Simplifying fundraising rules for Australian charities

17 Feb 2023

In a huge advocacy milestone, the Commonwealth, state and territory Treasurer have announced that a nationally consistent approach to charitable fundraising will soon be implemented.

This announcement has been the product of tireless work of our #FixFundraising campaign, which urged law makers to take action to reform Australia’s out of date and ineffective web of existing fundraising laws. 

The importance of these reforms can’t be overstated, at a time when our community is suffering and charities are stretched due to rolling climate disasters, a cost-of-living crisis, and a global pandemic.

Harmonising fundraising rules means 60,000 Australian charities will benefit from a clear, consistent understanding on appropriate fundraising conduct, letting them focus on helping their communities.

Why nationally consistent fundraising rules matter

For Australia’s charity sector, donations can be the lifeblood of an organisation. But Australia’s fundraising laws are a mess. They are complex, out of date, and ineffective.

Charities need to comply with seven different sets of fundraising laws – laws that were developed before the internet, the Australian Consumer Law (ACL), and the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC). This overwhelming regulatory environment has posed a huge barrier to how charities can fundraise, restricting their income and impact.

With so many overlapping laws and regulations, it is currently unclear and overwhelming for charities to understand how they can legally fundraise.

And as COVID-19 led to an increase in online fundraisers, the need to #FixFundraising only became more urgent.

“I tried to go online to get the information I needed and I found it a hodgepodge of information. The information I had was outdated, and I ended up having to speak to someone at Fair Trading to get the answers I needed. It took a long time and was frustrating and time-consuming. It should not be so difficult.”

— (Large charity >1m, employing 11-100 staff) 

“It is simply too complicated, it is actually almost impossible to know that you comply in every way. It just simply is a minefield. It is a barrier to fundraising and a drain on resources, for no final benefit to the regulatory environment or in protecting consumers from poor behaviour by charities.”

— (Medium charity, >250K but <1M. Less than 5 paid staff)

“Currently, our charity serves several states and with all non-paid volunteers it is extremely complex trying to keep up with legislation and regulations on requesting donations from members and the public. One system nationally would make it less time consuming and easier to manage this segment of our charity.”

— (Volunteer-run. Nil paid staff. Small charity <250K) 

Simplifying fundraising rules allows charities to save time on complying with regulations, and spend more time focusing on their vital services, like helping communities affected by floods, working to prevent homelessness, tackling family and domestic violence, or delivering life-changing community services.

“We created a charity with a new idea… but have been unable to progress as it is not possible for a charity of our size to fundraise with the differing rules in each state. With modern methods of fundraising not practically allowing geofenced fundraising, we are unable to fundraise at all and are frozen. This needs to be resolved.”

— (Volunteer-run. Nil paid staff. Small charity <250K) 

“We are a new volunteer NFP mental health consumer support group, please make it uniform and simpler for “ordinary people” to carry out fundraising. We are doing our best to raise our own funds without tax payer support, hence it is only fair to stream line the laws and rules for fund raising across our wonderful country”

— Name withheld

It is now up to state and territory governments to roll out these changes in each jurisdiction, starting with implementation plans to be released by July of this year.  

Justice Connect, and our allies in the #FixFundraising coalition, will continue holding the respective Governments to account to ensure these crucial reforms are implemented as soon as possible.

We look forward to this more streamlined fundraising landscape for charities, where red-tape can be reduced, and more people’s lives can be changed.

Learn more about the #FixFundraising campaign

Our #FixFundraising campaign was informed by the insights of Justice Connect’s Not-For-Profit Law program, a national legal service offering free and affordable legal supports for not-for-profit organisations and social enterprises. As a charity ourselves, we understand the context in which not-for-profit organisations operate. We help community organisations make sense of the law, stay legally compliant, thrive within complexity, and achieve good governance.

You can support our work by making a tax-deductible donation to Justice Connect today. Every gift helps us create greater access to justice for individuals and community organisations across Australia. Together, we are taking steps towards a greater, more connected justice system.

Quotes extracted from the May 2021 Charities Crisis Cabinet Fundraising Survey.