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Charity sector moves to improve complaint handling

May 02nd, 2018

By Dr Sue-Anne Wallace AM FAICD

Even before the Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse, it was clear from various media reports that many charities were not meeting community expectations in dealing appropriately with complaints.

Since late 2017 ten leading national peak bodiesi working in the charity sector - across emergency relief, fundraising, community organisations, volunteering, philanthropy and governance – have worked to develop a policy to significantly improve how charities handle complaints. See

Philanthropy Australia has been a key member of the peak body alliance, understanding that handling complaints can provide many benefits to charities – including building better relationships with donors and those they serve. For charity directors ensuring their charities handle complaints appropriately is critical to good governance and risk management. For philanthropists, good complaint handling ensures the charity is managing its relationships with those it serves and its donors as well as its reputation. Importantly this initiative creates accountabilities that exist in the public and private sectors and which should be standard business practice in the charity sector.

This initiative provides policy and procedure templates which charity boards can adopt or adapt to suit their size, nature, style, character and program delivery structure. Good complaint handling minimises exposure to risk and assists in improving service delivery. Importantly, it ensures that people in need – particularly those in vulnerable circumstances – have a safe and confidential avenue to raise complaints. This is critical to good governance of the sector and minimisation of harm to the beneficiaries of charitable services and others engaged with charities, enhancing community trust and confidence. Over time, charities will build complaint data which will highlight areas where improvements can be applied to their charitable activities.


i The Australia Council for International Development, Community Council Australia, Public Fundraising Regulatory Authority, Governance Institute of Australia, Fundraising Institute Australia, Our Community, Volunteering Australia, Philanthropy Australia, National Roundtable of Nonprofit Organisations and Justice Connect.


This work has been driven by Sue-Anne Wallace, who has extensive experience in working with self-regulation in the charity sector, from charitable fundraising to humanitarian relief. Following her international investigation of complaint handling in the not-for-profit sector under the auspices of a Churchill Fellowship, in 2016 – 2017 she engaged widely with business, philanthropic, charity and government leaders to develop a strategy to improve the manner in which charities handle complaints. The alliance of peak bodies was a key recommendation of an expert panel which met in August 2017.


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