Don’t wait for govt to pull you through: charities chief

Posted on 27 Aug 2020

By Matthew Schulz, Kerryn Burgess and Lachlan Pollock, Our Community

Covid19 australia

News and information about COVID-19's impact on the community sector, regularly updated.

UPDATED: Thursday, August 27

Charities and not-for-profits shouldn’t wait for a government lifeline to pull them through the COVID-19 crisis, according to the sector’s chief regulator.

The head of the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission (ACNC), Dr Gary Johns, told a Philanthropy Australia webinar in early August that groups should look to themselves for solutions and that waiting for the government’s help would be a mistake.

“Don't wait for a government to come up with an answer,” Mr Johns said.

“There are 58,000 charities out there all thinking about how to adapt. And that's where the answer lies. It lies with yourselves … this will take several years now of difficulties and adaptation.”

Referring to the many difficult challenges faced by the sector, he said many groups had already adapted well, particularly when it came to moving to digital-based services.

“Many charities are …. converting to an online world, as we all have, and I'm seeing good instances of that now,” he said.

“I was talking to a charity just recently that would normally undertake counselling for kids that are in trouble. And they worried about it of course, but they went online and used Zoom and other platforms. And they said it's going gangbusters because a lot of kids actually prefer this medium. They did not want to go with mum or dad or whoever into a city office to be counselled.”

Dr Johns acknowledged there were intractable problems among groups providing services that couldn’t be delivered online but reiterated his view that the sector would need to seek its own answers.

“It’s difficult … if you’re delivering services face to face to, say, older people, people who are less able to be online. That's a real problem.

“I think there are some good stories about how fleet of foot the sector is, but there are some things which are going to be quite difficult to solve, which is getting that physical presence back on the ground when your volunteers literally can’t come out.”

Advocates continue battle to ease squeeze

UPDATED: Wednesday, August 6

Sector advocates continue to press for governments to extend support for the sector through JobKeeper, red tape reductions and a central role for not-for-profits in Australia's recovery.

In the Community Council for Australia's most recent statement, CEO David Crosbie said that governments must act faster to dump out-of-date regulations and duplication.

"Multiple levels of government bureaucracy are strangling charities by making them satisfy seven different sets of regulations," he said.

"Business call for red tape to be cut - governments respond, farmers and miners call for green tape to be cut - governments respond. No-one seems as interested in cutting the multiple levels of duplication and administration layered across charities, even though charities employ 1.3 million Australians (10% of the workforce) and generate 8% of GDP. Charities must need their own colour tape - tawny brown is a mixture of red and green – maybe that will that work?”

Read the CCA's recent media statement on the issue here.

CommBank chief economist says it's crucial for sector for govt funds to keep flowing

Stephen Halmarick
CommBank chief economist Stephen Halmarick

The Commonwealth Bank's chief economist and Head of Global Economic & Markets Research Stephen Halmarick has argued that the low-interest rates available for global government enable higher levels of spending (and debt) to protect the economy.

And he predicts support for not-for-profits could continue longer than expected if the economic situation worsens. His comments come soon after NFPs raised concerns about the JobKeeper payments being throttled back.

In a webinar presentation for Not-for-profit Finance Week, jointly hosted by the bank and Our Community, Mr Halmarick outlined the financial outlook for the country to hundreds of not-for-profit leaders.

His August 6 talk came as Victorians faced a harsh shutdown of that state's economy. Mr Halmarick said governments had a responsibility to provide sufficient fiscal support to reduce the economic damage of the pandemic.

The current cost of servicing debt was at a six-year low which mean that debt was more affordable than every. His takeaway message? "The economic return far exceeds the cost of interest".

Asked whether the Federal Government's JobKeeper support should be extended, he made the following prediction.

“I think the Government will be working to ensuring JobKeeper and JobSeeker work to support all industries – both profit and NFP sectors.

“My personal view is that - seeing the budget go from surplus to a massive deficit - they’re going to continue to provide support as it’s required. We’ve got a budget coming up in October, and if the situation is worse than they thought it was going to be, I would imagine they will extend out those payments to ensure the economy keeps moving this year and into 2021.

“I think the worst thing we could do at the moment is to withdraw that money prematurely. It’s going to be vital for many sectors of the economy including not-for-profits and schools that that money continues to flow. "

To listen to Mr Halmarick's full economic briefing, tap here to register to watch the webinar.

Sector faces fresh JobKeeper hit

UPDATED: Wednesday, July 22

The decision by the Morrison Government to wind back the JobKeeper payment from September will add to the pressure for not-for-profit leaders, despite the fact that eligibility criteria will not change for the reduced financial assistance.

The rollback comes despite repeated calls by the Charities Crisis Cabinet – which includes Our Community’s group managing director Denis Moriarty as a member – for a “ramp not a cliff” when it comes to sector support.

Fresh analysis by the Centre for Social Impact and Social Ventures Australia highlights the continuing need for “tailored support” for charities, which it says are especially vulnerable to the pandemic through key factors including: decreasing margins and limited reserves; revenues that won’t expected to bounce like other businesses; and, limited access to resources allowing a transition to the “new normal”.

How JobKeeper changes affect not-for-profits

Donations keep growing on GiveNow amid COVID-19

In a positive sign for NFPs seeking funds, figures from Our Community’s donations platform GiveNow show donation levels have kept growing in the past financial year. That’s because even though average donations dipped, more people are giving than ever. June donations also held steady amid growing pressure on pandemic-affected budgets.

GiveNow general manager Jarred Slomoi explains: “While the recession seems to have impacted the amount people give, we’ve noticed a significant increase in the overall number of donations in the last few months to causes including bushfire victims and COVID-19 support.”

The figures also show growing “stickiness” for support for local groups, while indigenous causes are now the second highest fundraisers on the platform.

The figures could be partly a result of the growing popularity of the Australia’s oldest and lowest-cost fundraising platform, which has now raised $131 million for good causes since 2000, $21 million in the past year.

The longer-term impact of COVID-19 on fundraising continues to be a major concern for Australia’s charity advocates, which predict a slump of 7-20% in donations this year.

More about GiveNow

Community sports clubs hit COVID crisis

The Australian Sports Foundation says as many as one in four local sports clubs face closure in the wake of the pandemic, with a $1.2 billion support package needed for the nation’s 70,000 community clubs.

The study reveals that 93% of clubs have lost money through a slump in revenues and ongoing costs, with 25% saying insolvency was a major concern amid losses to memberships, sponsorships and fundraising.

The study confirms similar findings for NFPs from a range of sector advocates.

Read the ASF report

Sector presses govts on reforms, funding

UPDATED: Tuesday, June 30

Community Directors Council chair Susan Pascoe AM, the former chief of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC), is continuing to advocate strongly for the sector.

Addressing the AGM of the Community Council for Australia (CCA) last month, Ms Pascoe said community organisations had demonstrated high levels of collaboration and cooperation in rising to the challenges of the COVID-19 crisis and pressing the Government on “uncomfortable issues”.

Ms Pascoe’s recent advocacy work has included co-chairing the Charities Crisis Cabinet alongside sector leader Tim Costello. Our Community’s Denis Moriarty is also a member of the Cabinet, which this month released an open letter calling on Australia’s leaders to undertake critical reforms to protect the sector.

“The measures we are proposing will promote giving, reduce red tape, enable access to new capital and support increased productivity,” Ms Pascoe wrote.

Read the letter: An Open Letter to Australian Governments from the Charities Crisis Cabinet, June 2020.

Meanwhile, in a related effort, the CCA’s CEO, David Crosbie, has raised concerns about problems faced by not-for-profits and charities in carrying over unspent government funds into the new financial year.

In a recent commentary published by ProBono Australia, Mr Crosbie said that while some organisations had been given swift government approval to roll funds over, others were forced to go through “time consuming and difficult processes”.

In response to requests from organisations experiencing this problem, the Charities Crisis Cabinet has developed these core principles:

Charities and not for profits that have been unable to spend allocated government funds and complete contracted activities as a result of the impact of COVID-19 should be given due consideration in being able to retain the unspent funds provided that:

  • specified contracted activities can be completed within an agreed period of up to 12 months;
  • the organisation has a good performance record of fulfilling government contracts and expending government funds; and
  • where variations are required to contracted activities, the changes do not compromise the initial policy intent of those activities.

The CCA is conducting a survey of charities’ experiences of dealing with unspent funds. You can fill it out here.

COVID-19 could see 200,000 jobs lost from the sector

UPDATED: Wednesday, June 10

A new study says 200,000 jobs will be lost from Australia’s not-for-profit and charity sector unless extra help is provided.

The joint Social Ventures Australia (SVA) and Centre for Social Impact (CSI) study reflects the findings of Our Community’s COVID-19 Community Sector Impact Survey, which last month warned that 230,000 community groups were threatened by the pandemic.

Community Council for Australia chair Tim Costello said projected job losses would have “a devastating impact” and trigger the loss of a huge amount of vital charitable work.

Nearly half of respondents to the Our Community survey said they had already reduced staff numbers, or were planning to do so, with many revealing they had been able to retain staff only as a result of the JobKeeper payment.

The end of the JobKeeper payments has been described in the latest study as “the October cliff” which will precipitate huge jobs losses, without extra help.

The study says “the end of JobKeeper should be a ramp, not a cliff” and calls on the Federal Government to plan for a “gradual transition away from JobKeeper and extensions to sectors facing long recovery times”.

That appeal appears to be supported by the many Our Community survey respondents who labelled JobKeeper a “lifeline”. More than 40% of respondents reported uncertainty about whether their organisation would lose staff.

“Government concessions to charities in JobKeeper eligibility mean thousands of charity jobs have been saved over the past few months,” said Community Council for Australia CEO David Crosbie, “but we now face a situation where the future viability of one in six charities is in doubt.”


Our Community study: COVID-19 Community Sector Impact Survey
Social Ventures Australia and Centre for Social Impact report: Will Australian charities be COVID-19 casualties or partners in recovery? A financial health check
Resources to help community organisations survive COVID-19: Save Our Sector

#GivingTuesdayNow offers hope for struggling NFPs

UPDATED: Tuesday, May 26

A month-long giving campaign hosted by Our Community wrapped up on May 26 with a donations and volunteering blitz involving hundreds of Australian not-for-profits.

#GivingTuesdayNow, which put the focus on a different aspect of giving on each Tuesday in May, brought together a powerful coalition of community groups with the support of campaign ambassador Tim Costello, charities minister Zed Seselja, and the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission.

Highlights included 220 organisations from every part of Australia signing up to a Generosity Register that matches donors, goods and volunteers with searchable causes.

A survey on the impact of COVID-19 on the community sector in Australia highlighted that 70 per cent of Australia’s sporting clubs, arts and cultural organisations, community groups, welfare services and youth services feel “threatened” by the COVID-19 crisis.

“There’s no way to sugar-coat this – the COVID-19 pandemic is seismic,” said GivingTuesdayNow ambassador Reverend Tim Costello. “Community groups are the social infrastructure of our economy – they need fast-tracked investment from government, philanthropy and individuals before it’s too late. JobKeeper is a great start but we need to go further.”

In Australia, #GivingTuesdayNow ran across the four Tuesdays of May. On each Tuesday, Australians were asked to support their community sector by giving thanks, giving local, giving time and giving donations.

Although the #GivingTuesdayNow campaign has ended, community organisations are still seeking support. Search the Generosity Register, or donate to an organisation close to your heart.


Generosity Register will help tackle COVID 'threat to 230,000 groups'
COVID-19 Generosity Registry
COVID-19 Community Sector Impact Survey

Funds win credits to keep the money flowing to needy groups

UPDATED: Monday, May 11

New Federal Government incentives will encourage philanthropic funders to distribute more cash to charities and not-for-profits during the COVID-19 crisis.

The changes not only confirm the requirement for ancillary funds to continue to distribute money throughout the crisis – even if they're crying poor – but also encourage them to increase the amount of cash flowing.

The Community Council for Australia had claimed in an email to members that some funds whose pool of capital had shrunk were seeking to reduce the required minimum distribution to charities.

Ancillary funds are special funds that provide a link between people who want to give and organisations that can receive tax-deductible donations.

Under the amendments, ancillary funds will receive a credit if their total distributions in 2019–20 and 2020–21 are at least four percentage points above the minimum required distributions.

In a statement on May 6, the Assistant Minister for Finance, Charities and Electoral Matters, Senator Zed Seselja, said the amendments aimed to keep money flowing to charities.

“We know charitable giving is likely to decrease over the months ahead at a time when demand for charitable services is increasing,” he said.

“The Government is partnering with the philanthropic sector to support their great work by providing this incentive for ancillary funds to increase their distributions.”

Community Council for Australia CEO David Crosbie, who is a member of the Charities Crisis Cabinet, voiced his support for the amendments on Twitter.

“Great to see Foundations using more of their assets to support charities during this difficult time and great to have the government providing incentives for increased distributions to all,” he tweeted.

The credit being offered is equal to half the percentage points by which the distributions exceed the minimum (4% for private ancillary funds and 5% for public ancillary funds), and may be used to reduce the minimum distribution by up to one percentage point in 2021-22 and future financial years until the credit is exhausted.


Incentivising increased support for charities in response to COVID-19

Feds ease the squeeze on sector with more JobKeeper changes

UPDATED: Friday, May 1

The Federal Government has made further changes to the JobKeeper scheme to assist the community sector in accessing funds throughout the COVID-19 crisis.

The changes affect charities, religious institutions and international aid organisations.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said in a statement on April 24 that charities (excluding schools and universities) would now be able to exclude government funding from the JobKeeper turnover test.

“(The changes) will allow employing charities receiving revenue from the government to use either their total turnover, or their turnover excluding government revenue, for the purposes of assessing eligibility for the JobKeeper Payment,” he said.

“This will help to ensure that the eligibility of charities is not adversely affected where they are delivering significant services that are funded by government.”

The scheme has also been broadened to include religious practitioners, an acknowledgment that many practitioners are not employees of religious institutions.

This change means religious institutions can now apply for the $1500 per fortnight JobKeeper payments for their practitioners.

Many international aid organisations will also now be eligible for the JobKeeper scheme.

The changes come on the back of other recent measures to assist community organisations – most of which target charities – including fast-tracked bridging finance help from banks, changes to the thresholds at which charities can apply for the payment, and a $100 million grants program targeting charities.

Along with the JobKeeper scheme, charities and other not-for-profits have access to government cash flow boost assistance, delivered from 28 April.

To be eligible, organisations must have an Australian Business Number, have an annual turnover of under $50 million), and have made payments to employees

The cash-flow boost payments are between $20,000 and $100,000, and can be used on staff salaries and wages, director fees, eligible retirement or termination payments, compensation payments and voluntary withholding from payments to contractors.

Big banks bridge the gap for cash-strapped groups

UPDATED: Thursday, April 23, 2020

Australia’s big four banks will lend not-for-profits and other community organisations the bridging finance they need to pay staff while they wait for expected JobKeeper subsidies early next month.

The agreement follows a teleconference involving bank CEOs, Taxation Commissioner Chris Jordan, and Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg on April 23.

“It was a very productive discussion, and we emphasised the need for the banks to provide support,” Mr Frydenberg said in a media conference that afternoon.

“They have agreed to set up – each of these four major banks – a dedicated hotline for their customers to call to receive the bridging finance necessary to pay their staff ahead of receiving money under the JobKeeper program.”

The banks agreed to fast-track loan applications related to the program.

Under the JobKeeper scheme, organisations must make their first payments to employees before they receive the expected first government payment in early May.

That measure was aimed at preserving the integrity of the program and ensuring employees were paid the JobKeeper money, Mr Frydenberg said.

A side effect, though, was that many organisations were left scrambling to make the initial payment to staff because of cash-flow problems.

It is expected the bridging finance offer will address this, as funds from the banks will be fast-tracked to ensure employers receive the money they need to make the first payment.

The bank hotlines are:

  • CBA: 13 26 07
  • ANZ: 1800 571 123
  • Westpac: 1300 731 073; and Westpac’s subsidiaries:
    • St George: 1300 730 196
    • Bank of Melbourne: 1300 784 873
    • Bank SA: 1300 669 472

The JobKeeper scheme was announced in late March in response to potential mass unemployment caused by business closures stemming from the COVID-19 crisis.

To access the scheme, organisations must prove turnover falls of at least 30 per cent, or 15 per cent in the case of registered charities.

COVID-19 crisis underscores urgency of need to fix fundraising

UPDATED: Tuesday, April 21, 2020

As not-for-profits grapple with how they’ll find funds to survive a winter like no other, a coalition of 21 sector leaders has called for fundraising red tape to be slashed amid predictions of a 20% slump in donations.

Fundraising rules across Australia need to be more consistent to ensure COVID-19 giving is maximised, according to the Charities Crisis Cabinet.

The Cabinet, co-chaired by Tim Costello AO and Susan Pascoe AM, has called for the introduction of new mandatory COVID-19 charitable fundraising rules nationwide and a pause on existing state and territory rules for the duration of the crisis. The proposed regime would apply to all charities registered with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC), and the Australian Consumer Law would still apply.

The Cabinet’s position is set out on the Community Council for Australia (CCA) website.

With traditional forms of fundraising such as major events, door-knocking and tin-rattling on hold as the country attempts to slow the spread of COVID-19, charities have already seen a dive in fundraising revenue.

“The most conservative estimate of impact across the charitable sector suggests a drop of 7% in fundraising revenue as a consequence of COVID-19. Surveys of charities in Australia and internationally suggest more like a 20% reduction,” the Cabinet statement said.

“For charities to survive it is important to remove any unnecessary or counterproductive obstacles impeding legitimate face-to-face fundraising activities by registered ACNC charities.”

The Cabinet highlighted how the requirement to comply with many different rules and regulations around the country creates a red tape burden for charities when it comes to fundraising.

“The current jurisdiction-based regime serves as a barrier to legally compliant online fundraising activities,” it said.

“If a charity has a donate button on its website (even if it largely raises money locally) it needs to comply with seven different regimes as well as the Australian Consumer Law.”

Creating a single national set of rules would “reduce significant red tape and compliance barriers enabling all charities, large and small, to better pivot away from face-to-face fundraising,” the Cabinet said.

The Cabinet is also calling for a 150% tax deduction for donations to deductible gift recipient (DGR) entities and the expansion of DGR categories to cover more ACNC-registered charities.

A number of community sector peak bodies and other organisations have long called for charitable fundraising reform under the banner #fixfundraising.

Charity sector wins fresh $100m boost to battle COVID-19

UPDATED: Saturday, April 11, 2020

The Federal Government has promised an additional $100 million worth of support to more than 300 charities and the formation of a new National Coordination Group to help guide the sector's response to the coronavirus crisis.

The Commonwealth has also promised an additional $100 million to be allocated over six months as part of a total $200 million community support package. The measures were announced on Easter Saturday, April 11.

The federal Minister for Families and Social Services, Anne Ruston, said the decision follows "constant communication" with the sector.

The National Coordination Group would now lead the emergency relief effort, and would identify issues at the local, state and national level to advise her on emerging needs.

“The government understands this is a trying time for relief providers facing rapidly increasing demand while dealing with challenges in maintaining the workforce and distribution lines needed to operate,” Minister Ruston said.

“Many people reaching out to these services may have never needed this type of assistance before so we need to make sure we have the right supports in place to help people through this period and bounce back stronger when it’s over."

The new relief package includes more than $37 million, to be shared across 200 existing federally funded emergency relief organisations. The funds would support service delivery, including phone support and outreach through home visits to enable organisations to safely drop off items such as vouchers and food parcels.

The package will see the Red Cross receive $7 million to deliver emergency relief and provide support to vulnerable people on temporary visas. Foodbank Australia, SecondBite and OzHarvest will share $16 million to secure food supplies.

Another $20 million will target financial counselling through organisations such as National Debt Helpline, Money Support Hubs and Problem Gambling. Finance provider Good Shepherd will receive $20 million to extend its no-interest loans to 40,000 Australians.


Family and Community services media release | DSS funded providers under the scheme (search by service type for ‘Financial Crisis and Material Aid – Emergency Relief’ or ‘Commonwealth Financial Counselling and Financial Capability’)


This article is just one of the ways the Our Community Group is working to support not-for-profits through the COVID-19 crisis, as part of our major campaign to help the not-for-profit sector to survive, re-invent and sustain.

New relief for charities follows campaign for greater government help

UPDATED: Monday, April 6 2020

The Federal Government has announced that charities registered with the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission (ACNC) will be eligible for JobKeeper payments if their turnover has fallen, or will likely fall, by 15 per cent or more.

This follows a concerted campaign by a coalition of charity and not-for-profit advocates for more help for the community sector.

The new rules, announced late last night, "will apply to all registered charities, including those with a turnover of more than $1 billion."

When the JobKeeper scheme was announced last week to help employees maintain their employment throughout the COVID-19 crisis, organisations were required to demonstrate a turnover decline of 30 per cent or more to be eligible.

The new rules will not only help charities survive, but will also ensure many of the 1.2 million employees in the sector will keep their jobs throughout the crisis.

Community Council for Australia (CCA) chair Tim Costello said the organisation was pleased that the government has recognised the special role charities play across Australia.

"This acknowledgement through concessional access to JobKeeper payment means more charities will be able to keep supporting their communities.

"We are going to need as many charities as possible surviving through this crisis and helping rebuild Australian communities into the future."

The CCA had previously written to government calling for greater recognition and inclusion of the charity sector in governmental support packages. More on that below.

Community sector needs government lifeline: “People’s lives depend on it”

Originally published: Friday 25 March 2020

Our Community has backed lobbying by the community sector’s peak body for the federal government to do more to help not-for-profits and charities survive the COVID-19 crisis.

Denis Moriarty, Our Community

In letters to the Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, the Community Council for Australia (CCA) has outlined seven critical actions the government must take to protect the sector and enable it to continue to respond to the pandemic.

Our Community managing director Denis Moriarty said, “To the government I ask: don’t stuff around. Back all seven measures now. People’s lives depend on it and we need to save our sector.”

The CCA has called on the Federal Government to:

  1. Offer more security to maintain programs and employment: Governments around Australia could increase security and help maintain the jobs of 1.2 million staff employed by charities if they guaranteed not to cut funding to charities over the next 12 months. The Victorian government has already done some of this, guaranteeing all its arts funding until 2021.
  2. Enable flexibility for charities to respond: Charities are at the front line, embedded in community, and are exceptionally well-placed to know what works to achieve a good outcome for their communities. In difficult times, government funded charities could be released from their narrow contractual obligations and enabled to respond as needed.
  3. Provide additional funding to meet additional demand: The growing need is going to overwhelm some charities without additional support – this includes in vital areas like food, shelter and health services. Direct increases in funding should be provided to front-line service providers, especially those already stretched providing support for bushfire communities and other high-needs groups.
  4. Offer wage subsidies and other bridging options: Trying to keep as many staff employed in the charities sector is a real challenge with income streams disappearing. Charities need access to cash flow to support employment in the same way as small to medium businesses. A wage subsidy (similar to the UK’s) and better access to government supported loans schemes and lines of credit would enable many more charities to retain staff.
  5. Offer tax incentives to encourage continued support of charities: Governments could encourage philanthropy by increasing the tax deduction for donations to registered charities to 150 % between now and June and then 75% from July to December. Businesses could be encouraged to deploy any staff services and resources that will be under-utilised in changed daily operations toward areas of social need by introducing a tax deduction of 100% for all pro-bono support or services businesses provided to registered charities for the next six months. Philanthropic support from our corporate partners could also be encouraged by increasing the tax deduction on donations from businesses to registered charities to 75% for the next six months.
  6. Provide support for adaptation in service delivery: The government could launch a digital rebate scheme to support registered charities as they shift their services online, develop and launch new forms of online support for Australians and support their volunteers and staff to work remotely.
  7. Extend support to all charities, big and small: All donations to legitimate charities registered with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission made in 2020 could be tax deductible.
Read the CCA's letter to the Prime Minister

“Our Community welcomes the recommendations to government set out by the CCA,” Mr Moriarty said.

“I don’t know what the sector would do without the CCA and the leadership of David Crosbie and Tim Costello at this time.”

Our Community’s own Save Our Sector campaign complements the work of the Commmunity Council for Australia in aiming to ensure the sector survives the COVID-19 crisis and can continue to provide vital social and community services.

Community organisations, not-for-profits and charities can find free information, tools, templates and other resources on the Save Our Sector webpage.


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