Groundhog Day for fundraising reform in Australia?

By: Sarah Wickham   |   Policy and Research Director, Philanthropy Australia   |   https://www.philanthropy.org.au/about-us/staff/sarah-wickham/

If you follow charitable sector news, you will have seen recent talk about a proposed new model for national fundraising in Australia. The model is the brainchild of a Charitable Fundraiser National Working Group, a group composed of government officials from each state and territory as well as representatives from the ACNC and is outlined in a discussion paper titled Cross-border recognition model for charitable fundraisers.

It is no secret that the charitable sector has been advocating for serious fundraising reform for at least the last decade, if not longer. I have lost count of the number of inquiries, independent reviews and reports on the state of Australia’s fundraising regime, that all agreed on the need for serious reform. This ongoing headache is now more acute as the sector grapples with the unprecedented complexities of COVID-19. Our outdated and burdensome fundraising laws are not only curtailing the ability of charities to deliver during one of our country’s greatest economic and health challenges, but also stifling innovation that is desperately needed for the sector to evolve in the rebuilding phase.

When regulation is so outdated that it doesn’t recognise the invention of the internet and still refers to Word War Two as the ‘present war’, you know something has to change. Not to mention, the requirements of seven different fundraising regimes across states and territories (all with different forms, police checks, declarations and financial paperwork) mean that charities run up huge costs and productivity losses when running a national fundraising campaign. The red tape is so burdensome that it’s estimated to cost the sector over $15 million annually.

This framework is also impeding the efforts of philanthropic organisations and businesses that are working to grow Australia’s culture of giving. Community foundations, trustee companies and wealth management firms, which use public ancillary funds to raise and distribute funds, or enable clients to create philanthropic sub-funds, must also comply with these regulations. During a time where giving is declining and the government would like to see more Australians give if they can afford to do so, we would prefer to see the resources these organisations currently dedicate to compliance redirected towards growing giving in Australia, and ensuring that their philanthropy is effective and impactful.

Given this very long and windy path towards fundraising regulatory reform, Philanthropy Australia welcomes the proposed model as an attempt by governments to solve this problem. We see it as a step in the right direction, but implore the Working Group to collaborate with sector leaders on an outcome that achieves meaningful red tape reduction and saves resources.

As a founding member of the #FixFundraising alliance, Philanthropy Australia’s submission to the Working Group is aligned with charitable sector leaders, and also endorses the new Australian Fundraising Principles developed by the Charities Crisis Cabinet (another example of how the sector is leading on strengthening public trust in charities). 

Philanthropy Australia’s submission on the cross-border recognition model for charitable fundraisers outlines:

  1. Support for the role of the ACNC as the single point for charitable fundraising registration
  2. Concern regarding the option of allowing different jurisdictions to impose “additional conditions” on charities on top of the deemed fundraising licence
  3. A request to ensure any changes made achieve red tape reduction and save regulatory resources
  4. A call for commitment to a roadmap for a nationally consistent approach to fundraising laws, which is completed by the end of 2021 at the latest

The problems with Australia’s fundraising framework have been identified and solutions articulated time and time again. It is now time for governments to show leadership and work together with the sector to deliver meaningful change. There is only so much governments can do to ease the burden of COVID on charities and their bottom lines, but one thing that is well and truly within their power is getting rid of unnecessary fundraising red tape. When donors give to charities, they want that money to be used innovatively, to address issues that matter and support communities in need – not directed towards tedious compliance with seven different regulatory regimes.

If you are interested in reading more detail on Philanthropy Australia’s submission you can view it here.

You can also read more detail on the Charitable Fundraising National Working Group here and the proposed model discussion paper here.

Sep. 23, 2020

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