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NFP growth can be celebrated

16 January 2014


Recent reports that a surge in charities registered by the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) last year (2,300 new registrants up from 1,200 the previous year) is counter-productive and only serves to fuel suspicion of Australia’s charitable sector.

Why is it that growth in the business sector is celebrated as economic progress and healthy competition, however a growth in charities is met with skepticism?  

Australian charities and Not for Profits contribute approximately $43 billion to gross domestic product, employ approximately 890,000 people and garner the support of approximately five million volunteers. Beyond this significant economic contribution, charities play an immeasurable role in social cohesion and in strengthening civil society.

The growth of Australia’s charitable and Not for Profit sector should be celebrated – not treated with suspicion. There are a number of reasons which may have contributed to the increase in registered charities in 2013 and not all are negative.

For one, the existence of a new regulator (the ACNC) focused on monitoring the accountability of charities accessing tax concessions, and providing support to charities is likely to have led to an increase in groups understanding their rights and obligations and applying for tax concessions.

Growth in registered charities does not automatically mean that limited capital and resources are being shared by a greater number of charities. Rather, growth in registered charities indicates an increase in philanthropy and a strengthening of civil society; something we ought to be celebrating.

Nor does growth necessarily mean more organisations are soliciting public donations.  Many charities do not qualify for deductible donations, with most simply existing as a conduit for local community engagement.

Certainly, when a charity is establishing itself it is important it consider what similar organisations already exist, its resourcing options, and it may be able to collaborate to more efficiently achieve its mission, but this does not mean that all like organisations would be more effective if merged or partnered. There are many local organisations that effectively rally the involvement of their communities to address local issues.

We should celebrate that more people want to contribute to the community through the establishment of a charity (often in a voluntary capacity). We should celebrate that despite the widely reported challenging regulatory environment in which charities operate, people still want to get involved in altruistic activities for the greater good and to enhance our communities.

We should never discourage enthusiasm to get involved and make our communities stronger. Arguments that growth is counterproductive threaten to weaken the nourishing involvement of Australians associating, acting and working together to benefit our society.

The charitable sector is an essential contributor to Australia’s social and economic fabric and yet has been subjected a great deal of suspicion of late. If we want charities and in turn civil society to survive and prosper, we need to start embracing and celebrating the sector’s contribution and growth.

This article was originally published in Pro Bono News: