The good, the hopeful, and the dog’s breakfast
30 April 2020 at 8:23 am
Australian charities have demonstrated in this crisis that they are effective advocates to governments. Now they need to look beyond governments to better engagement with their communities, writes David Crosbie.
Charities have really been doing remarkable work during this COVID-19 crisis. There are so many stories I could share about how all kinds of charities have found ways to support their communities despite incredible challenges.
There is one story I think emerges as central to all the others: how Australian charities have demonstrated in this crisis that they are effective advocates to governments.
Since COVID-19 measures were first put in place by governments, numerous packages have been rolled out enabling many charities to offer increased support to those in need. After initially not being part of government programs to sustain business during the crisis, charities now have access to key concessions that have ensured many charities can not only participate in government support programs but gain significant concessions tailored to better meet their needs.
The success of all the advocacy activities by many charities needs to be acknowledged. CCA has worked with many peak groups from the larger church charities to ACFID, ACOSS, Philanthropy Australia, Pro Bono Australia, Volunteering Australia, Our Community, the Social Impact Investing Taskforce, Centre for Social Impact, Susan Pascoe, Tim Costello, key larger charities, and many others.
There has been a choir of voices, mostly singing variations on the same theme, the need to ensure as many charities as possible can continue to serve their communities through COVID-19 and play a critical role in rebuilding our communities in the months and years to come.
Government has not only heard the voice of the charities sector, it has responded. From Assistant Minister Zed Seselja to the Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and ministers leading line agencies like Social Services, there has been a willingness to try and meet the needs of the sector.
At a central agency level, senior officials within the Treasury and the Australian Taxation Office have not only listened, but actively reached out for input from the charities sector. The level of information exchange between senior officials and leaders in the charities sector over such a short period is unprecedented. I know that many of these officials have been working around the clock – I was still receiving emails late Sunday night about JobKeeper changes that would advantage charities.
It would be remiss of our sector not to acknowledge and thank all involved in achieving these outcomes which will benefit thousands of charities and the communities they serve.
It would also be remiss to suggest everyone is a winner. There are still many left behind as a consequence of COVID-19, including many charities and many vulnerable groups. We can and must do more to support these groups.
One of the actions I believe is needed is a positive campaign around the value of charities to Australian communities, not just in economic terms, but in relation to the role of charities as keepers of values, wellsprings of hope, care and belonging. The theme of how important charities are in a crisis and beyond should have strong resonance with the Australian community.
The second action I think is now more critical than ever is to promote ways for our communities to actively engage with charities. GivingTuesdayNow provides a great vehicle for this kind of activity.
Every Tuesday in May the charities sector will promote a theme to their community starting with next Tuesday where the theme is giving thanks to all those involved in supporting people through COVID-19. This will be followed a week later with the theme of supporting people in your local community, then acknowledging volunteers (aligned with National Volunteer Week), finally making donations to organisations in need.
The charities sector has a lot to be proud about, but it also has a lot of work to do to better engage our communities. If every charity in Australia does something special each Tuesday in May, there is no doubt we will have moved forward with this task, increased fundraising and ensured less charities are likely to close as a consequence of COVID-19.
There is one other immediate task related to GivingTuesdayNow that CCA will be prioritising over the coming week.
As most readers will know, fundraising regulations in Australia are beyond a joke and in need of urgent reform. The dog’s breakfast of state and territory requirements for charities to engage in fundraising are a real obstacle to many charities wanting to start fundraising to help them through the current crisis.
If a small performing arts group that has lost all its performance income wants to run a new online fundraiser to try and keep their core staff employed, it will have to satisfy every fundraising regulator in the country. In practice this means it will have to advertise its fundraising in a local Queensland paper, provide certified documentation like passports and driver’s licenses to Western Australian authorities, satisfy police checks in Victoria, etc etc.
It will take weeks of work and over a month of submitting information before any small charity would be able to satisfy all the requirements and commence their fundraising.
If we want every small charity to have a chance to survive, to participate in important international initiatives like GivingTuesdayNow, we need to put in place a temporary set of nationally agreed rules to cover all fundraising by ACNC registered charities in Australia. This is an easy fix that can quickly be enacted to enable online fundraising by registered charities while maintaining appropriate consumer protections.
As a sector, charities have done well in advocacy to government about responses to COVID-19. Governments have been listening and responding. Now thousands of charities need to look beyond governments to better engagement with their communities.
It would be a real step backwards if governments became the biggest barrier to charities being able to pivot and focus their efforts on stronger local connections and support.
We need our charities now more than ever. The least we can do is stop impeding their efforts to engage and support the communities they serve.
About the author: David Crosbie is CEO of the Community Council for Australia. He has spent more than 20 years as CEO of significant charities including eight years in his current role, four years as CEO of the Mental Health Council of Australia, seven years as CEO of the Alcohol and other Drugs Council of Australia, and seven years as CEO of Odyssey House Victoria.
David Crosbie writes exclusively for Pro Bono News on a fortnightly basis, covering issues of importance to the broader not-for-profit sector.