Sector overview

What is philanthropy?

Philanthropy is the planned and structured giving of time, information, goods and services, influence and voice as well as money to improve the wellbeing of humanity and the community.

The not-for-profit sector

Philanthropic practice is part of the not-for-profit sector, which is also known as the community sector or the third sector.

As the name implies, the sector consists of organisations whose purpose is something other than the generation of profit or gain for individual members or directors.

The not-for-profit sector in Australia is large and diverse, with more than 600,000 not-for-profit organisations including approximately 5,000 trusts and foundations, including ancillary funds, nationwide.

The not-for-profit sector covers activities and services in cause areas such as:

  • Ageing futures
  • Animals
  • Arts, culture and humanities
  • CALD communities (Culturally & Linguistically Diverse Communities)
  • Children/youth at risk
  • Civil society
  • Community development
  • Crime, justice and legal issues
  • Disability
  • Disaster relief
  • Education
  • Employment and training
  • Environment
  • Health, wellbeing and medical research
  • Housing and homelessness
  • Indigenous programs
  • International development and international relations
  • Poverty and disadvantage
  • Philanthropy, voluntarism and non-profit infrastructure
  • Recreation and sport
  • Religion and spirituality
  • Science and technology

Generally, government is not considered part of the not-for-profit sector, except some government-linked bodies such as schools, hospitals, universities and museums.

Types of not-for-profit organisations:

  • Advocacy groups
  • Charities that provide assistance to the needy and disadvantaged
  • Community child care centres
  • Environmental conservation organisations
  • Hobby clubs
  • Local sporting groups
  • Medical research organisations
  • Philanthropic trusts & foundations
  • Public hospitals
  • Special schools


Some not-for-profit organisations are charities. Charities are altruistic entities that the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission has registered as charitable. Charities may care for people who are sick or disabled, provide relief after disasters, promote religion or provide educational scholarships, as well as many other purposes beneficial to the community.

The categories of charitable purposes are defined in the 2013 Charities Act.

Trust and foundations

Trusts and foundations are not-for-profit entities that hold money in trust for the public benefit and make grants of money for charitable purposes. Generally a foundation will have an asset base known as a corpus, and the income from the corpus is given away in the form of grants or donations.

Trusts and foundations are governed by trustees or directors. Trustees are responsible for making decisions about investments and giving – they must ensure the trust earns and re-invests income, and continues to operate for charitable purposes for which it was established.

Further information


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