Charity report criticised for missing detail
21 May 2019 at 8:34 am
The significantly shorter length of the Australian Charities Report has copped criticism from sector advocates, with some describing it as a “superficial overview” of the 47,000 Annual Information Statements submitted by charities.
The 2017 report, which is published annually by the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, was released on Monday with key findings including the total combined income and expenses of charities, a summary of what they do, who they help and where they operate.
The information in the report is the most up-to-date data available to the ACNC.
In 2017, the sector generated total revenue of $146 billion, government grants as a revenue source increased by $7 billion, and $9.9 billion donations and bequests were made to registered charities – a $600 million decrease from 2016.
Krystian Seibert, industry fellow at the Centre for Social Impact Swinburne, told Pro Bono News that the fall in giving would be a trend to watch in the coming years.
Volunteer numbers were also up by 400,000 from 2016, sitting at a total of 3.3 million, and 30 per cent of charities reported their main activity was religious activities.
Compared to previous years, the 2017 report was significantly shorter in length, 32 pages compared with 112 pages for the 2016 report.
ACNC commissioner Dr Gary Johns said this year’s report offered a more succinct and accessible summary of the key facts and figures.
“We’ve redesigned it to make it more succinct and reader-friendly,” Johns said.
“As the premier data collection agency for charities, we are committed to publishing information in a way that is accessible to both the sector and the public.”
But Seibert said while he welcomed any kind of new analysis from the commission, the shorter length resulted in less information the sector could learn from.
“At 32 pages the report is a much more superficial overview of the vast amount of data which the ACNC receives from charities compared with previous reports,” Seibert said.
“Nonetheless, it is good to see that the ACNC is still committed to releasing some form of analysis of this kind, so I welcome its release.”
Community Council for Australia CEO David Crosbie told Pro Bono News that like Seibert he welcomed the report, but said the decision by the ACNC to not provide in-depth analysis of the sector’s data back to them as they had done in previous years could affect the relationship between charities and the regulator.
“The ACNC has one of the highest voluntary compliance rates by charities in the world, because charities have valued the way the information they provided was being used and analysed,” Crosbie said.
“So it’s critical if the ACNC is to maintain faith with charities it relies upon to provide information, that it fully collaborates with the sector in providing that information back to them.”
He said one of the concerns he had about the emerging direction of the ACNC was not making the best value of data sets they already had.
This included disbanding the Research Advisory Committee which had advised the previous commissioner and senior staff on possible reports and ways of analysing data that came to them from charities.
“I always thought and I think the sector feels that being able to produce quality value reports about the nature of the sector and its current income and expenditure practices was invaluable, not just to the sector, but for policymakers and the broader communities,” he said.
“I don’t know why the provision of information and value adding to the data that charities voluntarily provide would not be a high priority for any commissioner and any charities regulator in the world.”
A full copy of the 2017 report can be found here.