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New natural disaster fundraising guidelines are here, but not everyone is happy

15 February 2022 at 7:59 am
Maggie Coggan
Charities have criticised the guidelines for distracting from bigger problems

Maggie Coggan | 15 February 2022 at 7:59 am


New natural disaster fundraising guidelines are here, but not everyone is happy
15 February 2022 at 7:59 am

Charities have criticised the guidelines for distracting from bigger problems

New fundraising guidelines for charities delivering disaster relief services have been released, encouraging organisations to communicate more frequently and transparently about how donations are being spent. 

The federal government guidelines, developed in collaboration with the peak fundraising body, Fundraising Institute Australia (FIA), are intended to improve transparency obligations for charities and give the public a better understanding of how their donations are being put to work. 

The standards include requirements to publish disaster appeal intentions and progress reports on the use of donations in response and recovery efforts.

While a code of fundraising best practice is already compulsory for FIA member organisations, this new guidance will be free and available to all charities, including the ones who are not members of FIA. 

Katherine Raskob, the CEO of the FIA, told Pro Bono News that while most charities already provided adequate information around where funds were being spent in their annual reports, the new guidelines recommend more regular updates. 

“We advise to report this information quarterly so that donors can go to a charity’s website and see where their funds are going every quarter, rather than wait a whole year,” Raskob said.   

During the black summer bushfires, charities were criticised for a lack of transparency as to where donations were being spent, and not delivering the donations to affected communities fast enough. 

Read more: Transparency – sure thing!

The sector disputed this however, with key players in the disaster relief efforts such as the Australian Red Cross, saying that because of the complex nature of disaster relief operations, where the money needed to go was not always immediately obvious, and took time to deploy. 

A report from the charities regulator in 2020 also found that organisations on the frontline of the summer bushfire season acted “legally and responsibly”. 

Guidelines face criticism 

Some charity leaders have expressed disappointment over the guidelines. 

Chief adviser of Justice Connect’s Not-for-profit Law, Sue Woodward AM, told Pro Bono News that while anything that improved the transparency and practice of fundraising was welcome, it was a “shame” that it was necessary to create this code that only focused on one particular area of fundraising. 

“It is terrific that the new code is entirely consistent with the principles that #FixFundraising has proposed as the basis for regulatory reform,” Woodward said.

“But if we’d already fixed the current regulatory mess, then all donors could rely on nationally consistent principles of transparency and ethical practice, and there might not have been a need for this voluntary, natural disaster specific code.”

For a number of years, a coalition of social sector leaders and organisations have fiercely campaigned to fix outdated fundraising laws in Australia, which currently differ between states and territories.  

A recommendation of the campaign is that all states and territories adopt a single set of clear principles for all fundraising which in turn will promote ethical and transparent fundraising. 

While the National Cabinet agreed at the end of last year to make reforming fundraising rules a top 10 priority in 2022, a timeline on when exactly that will happen is yet to be released. 

Raskob said that she agreed the bigger issue at hand was harmonising fundraising laws, but that this was a “quicker win”. 

“I understand that this code was very important to [the government]… especially after the 2020 bushfires,” she said.  

“FIA wanted to collaborate with government to get a better result for its members and for charities. But yes, it would have been really good if they could have focused on the harmonisation of fundraising laws first.” 

She said the government was putting in place the structures to start work on harmonising fundraising laws, but that no specific timeline had been announced. 

“I believe it is moving quite quickly, but obviously there’s an election coming up and I don’t know what the timing is around that,” Raskob said. 

Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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