not. There is the regulator obviously but the information provided by the regulator isn’t in a form that’s really digestible to most people.

“The reality is that the charity sector is like any other sector. There are a few players that give the industry a bad name. The vast majority of charities, however, are just fine at doing their job. But also like any industry, there are some real star performers.”

The reviews are based on an analysis of the charity’s annual report, financial report, constitution, and other relevant information published on their website.

Each review makes one of three recommendations: “do not donate”, where the charity does not demonstrate it is trustworthy, “donate”, where the charity demonstrates it is generally trustworthy and somewhat effective, and “donate with confidence”, where the charity demonstrates it is trustworthy and effective.

According to Bowman, the majority of the reviewed charities sit in the “donate” category.

“But I’d say about 10 to 15 per cent sit in the donate with confidence category,” she said.

“So those ones actually have really strong evidence to show they’re delivering results.

“In the do not donate section there’s actually not very many. And I think that’s a function of the fact that I’m reviewing the big Australian charities. So for me to say ‘do not donate’ it really means that they have got some issues with their charity registration, that they’re not operating legally. So there are some, but it’s only a very, very small minority.”

Bowman, who is also a director for Social Impact Measurement Network Australia (SIMNA) and has more than 10 years experience evaluating and designing high-impact social programs, said  she looked at the impact the organisations were having.

“My background is really in that impact space and that’s what I’m most interested in. But only a very small minority of charities actually provide evidence that what they’re doing is achieving a genuine difference and a genuine improvement in the lives of people that they’re actually targeting. So the impact is sort of my first assessment, then the other things that I look at are really about trustworthiness,” Bowman said.

“That’s really are they clear about who’s actually running the organisation, are they transparent with their finances, can I get a sense of where they’re actually directing money within their organisation, does that reconcile with their strategy.

“In the constitution, I really look for measures to avoid conflict of interest.”

Bowman stressed she did not judge how the organisations spent their money.

“I think that’s really at the discretion of the organisation and if they can demonstrate that they’re delivering results, even if they do have a large proportion of their income directed towards things like fundraising and administration then that’s great,” she said.

“I’m really focused on the actual outcome of the organisation, what are their results. If they’re not delivering results and they also have high overheads then that signals a problem for me.”

Bowman said the main criteria for choosing which charities to review was based on who was advertising.

“There are 55,000 registered charities so it’s unfeasible for me to review all of them,” she said.

“The way that people donate typically is when someone asks. So if someone asks you, you want to do your due diligence and so I’m providing that service in offering due diligence on the charities that are asking for money.”

Over the coming 10 weeks, the Good Cause Co will be revealing charity reviews by sector, with reviews of the environmental sector released on Friday.

One of the first to be reviewed was the Australian Conservation Foundation.

After considering both the strengths and weaknesses of Australian Conservation Foundation, the recommendation was “neutral”.

“They present basic information that indicates they are probably trustworthy and effective, but we need further assurances before being able to recommend them with confidence,” the review said.

It said it was currently not clear how they monitored their performance, how they minimised conflicts of interest or how they evaluated their campaigns.

A spokesperson for the Australian Conservation Foundation told Pro Bono News they could not comment on the assessment by The Good Cause as they had had no direct interaction with the organisation and were unclear about the methodology behind their assessment.

But they stressed they were proud of their record.

“ACF is proud of our 50-year record of national advocacy for Australia’s precious wildlife, clean water and climate action,” they said.

“We are backed by over half a million supporters. And the results of our campaigns speak for themselves: protection of the Franklin River and the Great Barrier Reef; the creation of Landcare; the establishment of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation; and much more.

“ACF has extensive governing structures, policies and accountability mechanisms in place. We conduct regular evaluations of our impact, predominantly via external professional assessment. And like all charities we are governed by a strict legal and transparency regime overseen by the Federal Government’s Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission.”

Dermot O’Gorman, CEO of WWF-Australia, which also received a neutral recommendation in the first round of reviews, told Pro Bono News they welcomed the review.

“It is terrific that there are objective resources to help donors make informed decisions about their giving, and we welcome initiatives that offer independent reviews of Australian charities,” O’Gorman said.

“We were pleased to see WWF-Australia reviewed by The Good Cause Co this month. We are delighted that their report found us to be trustworthy, which we pride ourselves on.

“Helpfully, the review also highlighted a couple of aspects of our work that we need to communicate better. Since we are already working on these, it was greatly reassuring to see that an independent review had made the same assessments as us.”

To learn more, visit

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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