Aussie Helpers working with ACNC to fix governance issues
10 September 2019 at 8:27 am
An Australian farming charity is working with the charities regulator to fix several governance issues uncovered by a six-month investigation, but the organisation says it has been cleared of misusing donations.
Aussie Helpers approached the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission in October last year, to confirm it was meeting its reporting obligations and that the goods and funds it received were going to those in need.
This followed a Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) report in August 2018 that found Aussie Helpers had retained large cash reserves from its yearly donations. The report also said that in 2016-2017, more than a third ($354,000) of the $951,000 Rural Aid received in donations was spent on wages.
The ACNC revealed last Friday that Aussie Helpers has entered into a compliance agreement with the commission to address concerns around its governance.
The commission’s investigation found Aussie Helpers did not have appropriate policies and procedures for managing financial controls and conflicts of interest.
It also said the charity’s responsible persons needed greater awareness of their duties under the ACNC Governance Standards.
But while Aussie Helpers dealt with a “nasty social media campaign” following the SMH report, CEO Natasha Kocks said the ACNC has cleared the organisation of inappropriate financial conduct.
She said this confirmed the money donated to the charity went directly into the pockets of farmers in need.
“I’m really proud to be able to say that Aussie Helpers does exactly what we say we do, which is help struggling farmers and their families,” Kocks told Pro Bono News.
“The only requirements that have been raised by the ACNC are updates to some of our systems, processes and policies.
“[My] mum and dad started Aussie Helpers with a $20 raffle, and we’ve grown so fast since then. It’s not surprising that there are some internal protocols that need to be brought up to speed.”
Kocks said she was grateful for the ACNC investigation because it helped the charity find out where it needed to improve.
She said in the past year, Aussie Helpers has given 83.5 per cent of the $8.3 million in donations it has received straight into the hands of farmers.
But she said those who criticised Aussie Farmers for keeping cash reserves needed to understand the costs involved in running a charity, such as transporting donations, wages and covering overheads.
“If we didn’t have cash reserves, then we wouldn’t actually be afloat this year because we gave away pretty much everything last year that was donated,” she said.
“So I think people have to remember that charities still need to have some cash saved for the longevity of the organisation.”
ACNC commissioner Dr Gary Johns said Aussie Farmers had already made obvious attempts to improve its operations.
The charity has updated its constitution, policies and procedures, put in place financial controls, and ensured all its board members have undergone governance training.
“Aussie Helpers has fully cooperated with our investigation. The compliance agreement is evidence of the charity’s commitment to increased accountability and transparency to donors and the public,” Johns said.