Charity begins at home, but shouldn’t end there

Posted on 16 Jan 2024

By Denis Moriarty

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Australians could do much more to help those less fortunate than themselves, writes Our Community group managing director Denis Moriarty.

Now I’ve had time to think about it, I suggest that the only good thing about losing the Voice referendum 40 to 60 is that it renders arguments about what the Yes campaign should have done differently more or less irrelevant.

Myself, I was optimistic well beyond the time when it was appropriate. Looking back, that’s probably because I didn’t run into many people arguing for No.

To put it another way, I’m a poster child for Aperol-spritz-sipping gender-fluid leftie wankers living in a cosy inner-city bubble.

I also work with the not-for-profit sector, which has its own conceptual framework, and if I’d taken that seriously I wouldn’t have been so surprised at the result.

To begin with, not-for-profits are all working for causes that haven’t got the support of the general public.

If they did have the enthusiastic support of the general public, the government would underpin them and we volunteers could step back.

Instead, we have to go out there and rattle the tin in front of a generally uninterested crowd to raise enough money to stagger on from week to week. Again, if the public was generous enough to stuff money into our hands without us asking we’d be free of worries.

That doesn’t happen either and we don’t expect it to.

One by one, individual charities and associations are pretty used to the idea that most Australians don’t share their priorities, and we can’t expect them to; we have to find a niche, a subgroup, a mini community of enthusiasts that we can call on for donations and volunteer participation and marching with banners. One or two per cent, not 51 per cent.

We know that we’re picking up the crumbs. Under 40 per cent of Australians give to good causes, and even they give on average less than 1 per cent of their incomes.

Most Australians, most of the time, think of themselves and their family, first and last.

Furthermore, they think the government should be thinking of them and their family rather than listening to not-for-profits and their causes. And to be sure, I’m more like the non-givers than I’m like the saints: I have a comfortable life, and I could give more than I do.

"Whatever community group you support, what Australia needs is more, and more serious, generosity."

Cost of living is top of Australians’ lists of concerns, and there’s a wide gap to second. I can sympathise, but I also feel that’s not the full story.

We activists can make the argument that paying attention to our concerns will save money in the long run – that dealing with global warming now will be cheaper than dealing with its consequences later, or that building homes for the homeless is better all round than dealing with them on the street, or, indeed, that it’s more effective to give Indigenous people control over their own affairs, but because we’re looking into our own corners we’re missing the real objection, which isn’t a practical one.

“Why are you talking about them when you could be talking about me?”

We Australians live, after all, in one of the two or three richest nations on the planet, in the most prosperous time in human history, with the lowest unemployment rate ever.

I’m not saying the country is perfect, or even acceptable – hell, I work with NFPs, and every day we see the gaps, the needs, more clearly than anyone. I’m just saying that every other time since the 1790s was worse.

Our Community group managing director Denis Moriarty.

Today, we’re well enough off to be more generous.

As a society, or a nation, or a world, we have no problems that can’t be solved by collective action. And yet we have very little appetite for collective action.

Sixty per cent of Australians, to reiterate, don’t give a dollar to anyone. Just about the one overriding principle that you could get past a referendum would be “Charity begins at home”.

Not-for-profits should be used to that and shouldn’t have been so dismayed on referendum night. Activists always know when they’re shifting mountains of apathy with a bucket and spade, the odd landslide is to be expected.

They’re not easily disheartened. Being kicked in the teeth is just another Monday. Tuesday, start again.

Whatever community group you support, what Australia needs is more, and more serious, generosity. Whichever way you voted, give $50 to a good cause today.

Just to loosen up the generosity muscles. You’ll thank me for it later.

Denis Moriarty is group managing director of, a social enterprise that helps Australia's 600,000 not-for-profits.

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