A Market by Any Other Name Would Smell as Sweet
5 November 2018 at 5:00 pm
In response to a recent opinion piece in Pro Bono News, head of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) Dr Gary Johns, explains why a charity marketplace is vital to creating a more engaged and informed public.
David Crosbie’s contribution to Pro Bono News (25 October 2018) rails against the existence of a charity market.
And yet, in railing against this common concept of a market in which 56,000 charities compete for resources, albeit among well-defined constituencies, he makes the following statement:
“There is a very good argument charities should do more to measure their performance, their costs, their outcomes, their impact, not to create a marketplace, but to build the evidence base and contribute to our knowledge about how to achieve positive change.”
Who is to read and act on this information, if not other charities, donors, taxpayers and governments? This is called informing the market. Indeed, the ACNC Act commands me to do precisely so.
There was an earlier concept for the commission, whereby it would act as a hub to post the best research and programs in the sector. The idea was abandoned, but it is not without merit. Even still, the point of good information is that it should be made available to those who may wish to act upon it, and in a form that they may find useful.
The missing ingredient in David Crosbie’s world is donors. They may be interested in what charities are up to. After all, they donate $10 billion a year to charities. A mere fraction of government contributions to be sure, but still a significant amount.
Indeed, there are already several places where donors gather to seek information about charities, Our Community, Philanthropy Australia, Community Funds and Environmental Grantmakers are just a few.
In addition, there are some small-scale charity rating websites, but this is not the object of the commission’s conception of the market. The ACNC will not rate charities, it will enable them to be more visible to those who may wish to find charities to satisfy their desire to help a cause, for particular beneficiaries, in certain places.
At present, the ACNC Charity Register only allows for a for a simple search. I believe we can do better.
Imagine being able to find out what the market in charitable programs provides – the what, the who, and the where. Quite a revolution.
Each of the organisations I mentioned above struggle with scale: it is very expensive to gather all the charities in each field of interest. But, the taxpayer has already paid for the Charity Register at the ACNC, what better place to gather information in a language common to both charities and donors?
This new Charity Register search function will be underpinned by a taxonomy (a dictionary of common terms in the sector). It will provide every interested person the opportunity to find and compare like programs offered for the same purpose and in the same place.
The ACNC will offer charities a better way to provide information about their programs in the Annual Information Statement. We will rework existing questions to minimise the impost on charities.
What better platform for those concerned with charitable deeds to search for existing evidence of performance? Or just a list of charities they may want to help, regardless of performance.
What donors regard as good or bad performance is a matter for them.
Disdain for simple concepts such as markets does not make them disappear. Although it may render them opaque.
The ACNC Act seeks a more engaged and informed public. What better way to do it than report by program. It is, after all the language of charities. It is the most common conversation that I have with charities.
They seem to have no difficulty or issue with the idea at all.
About the author: Dr Gary Johns is the commissioner of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC).