Each year, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC), in collaboration with the Centre for Social Impact and the Social Policy Research Centre at the University of New South Wales, conducts research into Australia’s charity sector and publishes a report on the findings. In December 2015, the latest research report, Australian Charities Report 2015, was released, revealing a fascinating view of the charity sector and offering important insights for charity boards.
Comprising the information collected via charities’ 2015 Annual Information Statements, Australian Charities Report 2015 is the most comprehensive analysis of the charity sector to date. It paints a picture of a charity sector larger, and of greater economic significance, than many people would have thought.
In 2015, Australian charities employed more than 1.2 million people and reported a collective income of $134.5 billion. This makes the charity sector the second-largest for employment in Australia, and attributes 8.3 per cent of Australia’s GDP to registered charities.
An encouraging finding, especially for charity board members grappling with the difficulties of securing funding, is that donations and bequests grew by 2.4 per cent in 2015 to a total of $11.2 billion. This assuages any fears that Australians’ generosity and desire to contribute to charitable causes was waning; the data suggests that it remains strong. In support of this notion, the report also notes that almost 3 million volunteers gave up their time to work for a charity in 2015.
But the report is not simply academic exercise. A clever board will see that it, along with the available data, can be a valuable practical resource that provides a unique look at the state of the charity sector and tools with which to understand its trends, direction and sustainability. The insights on offer present opportunities for charity boards and can be used to set new goals, make strategic plans and prioritise the allocation of limited funds.
It is important that charity boards consider the contribution that independent research and data can make to their planning. Where it once may have been a time-consuming, costly effort for a charity board to gather a rich source of information about their sector, the release of Australian Charities Report 2015 and the availability of the research data means they now have it available for free at the click of a mouse.
Australian Charities Report 2015 provides information about specific charity sub-sectors and services, offers an insight into the financial situation of these sub-sectors, and sets a context for future direction. Charity boards can examine the state of their area or sub-sector with relative ease, potentially leading to innovative decision-making and new opportunities. They can use the information in the report and the data to inform decisions on strategic priorities and set new goals or even cut back on others. They may find opportunities for collaboration on services, expansion into new areas, or even new sources of funding.
With the research data freely available, charity boards are no longer left to consider important decisions about their charity’s future direction in the dark – they have unprecedented access to valuable information which can help shed light on such decisions.
Charity boards should embrace the opportunities that research and data present. An effective and sustainable charity will be led by a board that recognises the benefits of using research and data to make evidence-based decisions and explore ways to innovate and evolve. This can lead to a more engaged board, better charity governance, and a greater chance of finding financial stability and, ultimately, sustainability.
The ACNC encourages charity boards to use Australian Charities Report 2015 and the research data to improve governance and support a vibrant, innovative and sustainable sector. Charity boards can get Australian Charities Report 2015 and access the research data at australiancharities.acnc.gov.au