New sustainability guide for not-for-profits and charities

Karen McWilliams Fri, 3 Feb 2023

This article was contributed by Karen McWilliams from Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand

A new playbook from Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand (CA ANZ) offers actionable insights for not-for-profit (NFP) and charitable organisations on how to incorporate sustainability into their operations and supply chains.

Just as the corporate sector is under pressure to address the social and environmental impacts of their operations, the NFP and charity sector is also coming under scrutiny. This playbook aims to assist organisations to meet this challenge.

CA ANZ is a strong supporter of the NFP and charity sector’s crucial role in mitigating and solving the world’s urgent social and environmental problems. Many Chartered Accountants are engaged in the sector as advisors, auditors, employees, volunteers, or directors. CA ANZ, in conjunction with its Charities and NFP Segment Advisory Committee, provides practical resources for its members and the sector more broadly to assist them in this critical work.

“Charities and NFPs have important and far-reaching positive impacts on communities, the environment, and the economy – they are experts at achieving their purpose,” according to CA ANZ’s Business Reform Leader Karen McWilliams FCA. “However, taking an environmental and social lens to their strategy and operations – how they deliver on their purpose – is less likely to be on the agenda of medium and small NFPs.” 

“Taking an environmental and social lens to strategy and operations will become essential for NFPs to be financially sustainable, as well as create positive impact. Sustainability adoption will increasingly become a ‘must have’ not a ‘nice to have’ for organisations to survive and thrive into the future,” says McWilliams.

She explains the playbook provides practical insights into how charities and NFPs can balance sustainable action whilst remaining mission focused. “It aims to inspire and enable accountants and the charities and NFPs they work for/volunteer with/advise to take an environmental and social sustainability lens to their strategy and operations. By reading the playbook they will know how to, and hopefully want to, make a start on their sustainability journey if they haven’t yet done so.” 

Importantly, the playbook also highlights how incorporating a social and environmental lens can improve appeal to funders, employees and volunteers and strengthen an organisation’s resilience. 

“There’s a significant shift in the dial,” says Bhavesh Narsey CA, National Head of Not-For-Profit at Grant Thornton Australia, quoted in the playbook. “A greater focus from many stakeholders is on not just what an NFP does but how they deliver that service in the most sustainable way.”

“As we developed the playbook, it became clear that ambition is important but so too is the need to be pragmatic,” adds McWilliams. “It’s common for people who run NFPs to feel overwhelmed about how they can address sustainability in their organisations.  To overcome this, smaller organisations can start by identifying and calling out what they are already doing well.”

Organisations often already have individual initiatives in place, such as a ‘buy local’ policy or focus on policies enhancing the wellbeing of their employees and volunteers. Contributors stressed it’s also important to get buy-in from stakeholders including employees at all levels and volunteers to bring everyone along on the sustainability journey. Once an organisation has mapped what it is already doing well and got its people on board, it’s ready to embed sustainability more fully into its strategy.

“We knew it was important to include real people and real stories in the playbook to show what can be done across a range of organisations.”

The playbook spotlights NFPs already taking steps towards becoming more sustainable, including sharing their key learnings and tips. It also includes links to free resources organisations can access to assist them to incorporate sustainability into their operations.

This playbook supplements CA ANZ’s other resources for NFPs, including its flagship publication: Enhancing Not-for-Profit and Charity Reporting, now in its seventh edition   This outlines best practice annual, financial and performance reporting within the context of reporting regulations in Australia and New Zealand, and includes how to highlight impact by including environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance.  Access CA ANZ’s playbook here: Purpose, People and Planet: An environmental and social approach to sustainability in not-for-profits and charities