Australia, take note — the charities sector has impact

The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) released the Australian Charities Report 2015 today, revealing the significant economic and social impact of the charities sector. Charities have a combined total income of $134.5 billion — an economic contribution of eight per cent of Australia’s GDP. The sector employs over 1.2 million staff, making it the second largest Australian sector for employment and has total assets of more than $267 billion.

The Chair of the ACNC Advisory Board, Tony Stuart, commented that ‘the combined income of the charity sector is larger than the energy, water and waste industry’.

Charities cross many sectors, of course, but such is its economic impact that if the sector was an industry it would rank 13th in terms of total income on the ABS industries table, as well as second by total employment — only the retail sector comes before it in terms of size as an employer. The charities sector accounts for approximately ten per cent of Australia’s total workforce.

The ACNC Commissioner, Susan Pascoe AM, noted at the launch that the top 100 charities — named for the first time in the 2015 report — control 90 per cent of the assets of the sector, making them not unlike the ASX100 in terms of impact.

Importantly, the sector has not only significant economic impact, but also significant social impact. As Tony Stuart noted at the launch of the report, many Australians choose to work in the sector, despite lower remuneration across occupation bands, because they understand that their work makes a difference and has social value. He commented that ‘the sector has heart’. The desire to make a contribution goes beyond employment, with over three million Australians volunteering for charities. The recent World Giving Index ranked Australia as the third most generous country and the Australian Charities Report 2015 shows that Australians donated $11.2 billion to charities last year — 2.4 per cent more than the year prior.

The large charities have incomes over $100 million, while 67 per cent of charities are very small, with incomes under $50,000. However, Dr Andrew Young, CEO of the Centre for Social Impact at UNSW, which produced the report in partnership with the ACNC, identified the sustainability indicators of the sector, showing that income alone cannot provide a full understanding of whether charities will continue to provide their services. Many of the small charities are embedded in their local communities, providing essential services and functioning well.

The report also shows that more than half the income of the sector is self-generated, rather than being provided by government grants or donations, which augurs well for the sustainability of charities. Dr Young pointed to the comprehensive data available after some years of analysing information on the Charities Register, and encouraged charities, policy makers and others to visit the microsite at where the interactive data cube can be found, alongside the report, providing stakeholders with the opportunity to dice and splice the data in granular fashion.

Dr Young noted that this data ‘is, and will increasingly be, crucial to our understanding of the evolution of the charity sector in the context of current and future reforms, for example in ageing, health care, disability and other fields of social services’.

Commissioner Pascoe also introduced the new Registered Charity Tick, that can be downloaded by registered charities and applied to their website and letterhead, providing donors with confidence that the charity they are supporting is an eligible charity registered with the regulator and subject to supervision.

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