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Australia’s fundraising laws are a mess. That’s why Justice Connect is leading the campaign to #FixFundraising.
The aim of the #FixFundraising campaign is to achieve simplified, nationally consistent laws for charitable fundraising. Australia deserves laws that are modern, provide transparency and protect the wishes of donors.
Laws that support the sector, not hold it back with red tape that wastes precious resources that could be better spent in Australian communities.
Why we need to fix fundraising
Currently, Australia’s fundraising laws are a mess. Complex. Out of date and ineffective.
Australia has seven different sets of fundraising laws – each state and the ACT (not in the NT).
These laws were developed before the internet, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC), and the Australian Consumer Law.
When fundraising online, charities need permission under each of these laws and then need to comply with seven different requirements, including reporting, about how they can raise money.
In addition to these seven sets of laws, charities must comply with the Australian Consumer law (don’t mislead or deceive donors), criminal laws (fraud) and local government laws (door knocking and street collections) and various codes (what times you can phone people).
Lots of laws, but no clear, practical answer to the common question people running a charity ask:
“We want to put a donate button on our website, what do we need to do?”
A recent research report that involved over 600 charities and not-for-profits shows that the majority:
- find the fundraising registration process is either ‘very complex with a lot of excessive information required’, or ‘somewhat complex’ (between 57 – 88% depending on which state)
- the impact of current fundraising rules and registration processes is ‘significant’
- use online fundraising, however, 39% don’t know they need to comply with different state and territory licences and regulations when raising funds online.
From the recent Royal Commission into Natural Disasters, to earlier Senate Committee and Productivity Commission Reports, as well as other independent inquiries spanning decades, we're not the only ones who have recognised the burden that the laws place on the sector.
The need to #FixFundraising has ramped up with COVID-19 – public collections and fundraising events (fun runs, sausage sizzles) have been cancelled with more charities needing to ask for donations online.
What we’ve achieved so far
We’ve built a coalition of peak bodies, professional advisers and many hundreds of not-for-profits of all shapes and sizes from across Australia.
The #FixFundraising campaign has seen slow, incremental progress.
The campaign has helped ensure most states and territories have changed their laws so registration with the ACNC provides a streamlined path to holding a fundraising licence. We are still advocating for Queensland and Tasmania to do the same and for all states and territories to use the ACNC reports to satisfy their fundraising reporting requirements.
As a result of our pressure, we now also have clear guidance about how the Australian Consumer Laws apply to charitable fundraising. This law − which is enforced co-operatively by state, territory and federal agencies – provides important protections for donors and means many of the old fundraising laws aren’t necessary.
What we're calling for
Despite some progress, more work needs to be done.
We need a single set of clear principles to replace the mess of rules still in place.
Three things need to happen to urgently #FixFundraising in Australia.
1. Single point for registration
If a charity has been registered with the ACNC and is complying with its ACNC requirements (has its ACNC ‘tick’), it shouldn’t have to apply for an authority to fundraise in every state and territory. Being an ACNC-registered charity should give that charity ‘deemed authority’ to fundraise.
This system of ‘deemed authority’ should extend to those employed or engaged by the charity to fundraise on their behalf. To promote transparency, the names of any commercial (third party) companies fundraising on behalf of the charity should be publicly available on the ACNC register.
2. Single set of rules to help ensure ethical fundraising practise:
The Australian Fundraising Principles backed up by the Australian Consumer Law and self-regulatory codes
We know seven different sets of fundraising laws are not workable, especially because most fundraising doesn’t happen within state borders. Fundraising is increasingly happening online – a shift that’s being hampered by laws that are stuck in past! There are too many layers of regulation and too much inconsistency. There will be better compliance if the rules are simpler and relevant.
Australia needs fundraising regulation that:
- is the same in every jurisdiction
- promotes transparency and ethical behaviour with remedies for potential public harm
- is consistent with the Australian Consumer Law and existing self-regulatory codes of conduct.
We’ve worked with others to design a set of rules that would work: the Australia Fundraising Principles (AFPs).
The AFPs are principles of ethical behaviour, rather than details like the font size to go on a name badge. As principles, they are ‘future proof’ and allow charities to consider their particular situation.
The AFPs are a draft proposal, discussed and tested with charities and experts. Each state and territory would need to adopt the AFPs instead of applying their existing requirements to ACNC registered charities.
If a charity breaches the AFPs, the relevant state or territory would be able to investigate and, if necessary, remove that charity’s deemed authority to fundraise. The ACNC would be notified and may choose to conduct its own investigation (for example, if they are concerned that the funds raised hadn’t been used for the charitable purpose for which they were given).
The Australian Consumer Law would remain as it is. The existing guidance explains how this works. The ACCC would continue its focus on scam fundraising.
3. Single place of reporting – ‘report once, use often’ via the ACNC
With this regime in place, fundraising charities would only be required to report once a year, to one regulator, the ACNC.
Each state and territory needs to align with the ACNC reporting and auditing thresholds (and stay aligned when the Federal government increases the current reporting tiers from 1 July 2022).
Charities would report their compliance with the AFPs to the ACNC through the Annual Information Statement. It would be on the public register for donors and available to state and territory regulators.