Agony Uncle: Seeking fundraising permission for big donors

In this help sheet series, Our Community’s resident agony uncle, Chris Borthwick, offers answers to frequently asked questions about issues not-for-profits are facing.

Does my charity need a fundraising licence to seek donations from wealthy individuals?

Q. Dear Agony Uncle,

I work for a charity, and on your website I came across your help sheet called A guide to major donations. Can you tell me if fundraising licences are required from each state and territory to receive major donations – i.e. if we approach a high net worth individual and are lucky enough to receive a donation?

C. King-Rockefeller, Adelaide

Chris Borthwick, Our Community's thinker-in-residence


Dear Ms King-Rockefeller,

There are two answers to your question: one legal, one practical.

In legal terms, the exact requirements of the various charitable fundraising acts differ from state to state. In general, though, they’re designed around tin-rattling rather than individual face-to-face requests for donations. Here’s how things stand in each jurisdiction:

ACT – Charities registered with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) no longer need to hold a charitable collections licence at all, so no problem.

NSW – Yes, you will most likely need to obtain authority if you’re raising money from a donor in that state.

NT – Doesn’t have a Collections Act at all, let alone rules on this.

Qld – Basically only regulates appeals to the general public (as distinct from appeals to individuals).

SA – Charities registered with the ACNC no longer need to hold a charitable collections licence.

Tas – Yes, you will need to obtain authority, unless your organisation is incorporated in Tasmania.

Vic – Fundraising authority is not required if you’re personally acquainted with the donor. I think that clause is satisfied if you address them by their first name at some time during the presentation of the cheque.

WA – Basically only regulates appeals to the general public (as distinct from appeals to individuals).

In summary, unless your donor is in NSW or Tasmania, you have nothing to worry about in a legal sense.

That said, in practical terms, even if you are in one of those retrograde states, you still shouldn’t have a second’s concern. While the state regulators do very occasionally intervene in the affairs of giant koalas carrying buckets, they never – and I mean never – bother to break down doors to come between a generous donor and a willing charity. They haven’t got the staff to police it, and they wouldn’t want to if they could. You’re acting in good faith and you should go right ahead.

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