Posted on 13 Feb 2024
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The final Productivity Commission report into Philanthropy will need to be much bolder than the just released draft version if Australia is to achieve real change in its culture and practice of giving, writes the executive director of policy, government relations and research for Philanthropy Australia, Sam Rosevear.
Philanthropy Australia thanks the Productivity Commission for the open and consultative approach it took in developing its draft report ‘Future Foundations for Giving’.
The report recommends some important reforms, including the expansion of deductible gift recipient (DGR) status to more charities and the establishment of an independent philanthropic foundation controlled by, and for the benefit of, First Nations communities.
However, the final report will need to recommend a stronger suite of high-impact reforms if Australia is to achieve a step-change lift in our culture and practice of giving.
The report recommends important reforms, including the expansion of DGR status to a broader group of charities, more transparent reporting of corporate donations, and the establishment of an independent philanthropic foundation controlled by – and for the benefit of – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
We are encouraged that superannuation bequests are canvassed and an information request made on the benefits and costs of implementing this important reform.
Philanthropy Australia sees opportunities for philanthropy to co-invest and contribute to the reform agenda.
Overall, however, we are concerned that the draft report does not indicate a roadmap, or identify the key building blocks, that will enable us to double philanthropic giving by 2030.
Even in relation to the most substantive reform recommended – expanding DGR – the Commission acknowledges that the expected effects on the overall level of giving will be relatively modest and that several thousand charities would have their status withdrawn.
Philanthropy Australia believes the final report needs to identify for government a suite of reforms that will lead to a step-change increase in the culture and practice of giving in Australia.
High-value reforms that could achieve this are super bequests and measures to strengthen giving at the local community level including growing Australia’s network of community foundations and a national giving campaign.
We note that the Productivity Commission has included information requests on a number of potential reforms and will consider recommending more substantive reforms in its final report.
At Philanthropy Australia we look forward to engaging with our members to elicit their views on the draft report and working with the commission to help ensure the final report recommends a substantive reform agenda that can set us on the road to double giving by 2030.
"The Productivity Commission notes the important role of private ancillary funds (PAFs) and public ancillary funds (PuAFs) in driving rising philanthropic giving."
The Productivity Commission recommends expanding access to DGR status and focusing it where it can deliver the most community-wide benefit.
The reform would increase access from about 25,000 to 30,000–40,000 charities.
Key beneficiaries would be charities working on animal welfare, injury prevention and public interest journalism, and charities undertaking advocacy activities related to most charitable purposes.
Charities that pursue multiple eligible purposes – such as many First Nations charities – would also find it easier to access DGR status because eligible entities would only need one DGR endorsement from the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), which would cover all eligible activities.
School building funds for primary and secondary schools and religious education would be the main entities that would no longer be eligible for DGR status under the Commission’s proposals.
There are currently about 5,000 DGR endorsements for school building funds.
Philanthropy Australia is delighted to see the recommendation for the establishment of an independent philanthropic foundation controlled by – and for the benefit of – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to enhance the arrangements linking philanthropic and volunteer networks, and funding to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations.
The Productivity Commission states: “The Australian Government should provide funding toward an initial endowment, with additional contributions to the endowment provided by philanthropic funders. The endowment should be of sufficient size to ensure that the foundation is financially sustainable and independent.”
"While the benefits of community foundations are briefly discussed, there remains scope to consider policy reforms that would strengthen and expand the national network, while delivering a net economic benefit."
The commission makes an information request on the desirability of allowing people to make a bequest through superannuation, raising the potential for it to be a recommended reform in the final report.
The commission recommends listed companies be required to report donations money and assets to entities with DGR status in their tax returns.
The ATO would regularly publish aggregate information on corporate giving in Australia including, at a minimum, donations by company size, taxable status and industry.
The commission recommends the ACNC should require registered charities to separately report income from bequests in their annual information statement, and publicly report the aggregate data.
The Productivity Commission notes the important role of private ancillary funds (PAFs) and public ancillary funds (PuAFs) in driving rising philanthropic giving.
It recommends allowing smoothing of minimum distributions over three years. The commission also asks for views on whether minimum distribution rates should be higher or lower.
It recommends the ACNC and ATO work together to publish additional information on distributions by ancillary funds, including collecting and publishing additional information by sub-funds within public ancillary funds.
Philanthropy Australia will look to engage the Productivity Commission to encourage development of a suite of recommendations that could deliver a fundamental step-change increase in giving and a more generous culture.
At this stage, we are concerned there is more rigour applied to why reform should not occur than to the potential benefits of reform and how it can be designed to work effectively and efficiently.
In addition to considering super bequests, some of the areas that could be further considered include:
While the benefits of community foundations are briefly discussed, there remains scope to consider policy reforms that would strengthen and expand the national network, while delivering a net economic benefit.
While the risks and potential costs of this measure are extensively canvassed, there is very limited analysis of potential benefits and how a policy proposal could be designed to deliver a strong net benefit.
With government returning more than $30 billion each year in tax returns, a simple choice to donate some of the return could yield several billion each year for charity and become a positive national custom.
LLTs are briefly described in the report, but there is no analysis of the costs and benefits of implementing this reform, nor any attempt to design a reform that might deliver a cost-effective increase in giving.
The framework applied in the report focuses narrowly on tax and regulatory settings but does not include measures to foster a more generous and giving culture, which is a key determinant of national giving levels.
It would be good to collaborate further with the Productivity Commission on such measures, including:
How key actors, such as the philanthropy and business sector, could help drive giving, potentially working on reforms in partnership with government.
The PC provides helpful analysis on public campaigns and concludes: “A public campaign, supported by government, could help broaden participation in giving but there is insufficient evidence to conclude that such an intervention would be effective or produce net benefits.”
There is very strong evidence on the cost-effective benefits of campaigns in a suite of fields such as skin cancer.
In attempting a pioneering policy endeavour, where existing evidence is necessarily inconclusive, the next step would be to consider how a national giving campaign could be made to work to efficiently lift giving.
The report notes the importance of maintaining trust in the charity sector – which is important to spurring giving – and discusses how regulation can be strengthened accordingly.
Alternative means to maintaining trust are positive measures to build capability, such as creating a stronger cadre of effective fundraisers and charity leaders.
They could also involve measures to create a more favourable operating environment for charities, such as reducing red tape, providing longer contract lengths and full funding for provision of government services. These measures could be considered in the final report.
The commission has made some excellent recommendations to improve data collection in areas such as bequests and corporate giving.
The final report could identify how all the data could be organised into a single comprehensive national data set, led by a single agency and distributed regularly to guide policy and philanthropic activity.
With philanthropy and government playing complementary roles, the final report could consider simple governance arrangements that would facilitate more effective co-operation and drive stronger impact, including by drawing on the example of the Investment Dialogue for Australia’s Children.
With the report coming in at more than 170,000 words, Philanthropy Australia will take time to judiciously consider the content.
We will seek to provide a draft response to members before Christmas.
Member sessions to discuss the response will be held in late January, before we submit our final response to the Productivity Commission on February 9.
The commission will provide its final report to government on May 11, with the government response to follow thereafter.
This story has been republished with permission from Philanthropy Australia.
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