By Gary Johns, commissioner, Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission
With the new year comes renewed optimism for the charity sector. New and exciting opportunities await, and of course we will all face challenges.
One of the biggest challenges facing charity directors (or "responsible persons" as the ACNC legislation refers to them) is governance. Charity governance accounts for nearly 20% of all concerns raised with the ACNC, second only to private benefit, which is generally the result of governance failures.
Our most recent Compliance Report highlighted governance standard 5 - duties of responsible persons (or directors) - as a major area of concern. When we assessed the compliance investigations we had undertaken in the previous 12 months, we found that this standard was the primary issue in more than half of those investigations.
I am pleased to announce that there will be an opportunity for charities, particularly smaller charities, to strengthen their governance in 2019. In March we will launch the new charity governance toolkit. The toolkit will package up all of the existing governance information we have available to charities and add new guides, factsheets, templates and webinars on four key subjects:
We know the vast majority of charity directors want to do the right thing; hopefully these new resources can help more charities stay on the right track.
This year charity directors will also benefit from the ACNC's new IT infrastructure, specifically the Charity Portal - the online system charities use to submit their Annual Information Statement. The new portal is a vast improvement on the original version, which was built over six years ago.
Charities using the new portal for the first time will need to log in using their email address (not their ABN, as was the case with the old portal) and then create a new password.
We have information on our website to help and we have begun to email detailed instructions to charities that we know have not logged in yet.
As with charity governance, a challenge can lead to an opportunity. Now that the new Charity Portal and Charity Register are online, we can maximise their potential.
One opportunity I want to focus on in 2019 is using the data we capture in the Charity Portal (particularly from the Annual Information Statement) to connect donors with charities via the Charity Register.
The Charity Register is searched nearly 1 million times per year. It is indeed a powerful tool for donors.
I encourage charities to take the opportunity to describe their work to potential donors by providing more insightful responses to question 12 of the Annual Information Statement. The responses charities provide will be published verbatim on the charity's 'Overview' page. This can tell a donor, at a glance, exactly what your charity does and who or what it helps.
I also encourage charities to provide a website address to the ACNC, so we can give donors a direct link if they wish to support you. At present, only a quarter of registered charities have provided us with a website.
Some small charities, particularly the one-third with annual revenue of less than $50,000, may not have the resources to create and maintain a website. If that is you, I recommend you consider a social media account, which is usually free of charge. At the ACNC we have our own social media accounts and find them a cost-effective and impactful way to engage with the sector and the community. If you provide us with the link to the Facebook page for your charity, we will publish it on the Charity Register, just as we would if it was a standard website URL. This will help donors find and engage with you quickly and easily.
This is a significant opportunity for smaller charities to connect with new volunteers and donors. Once you log into the new Charity Portal, you will find instructions on how to provide a URL. It's simple to do.
Many more challenges and opportunities await us in 2019. If you would like to stay up to date with all of the work we are doing at the ACNC, subscribe to my fortnightly Commissioner's Column or connect with us on social media by visiting acnc.gov.au.
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