WHY WE NEED TO FIX FUNDRAISING
Canberra Times, Saturday 29 April
In the year before she took her life, 92 year-old Olive Cooke received 466 letters from charities asking for money. Nearly 100 charities were asking her for money, and many were passing her details on to others. Ms Cooke was a generous donor, but she suffered from depression, and her family said that the pressure from charities ‘led to her feeling distressed and overwhelmed’. Her 2015 suicide led to a spate of media reports on the pressure that British charities were applying to their donors. Trust in charities in Britain is now at an all-time low.
For Australia’s charitable sector, the events in Britain are a reminder of the importance of maintaining public trust and confidence. Every day, thousands of Australian charities help the homeless, clean up our environment, assist people with disabilities, and tackle global poverty. Every year, Australians provide around $11 billion to help our charities do their important work.
Unfortunately, the laws that govern fundraising are hopelessly outdated. Charities in Australia who want to raise money online must register in seven states and territories (only the Northern Territory does not require registration). Each state’s rules are subtly different. In Queensland, charities need to advertise in the paper. Western Australia requires police checks. Some states want bank details.
We don’t make Australian drivers get a new driver license when they want to cross a state border. We don’t make our companies register again if they want to sell a product interstate. So it makes little sense to tell charities that they have to register everywhere if they want to fundraise online.
Faced with such a heavy paperwork burden, small charities often decide not to bother registering everywhere. They just cross their fingers and hope they don’t get caught. Larger charities tend to comply, a process that can cost around seven working days a year. I’m yet to meet a donor who wants to see their money wasted in complying with duplicate rules.
To address these challenges, dozens of charities have joined together on a campaign to ‘Fix Fundraising’, arguing that one set of national fundraising rules should be written into the Australian Consumer Law. Because it’s a law written and administered by states, territories and the federal government, the states wouldn’t need to give up control.
Fixing fundraising would be a sensible step now that the Turnbull Government has come to its senses on charity regulation. The Coalition spent most of its first term in office trying to kill the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission, a body that had been set up in 2012. Supported by four out of five charities and recommended by more than a dozen inquiries, the charities commission was helping reduce red tape – so it always seemed bizarre that the Coalition fought to close it in the basis of ‘red tape reduction’.
Thankfully, the Turnbull Government performed a clumsy backflip on the issue last March, and is now committed to keeping the charities commission. This has allowed states and territories to start working with the national body on scrapping duplicate regulation.
The Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission also plays a valuable role in checking up on dodgy charities – investigating and deregistering about a dozen each year, so that they don’t tarnish the good name of the thousands of great charities that serve our community. If someone knocks on your door, it’s now easy to log ontowww.acnc.gov.au to check out their credentials.
Sensible fundraising laws are fundamental to a strong charitable sector – which is in turn vital to a healthy society. And as any good economist knows, life is about more than money. As Adam Smith wrote in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, ‘to be amiable and be meritorious, that is to deserve love and deserve reward, are the great characters of virtue. Man naturally desires not only to be loved, but to be lovely. To be that thing which is the natural and proper object of love.’
Most people don’t just want to do well, they want to do good. We seek that sense of inner tranquillity that comes from feeling that we are decent, ethical and admirable. In Smith’s formulation, most of us want to be ‘lovely’. Helping voluntary organisations is one way we can do that. Having charities that spend their time on filling hearts rather than filling forms will make us a happier, healthier and more connected community.
This is an edited extract of a speech delivered at the launch of the ‘Fix Fundraising’ campaign, and was first published in The Canberra Times on Saturday 29 April 2017.