Release of ACNC’s Australian Charities 8th Edition Report

By: Rebecca Moriarty   |   Project Manager at Philanthropy Australia   |

The highly-anticipated charities report capturing the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and aftermath of the summer 2019-20 bushfires was released earlier this week by the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) and revealed a complex picture of increased donations and revenue offset by a telling rise in expenses. The findings showcase the immense and distinct importance of charitable work and of public support for the sector, especially in times of crises.

The report shows that although the charity sector employed 10 per cent of the Australian workforce, there were 2000 charities which did not operate during the reporting year. That included 650 charities who did not operate because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although volunteering appeared healthy, numbers were down by 220,000, another probable consequence of the pandemic. But one particular area showed significant volunteer growth – in a trend perhaps borne out by events in the Federal election, charities described as organisations ‘advancing the natural environment’, recorded the most volunteers.

Total revenue for charities increased

Total revenue for charities increased to $176 billion in 2020, up from $166 billion in 2019. The majority of the increase was attributable to increased government support (including the JobKeeper payment) resulting in the proportion of total revenue rise to 50% (from about 47% in 2019).

Donations and bequests increased to $12.7 billion, about a $900 million increase, enough to offset the fall in revenue from investments.


But expenses increased at a greater rate

Employee expenses remained the single largest expense for charities in 2020, at over 55% of total expenses. This cost rose by $7.8 billion or 9%, partly reflecting the shift towards relatively more full and part-time employees, rather than casual employees.  The largest increase in percentage terms was interest expense (mainly in the larger charities) at 35% or $400 million.

Overall, net income fell below 6% to 5.4% in 2020, compared to the relatively stable levels in the previous two years.



For the first time, reporting on the sector by the programs charities run

A new element in this years’ report is the reporting by Charity Program, which aligns with ACNC’s online Charity Register This was launched earlier this year, and better reflects the complex and multifaceted settings charities operate in. An organisation’s work can be delivered across a range of programs supporting concurrent objectives.

There were more than 75,000 programs reported in 2020. Charities undertook between one and four programs on average. The highest numbers of programs related to Religion (22.3%, mainly in smaller sized charities), followed by Education (16.5%) and Human Services (15.8%). Additionally, about 28% and 45% of Education and Human Services programs, respectively, addressed multiple sub-types highlighting the intersections across program areas. For e.g supporting job services and healthcare access. ACNC’s data can be explored further on ACNC’s interactive data table online here.


Future reports will continue to tell the story about the changing landscape of Australian charities

Government support did not perfectly align with all charities’ reporting periods and government support continued in 2021 so these effects will be documented in future versions of the report, along with all the other dynamics captured in this report.

Revisiting this period of time also brings to mind all the stories that have been captured and shared with Philanthropy Australia across the sector through Australian Philanthropy’s Response to the COVID-19 Crisis Pledge, various COVID resources and surveys, and previous blog posts (including housing, community sport and collaboration during COVID and the bushfires) frankly acknowledging the challenges but also with a positive and energised outlook on the future of the sector and the people in it.

Jun. 09, 2022

Philanthropy Weekly Newsletter

Sign up to our weekly e-newsletter for sector news, expert opinion and resources.

Sign up here