Predictions for 2019: Charities
14 January 2019 at 5:38 pm
Commissioner of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) Dr Gary Johns looks to the year ahead and what charities can expect from the regulator, as part of a series of 2019 predictions from leading experts across the social sector.
As I am sure you will agree, 2019 will be another big year for the charity sector.
While we cannot predict the future, one thing we know for certain is that this year Australians will go to the polls and cast their vote on who should lead our country.
For some of Australia’s 56,000 registered charities, the federal election campaign is an opportunity. During the campaign these charities will publicly engage on issues related to their purpose, however there is a line that cannot be crossed.
Advocacy and campaigning can be a legitimate and effective way of furthering the charitable purposes of a charity. There is an obvious link, for example, between a charity that advances education and government or opposition policies related to school funding. However, it is important that charities do not have a disqualifying political purpose and that they maintain independence from party politics.
Ahead of the 2019 federal election, I encourage charities to familiarise themselves with the guidance on the ACNC’s website.
In 2018 I learned a great deal about the inner-workings of the ACNC and the sector. It was my first full year as the commissioner.
Undoubtedly, the highlight of 2018 was visiting charities across Australia. The best thing about visiting a charity is the opportunity to have a concentrated discussion about the charity’s work – the staff and volunteers tell me in plain, simple language who they’re helping, how they’re helping and where they’re helping.
And some of this work is truly amazing.
In 2018 I was also amazed at just how much information the ACNC holds on Australia’s 56,000 registered charities. The ACNC truly is the premier data agency when it comes to the charity sector. No other organisation, government or otherwise, comes close.
As you know, most of the information a charity provides in its annual reporting to the ACNC is published on the Charity Register. The register was searched over 900,000 times in 2018, a 19 per cent increase compared to the year prior. Now that we have improved the search functionality and design of the Charity Register, these figures will continue to grow.
Since the Charity Register was launched in December 2012, it has given donors, beneficiaries and government a way to check registration status and find information about where a charity operates, what it does and who runs it. Over one-third of charities also provide reviewed or audited annual financial reports. It is undoubtedly a useful tool.
In 2019, we want to make the Charity Register even more powerful.
We are aiming to improve the way we use the data we already have, and we will ask charities different questions to get more useful information. All of this will help drive an improved search function that help donors find and connect with registered charities.
There are also a few things you can do to help attract donors to support your charity.
Firstly, complete your 2018 Annual Information Statement by logging into the new and improved Charity Portal. If you are a regular user of our website and Charity Portal, you would have noticed significant changes in October 2018.
As part of a $3 million project, we completely overhauled our IT systems.
When you are filling in your Annual Information Statement, provide as much information as you can about your charity’s work.
The Charity Register’s “Overview” page now displays a “summary of activities”, which is drawn directly from the charity’s response to question 12 of the 2018 Annual Information Statement. Use this as an opportunity to explain to donors what your charity does, who or what it helps, and why it is important.
And while you are logged into the Charity Portal, make sure you have provided a website for your charity – only one quarter of charities have so far. You can do this by clicking the “view/update charity details” button.
By having your charity’s website listed on the Charity Register, donors can be confident that they are giving to your charity as intended. Donors that are not able to access your website directly from the Charity Register risk getting lost in a Google search.
Approximately two-thirds of registered charities are small, with annual revenue of less than $250,000. Half of those charities are smaller still, with annual revenue of under $50,000.
Some charities, particularly the smaller organisations, might not have the time, know-how, or funds to set up a website.
An alternative to a flashy corporate style website is social media. Many organisations, including the ACNC, have their own page on Facebook and account on Twitter. Others also use Instagram.
Social media can be a low-cost yet highly-effective way to engage with your volunteers and donors.
If your charity can only manage a social media account, you can still provide the URL in the Charity Portal and we will publish it on your Charity Register listing. As Charity Register searches continue to grow, we want to make the link between donor and charities (of all sizes) is as direct as possible.
In 2019 the sector can also expect to hear more about Object 2 of the ACNC Act – support and sustain a robust, vibrant, independent and innovative not-for-profit sector.
In December 2018 we published a new report, Measures in Support of the Not-for-profit Sector – Indicators of Object 1(b) ACNC Act, which started a sector-wide conversation about the definition of those terms, and how we, as the regulator tasked with achieving that objective, can measure our success.
In early 2019 we will be consulting with the sector on this topic, visit our website for more information on the report and how to express your interest.
I look forward to working with the sector in 2019 and beyond.
About the author: Dr Gary Johns is the commissioner of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC).