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Latest ACNC data shows a robust Australian charity sector pre-COVID

18 May 2021 at 7:13 am
Nikki Stefanoff
But while sector leaders describe the report as very important, they caution that the data is 18 months old

Nikki Stefanoff | 18 May 2021 at 7:13 am


Latest ACNC data shows a robust Australian charity sector pre-COVID
18 May 2021 at 7:13 am

But while sector leaders describe the report as very important, they caution that the data is 18 months old.

Prior to COVID, and the 2020 bushfires, Australia’s charity sector was employing 11 per cent of Australia’s workforce and generating revenue of $166 billion, newly released data shows.

The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) has released its annual sector analysis in the seventh edition of the Australian Charities Report.

By using data submitted by more than 48,000 charities in their 2019 Annual Information Statements, the report showed that charities employed 1.38 million people and that sector revenue grew by 6.8 per cent compared with the previous year. 

ACNC Commissioner Dr Gary Johns said there was also a $1.3 billion rise in donations, which he stated was a testament to public confidence in the work charities do.  

“The data certainly indicates that up until the end of 2019, immediately prior to COVID and in the lead up to the summer bushfires, the charity sector was robust, with increases in revenue of $10.5 billion and in assets of more than $30 billion compared with the previous year,” Johns said. 

“Overall, charities operated at a surplus, supported by substantial assets.”

Key findings from the report:

  • Charity revenue was up 6.8 per cent from the previous year.
  • Revenue rose by $10.5 billion to $166 billion.
  • Revenue from goods and services increased by $3.5 billion to $56.7 billion.
  • Donations rose to $11.8 billion – an increase of $1.3 billion from the previous year.
  • Government funding accounted for $78.1 billion, an increase of $4.4 billion.
  • Charities employed 1.38 million people – approximately 11 per cent of total employment in Australia.
  • Charities spent $85.9 billion on employee expenses, up 6 per cent from $81.1 billion the previous year.
  • Volunteer numbers decreased by approximately 200,000 to 3.6 million.
  • More than half of all charities (51 per cent) operated without any paid staff.
  • Overall, Australia’s charities operated at a surplus, supported by substantial assets.
  • Assets increased by $30 billion to $354 billion.
  • The most common activities for charities were religious activities and primary and secondary education.
  • Small charities (annual revenue less than $250,000) made up 65 per cent of the sector.
  • Large charities (annual revenue of $1 million or more) made up 19 per cent of the sector and medium charities (annual revenue of $250,000 to $999,999) made up 16 per cent.

Next year’s report might look very different

With the data looking so positive it could be easy to think charities have nothing to be concerned about, however, it comes a week after a separate report found things continue to be difficult in the sector.  

The Vital Support: building resilient charities to support Australia’s wellbeing report by Social Ventures Australia (SVA) and the Centre for Social Impact (CSI) reviewed the state of the charity sector, more than a year on from the dual crises of COVID-19 and the 2020 bushfires. 

It found that more than half of charities faced some form of temporary closure, and more than 80 per cent made some shift towards at least partial online service delivery.

David Crosbie, CEO of the Community Council of Australia, said that while the ACNC report was a very important one it described a sector prior to COVID-19.

“Unfortunately the data in this report is 18 months old and much has changed.  I am not sure we can assume the current situation would reflect the growth trends reflected in this report,” told Pro Bono News. 

“I can only hope the ACNC will be dedicating more resources to the next report as a priority activity so we can have a more timely up-to-date picture of how charities in Australia have been impacted by COVID-19.” 

Crosbie said he would be surprised if the previous 6 per cent plus growth trends continue, as some charities have been negatively impacted by the events of the last 18 months.  

“Identifying what parts of the sector these charities operate in, their size, the impact on their staffing, assets, levels of volunteering and sources of funding would be incredibly useful information for the whole charities sector, for policymakers, researchers, philanthropists and governments,” he said. 

Johns acknowledged that the data used for the report was pre-COVID and said that the comprehensive analysis of the data would be used as a benchmark for next year’s reporting. 

“We know from speaking with key organisations and charities on the ground that the pandemic has impacted them in many ways – with their fundraising, volunteer participation, the way services are delivered, and so on,” Johns told Pro Bono News. 

“Many have had to be innovative to meet a number of challenges, and some of them have certainly struggled. 

“This report sets an important benchmark for our future understanding of the significance of the pandemic and the 2020 bushfires. As the regulator, we can’t preempt what the data will say, but it is likely that such significant events will be reflected.”

Nikki Stefanoff  |  Journalist  |  @ProBonoNews

Nikki Stefanoff is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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