Not-for-profit news blog: Latest developments in the sector

Posted on 10 May 2023

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Stay in touch with news, information, and politics affecting the community sector.

Updated: Thursday, April 13

Not-for-profits hail federal budget as a good first step

Budget edition
Tap to read the Our Community Matters special 2023 budget edition.

Australian not-for-profits and charities are expected to do much of the heavy lifting when it comes to doing good, and were watching carefully as Treasurer Jim Chalmers brought down his second budget. Working with charity peak body the Community Council for Australia, we asked sector leaders how their organisations will be affected.

Updated: Thursday, April 13

The Voice: Create a better future at your kitchen table

Uluru coalition
Members of the Allies for Uluru Coalition meeting in Melbourne

Progressive Australians across the country are activating campaigns to support a constitutionally enshrined Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

Our Community group managing director Denis Moriarty said he believed most of the community sector would follow the desires of Indigenous leaders and add their voices in favour.

He derided the Liberal Party’s official position on the Voice as “pathetic” and believed most Australians would see through the cynical stance.

“I’m truly sad that a party that claims to want to do the right thing by Indigenous groups won’t listen to the unequivocal call made in the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

“If they want to know what Indigenous groups really want, they should listen to First Nations advocate Thomas Mayor’s landmark address to our members recently urging all Australians to support a constitutional change.”

Mr Moriarty said Our Community’s Communities in Control conference would be held during National Reconciliation Week, and would be another opportunity for supporters of the Voice to meet informally and talk tactics.

Our Community has formally endorsed the Albanese government’s wording for constitutional change as a member of the Allies for Uluru Coalition, which represents 180 civil society groups campaigning in favour of the change.

Our Community joined more than 100 other members of Allies for Uluru for the first of of many meetings aimed at backing the Uluru Statement from the Heart and the Yes campaign.

Representatives shared news of their work in meeting MPs, translating campaign materials into many languages and for every platform, and working with Indigenous groups and key supporters, including donors.

A key concern among delegates was recent polling, conducted before the Liberal Party announced its position, that showed support for a “Yes” vote was drifting lower, having fallen six percentage points to 59% between February and late March.

That polling revealed the lowest support for a Yes vote in Queensland (49%) and Western Australia (55%), and among Coalition (43%) and minor party (41%) supporters, and the over 55s (40%). Pollsters were also concerned by a 13% slump in the “hard yes” support by young voters and Greens supporters.

Organisers said the polls and anecdotal evidence highlighted the value of grassroots influence campaigns.

As an advocate for the Uluru Statement from the Heart, Mr Moriarty is among thousands of Australians who’ve signed up to take part in a grassroots push to support an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

Participants host kitchen table conversations as a positive way of engaging others about the referendum as part of the Together, Yes campaign created by the Victorian Women’s Trust.

Trust executive director Mary Crooks said there had been a huge level of support for the program, which was bringing the issue directly to communities.

"Grassroots momentum for constitutional recognition is building on the back of thousands of conversations among friends, families, and colleagues around the nation," Ms Crooks said.

More 'Yes' campaign resources

Read more: Sector creates coalition on 'Yes' vote

The Uluru Statement | Resources | Supporter kit

Uluru Statement signatory Thomas Mayor: Why not-for-profits should speak up for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament | Watch his ‘Rethinking the Community Sector’ lecture

Together, Yes: Join the ‘kitchen conversations’ movement | Watch their webinar

Yes23: Australians for Indigenous Constitutional Recognition

Passing the Message Stick: Support for First Nations self-determination and justice

E-learning 20-minute course: Indigenous Constitutional Recognition through a Voice

From the Heart video explainers

Buzz builds for community conference

Communities in Control speakers
This year's Communities in Control features some great speakers including (L-R, top to bottom): Craig Foster, Julianne Schultz, Marlikka Perdrisat, Holly Ransom, Antoinette Lattouf, Simon Longstaff, Lachlan McIver, Anjalee de Silva.

Hundreds of delegates have already locked in their place at this year’s Communities in Control, as Our Community celebrates the 21st anniversary of the biggest gig on the social sector calendar.

The 2023 event (May 29–30) is one not to miss, as the not-for-profit world’s biggest movers and shakers gather to hear Australia’s most progressive thinkers and doers “search for the soul of the nation”.

Just one highlight among 14 unforgettable speakers and performers will be the launch of a powerful new free tool to help community organisations fight for a fairer nation.

The Australian Inequality Index, financially supported by Our Community and developed by progressive thinktank Per Capita, will give organisations access to the kind of compelling data normally available only to the corporate sector.

Per Capita’s Emma Dawson will reveal early findings from the index, which draws together six sub-indices covering gender, Indigenous Australians, ethnicity, intergenerational issues, wealth and income.

The index will enable the sector to rapidly assess how major government policies and budget decisions affect inequality, and to track changes over time.

Ms Dawson said the tool was the kind of evidence base that big companies would normally pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for and predicted the freely available database would become a “go-to tool for policy makers, for advocates and the public”.

“Measuring the distribution of wealth and opportunity across society is critical to understanding where and how policy interventions should be targeted to create a fairer and more equal Australia,” she said.

She said the index would be interactive, open source and available on the web, with the data freely available to NFP and community organisations through Per Capita’s data centre.

Read more about Communities in Control 2023.

CIC promo tile

Pro Bono News service ends

Pro Bono Australia has ended its news service 22 years after it launched, having struggled to keep the service viable with a paid subscriber model.

Company founder Karen Mahlab, in a video address to celebrate the legacy of the service, said it had been “a privilege to serve this sector and keep a space and give voice to the emergence of the incredible social economy that has developed over the last two decades.”

Community Council for Australia chief David Crosbie was among the sector leaders to pay tribute to the masthead. In a commentary, he said the service had been “invaluable” to the sector through its ability to provide a “collective voice” in pushing for fair funding, the preservation of the ACNC and many other campaigns.

Not-for-profit advocates are more confident: study

Professor Sarah Maddison
Professor Sarah Maddison

Charities and not-for-profits are more optimistic they will be able to be involved in advocacy without being hit with a punitive response, a national report commissioned by the Stronger Charities Alliance has found.

The report Voices for Change: Researching not-for-profit advocacy in Australia found that groups were more confident in the health of democracy than in the previous year.

Melbourne University research leader and report author Professor Sarah Maddison wrote that 79 per cent of respondents in the late 2022 study of 401 groups felt their advocacy had been more successful in the past five years.

It’s a stark change from the 2004 study in the series, which found a “grim picture of the state of public debate”, and from the 2017 study, which found many groups were “self-silencing” to avoid retribution.

The positive trend is also reflected in the name of the Stronger Charities Alliance, which until last year was called Hands Off Our Charities.

Yet despite this, there are still significant concerns that advocacy work may jeopardise not-for-profits’ government funding, DGR status, and “accidental non-compliance with complex electoral laws”. There also remains concerns about the prospect of anti-protest laws, which could have “a chilling effect on Australian democracy”.

The biggest concerns for advocates included under-funding, especially for advocacy work, and laws and regulations that create “obstacles and threats” to groups wanting to be voices for change.

But Prof Maddison warned that the sector should not become complacent in the more benign environment and should continue to push for progressive law reforms.

“As previous reports have made abundantly clear, support for civil society advocacy is too-often subject to the politics of the day … the attacks on charities in the last ten years are evidence of this.”

Read more

Gambling reform advocates hope to change the odds of harm

The Gambling Harm Symposium on Monday, May 1, in Adelaide will see advocates gather to examine the mounting evidence of gambling-related harm.

Speakers will include investigative journalist Nick McKenzie, the Alliance for Gambling Reform’s Tim Costello, and outspoken independent politicians including Andrew Wilkie, Rebekha Sharkie and David Pocock. They’ll join leading experts in public health, people who have suffered the effects of gambling and many others seeking solutions for “a problem that has been largely left to grow out of control”. More details

UPDATED: Wednesday, March 15

Volunteer strategy looks to 2033

Mark Pearce
Volunteering Australia CEO Mark Pearce

A National Strategy for Volunteering, developed over the past year by peak bodies, researchers and volunteer organisations, has laid out a blueprint for the next decade.

Volunteering Australia CEO Mark Pearce said the 88-page document distilled the input of thousands of stakeholders and “presents our collective vision for a future where volunteering is at the heart of Australian communities”.

The strategy aims to improve the volunteer experience, celebrate the impact of volunteering and create the right conditions for volunteering to thrive.

Pearce stressed that a “concerted effort” would be needed to implement the strategy, warning “the future of volunteering is not assured”.

Read the strategy here.

What happens to all those reviews into the NFP sector?

Much of the work into reviews of the NFP sector has been ignored.

Community Directors Council member Myles McGregor-Lowndes has cast his eye across reports and recommendations into the sector spanning 30 years and concluded that most suggested reforms have been ignored.

His in-depth study of several major reports representing 50,000 pages of expertise found that just 21 of 160 recommendations had been implemented.

His study examined funding and fundraising, regulation, evaluation, volunteering, data collection, tax, sector development, governance and much more.

Professor McGregor-Lowndes says his intention is for readers of his study to “contemplate their own selection of worthy recommendations” to help inform the latest round of consultations on the future of the sector.

Community Council for Australia CEO David Crosbie described the study as the “most important” report he’d seen for several years. Read the report.

Price pressures put premium on value of NFP Insurance Week

Ahead of Our Community’s free NFP Insurance Week webinars (March 27–31), Aon’s Derek Turner has warned groups to brace for insurance cost increases amid changes to interest rates, reinsurance costs and a spate of natural disasters.

Not-for-profits should expect changes to coverage terms, higher excesses, and reduced protection. In some risk categories, insurers had dropped out of the market entirely, Mr Turner said.

Elsewhere in the insurance space, he said, cybercrime was now the “fastest growing crime in the world”, and NFPs were fooling themselves if they believed they were “too small to be a target”.

NFP Insurance Week gives not-for-profits the chance to win up to $25,000, and offers free webinars on fundraising, insurance costs, cybersecurity, community events insurance and more.

Read more about Derek Turner’s 2023 predictions and those of other NFP experts in our special report.

Review aims to boost charity donations

The Productivity Commission is to lead a review of Australian philanthropy, as part of the Albanese government’s goal of doubling philanthropic giving by 2030.

Minister for charities Andrew Leigh said that philanthropic support “underpins the crucial efforts of charities, not-for-profit organisations and community groups to support vulnerable Australians and build social capital and connectedness in Australian communities”.

The commission will call for submissions later this month, before public hearings, a draft report, and a final report in 2024. Read more.

Sue Woodward
ACNC Commissioner Sue Woodward

Major milestone for fundraising reforms

Commonwealth, state and territory treasurers have agreed to “harmonise” the existing mess of fundraising rules following a meeting last month.

In a move hailed by sector advocates, the many jurisdictions will lay out their strategies by July to make regulatory and legislative changes to smooth the way for fundraisers.

While it is not yet clear whether the changes will see states and territories accept fundraising registrations made in other jurisdictions, the main aim of the overhaul is to slash paperwork. Mr Leigh said the changes would save the sector $1 million a month.

Speaking to the ABC about his talks with different authorities, he said: “I haven't encountered anyone that thinks that we should keep on going with the mishmash of outdated fundraising laws. Everyone recognises we've got to update the charitable fundraising laws in an environment in which we're asking our charities to do more, but they're struggling to get the volunteers and the donations that they need.”

ACNC commissioner Sue Woodward, a former campaigner for fundraising reforms, declared on Twitter that the move was “a pathway to major red tape reduction”. Read more

Donations tax status needs more work

Charity groups have so far reacted positively to deductible gift recipient (DGR) registration changes aimed at giving more power to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) and cutting red tape when it comes to deciding who qualifies for the tax bonus.

The Stronger Charities Alliance, which represents 53 organisations, supports the bill. But it is also likely to push for greater simplification of the entire DGR system, especially for smaller and newer organisations, noting that many charities are unable to access DGR status because of complex rules. Read the alliance’s submission.

The ATO is also in the process of revoking the DGR status of groups that are not registered charities or government agencies, and which have not won a temporary extension of their status. Our Community has previously argued that all NFPs should have DGR status.

Find out more about DGR status from this help sheet.

Crackdown on ‘private’ NFP foundations

The ATO has flagged it has begun investigating the improper use of “private” NFP foundations as way of evading tax.

Assistant Commissioner Jennifer Moltisanti said the office was investigating intelligence about an arrangement in which a promotor set up a foundation it claimed was tax exempt, even though it involved income-producing activities and used funds for the benefit of participants. Read more.

Conference aims to activate tech for social justice

Connecting Up

Not-for-profits wanting to do more with tech should consider the Connecting Up Conference, taking place May 10–12 at the Melbourne Convention Centre.

Powered by Infoxchange, the event will feature eSafety commissioner Julie Inman Grant, ACNC commissioner Sue Woodward, Professor Sarah Pink on emerging tech, Pro Bono Australia's Karen Mahlab and Code Like a Girl's Ally Watson, as well as masterclasses on media, cybersecurity, leadership, marketing and IT strategy. Read more.

Awards for not-for-profit leadership excellence

The inaugural Not-for-profit Leadership Awards are accepting nominations in six categories, recognising individuals, teams and organisations that have demonstrated “excellence and courage in their leadership”. Nominations close on April 2, with winners announced in Sydney in June. Find out more from the award organisers, the Australian Scholarships Foundation, here.

UPDATED: Wednesday, February 8

Tax status review gives more power to the ATO

This article is adapted from a post on the Facebook page NPHH – Australia by our thinker-in-residence, Chris Borthwick.

Charities law in the spotlight again

The assistant minister for charities, Andrew Leigh, wants to reform the deductible gift recipient (DGR) registration process, in part to cut down on political interference. To kick it off he's launching a consultation process, calling for responses by 19 February, which isn't very long.

This sounds as if it's relevant only to new applicants for DGR status and as if those of you who are already DGRs can ignore it. On closer examination, I'm not so sure.

The situation is that at the moment you can get DGR status either by being eligible for DGR status or by not being eligible for DGR status but going through one of four pass-through bodies:

  • Register of Cultural Organisations, administered by the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts
  • Register of Environmental Organisations, administered by the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water
  • Register of Harm Prevention Charities, administered by the Department of Social Services
  • Overseas Aid Gift Deductibility Scheme, administered by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

As the process is administered by those departments, the relevant ministers can interfere, and under the last government often did so. To prevent that:

Chris Borthwick
Thinker-in-residence Chris Borthwick, aka "Agony Uncle". Tap his picture for more great NFP advice.

“The reform is intended to transfer administration of the 4 unique DGR categories from portfolio agencies to the Australian Tax Office (ATO). The ATO would gain responsibility for assessing eligibility for the 4 unique DGR categories, consistent with the 48 other DGR general categories. The ATO would continue to be responsible for the endorsement of all 52 DGR categories. This change is intended to make all DGR categories consistent in administration, reduce red tape imposed on endorsed organisations, and simplify the application process for organisations seeking DGR status.”

They're keeping the same guidelines, and are obviously trying to change as little as possible. If you're one of those organisations getting DGR through one of the agencies, you should prick up your ears, nonetheless.

For one thing, the agencies currently have absolutely no reason to refuse any application; it's not their money. The ATO may have more incentive to quibble. This probably won't extend to going back over existing DGR registrations, I suppose, but I know which office I'd rather have as a landlord.

More generally, it's hard to have consistency when the law is a wilderness of single instances without any internal logic.

Anyway, there's a draft bill over at the website, and you should check it out.

More about how DGR status works

Charity groups have so far reacted positively to the change with the Stronger Charities Alliance in support of the bill. But it is also likely to push for greater simplification of the entire DGR system, especially for smaller and newer organisations.

Thursday, February 3

How your not-for-profit can successfully navigate 2023

Australian not-for-profits must continue to work hard to adapt to a world facing endemic covid-19, a never-ending financial squeeze, rapid technological, environmental and workplace changes, and a more promising political situation.

Susan Pascoe
Susan Pascoe, former charities regulator and chair of the Institute of Community Directors Australia's Community Directors Council.

That’s the view of the many not-for-profit leaders and experts featured in this special report on the biggest trends in the sector in 2023.

According to a snap poll of our followers on the Not-for-profit Happy Hour Facebook page, the issues of most concern to NFP leaders are:

  1. Funding pressures
  2. A difficult environment for fundraising and donations
  3. Rising costs, interest rates and inflation
  4. Growing demand for services
  5. Lack of volunteers
  6. Workforce issues, including recruitment challenges
  7. Cybersecurity
  8. Inadequate governance

The two dozen experts we spoke to said community-based organisations should focus on harnessing emerging opportunities to thrive in the face of the challenges of the coming year.

Read our in-depth report.

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