What is the Not-for-profits Commission?

What is the Not-for-profits Commission?
Written by
Joe Allanson

Formed in 2012, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission or ACNC for short is the regulator of charities and not-for-profits within Australia. Part of the Australian Government, they register and regulate Australia’s 59,354 charities.

Even though there are over 59,000 charities on the Register, the ACNC finds that most charities meet their regulatory requirements. That good track record is down to the constant work of the ACNC.

What is the role of the ACNC?

The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission assists both charity organisations and the public. They base their work on five fundamental values: fairness, accountability, independence, integrity and respect. The ACNC believes that most people working within charities act in good faith and that if mistakes are made, it’s usually an honest mistake or simply a result of a lack of knowledge in the respective area.

Below we’ll delve into how the ACNC helps charity organisations (Section 1) and how the ACNC helps public (Section 2).


Section 1: ACNC for Charities and Not-for-profits

How to start your charity?

The ACNC is there to help you from the beginning, providing steps on where and how to start. These valuable steps help you plan before getting too ahead of yourself. It’s kind of like a self-help tutorial, assisting you to achieve your goals and identify any potential risks and challenges that may come up during your journey.

Background research time

This is a time to hone in on what you want to achieve and understand what other charities are doing.


In some instances, there may be another charity or not-for-profit already doing similar work to what you want to do. If this is the case, you could integrate your idea as one of their projects. In fact, the ACNC has a search tool on their charity register where you can find these potential collaborators and supporting organisations.


A quick search on the ACNC Charity Register,  provides you with various details about the organisation, including its purposes, contact details and financial information.


Knowing your purpose

During this process it’s about thinking in detail about what you want to achieve as a charity. Consider things like your main activities, target audience and if there is a need for your new charity.


If you’re getting a bit stuck on this step, head on over to the ACNC to compare with other charities that have similar goals or target audiences to what you want to do.


Next you’ll need to align your organisation’s purpose with the ACNC’s charitable purposes. Your activities must work towards achieving your charity’s purpose. There are 12 charitable purposes, and subtypes set out in the Charities Act 2013 (Cth).


These subtypes and purposes include:


  • Advancing health, education, religion, culture or social or public welfare
  • Promoting or protecting human rights, and
  • Other purposes that are beneficial to the public.


What resources do you need?

We often consider how many desks we need, where our office will be, and what design our business cards could be. But we can usually forget about the most vital resource — people. You need to think about the people that will hold your charity in their hearts and push it to achieve its goals.


Your fundraising methods

Fundraising is your lifeblood — the funds you receive will help you do the work you want to achieve and create a positive social impact. If you’re going to reach your full potential as a charity, you need to ensure you have given careful thought to your fundraising methods.


Partnering with Little Phil is a great way to fundraise and connect with the future generation of givers. As a fully digital platform, you’ll be able to launch multiple campaigns, provide real-time updates to your supporters and keep all your donations in one place. We’d love to team up with you, so once you’re all set up and you’re interested — please reach out to us via our online messaging service or email us at gday@littlephil.org.


The ACNC has outlined other useful fundraising methods too:

  • Charging membership fees
  • Public appeals — things like door-knocking, public collections, social media and letter campaigns
  • Events — things like conferences, movie nights or fun runs
  • Public auctions
  • Selling goods or services

Your legal structure is important

The legal structure you select for your charity should match your organisation’s needs now and into the future. There is a range of different structures, incorporated or unincorporated, and there may be more than one that aligns with your charity.


The legal structure you choose for your charity will affect many aspects such as:

  • Your legal identity — whether you can be sued
  • Your governance structure — who makes the decisions
  • Who is liable for your charity’s debts
  • Your charity’s responsibilities to government agencies

How to maintain your charity?

You need to ensure that you continue to be entitled to registration under the ACNC Act. Maintaining your charity’s registration means that you’re continually meeting the ACNC criteria. Some helpful reminders from the ACNC to guarantee this, include:

  • Remain not-for-profit
  • Have a charitable purpose that is for the public benefit
  • Comply with the Governance Standards and, if applicable, the External Conduct Standards
  • Have an Australian Business Number (ABN)
  • Not be involved in terrorist or other criminal activity

Sticking to your subtype and purpose

As a charity, you have an ongoing obligation to meet the description of the subtype you are registered with. Your subtype is a direct reflection of your charitable purpose, and you need to ensure your organisation is sticking to it.

Why would the ACNC revoke your charity’s registration?

Part of maintaining your charity’s status is understanding how and why the ACNC may revoke your registration. If you don’t meet your obligations as a charity, they will assist you with guidance and advice to help you get back on the right track.


Here are some reasons as to why your registration may be revoked:

  • You have breached a section of the ACNC Act — For example: failing to notify or report
  • You have not complied with governance or external conduct standards
  • It is discovered that you have provided information that was false or misleading when you applied for registration
  • Your charity has a trustee in bankruptcy or a liquidator


Section 2: ACNC for the Public

The ACNC’s annual reports

Published annually, the ACNC’s Australian Charities report provides detailed records of the charity sector. They compile the most up-to-date data from all the charities’ Annual Information Statements and present characteristics, activities and purposes in the report.


You can explore and download a copy of all of the reports directly from the ACNC website.

How do I know if a charity is legitimate?

We all want to help the causes that are near and dear to our hearts, but making sure the charity is legitimate can sometimes be a concern. The ACNC assists the public to understand the work of the not-for-profit sector and provide a free searchable database of Australian charities.


If you need a moment to consider the charity, remember that donating is voluntary and always your choice. Before you commit to your donation, you can do some research on the ACNC database.


The Charity Register is designed for you, to ensure your trust and confidence in Australia’s charities. The ACNC does this by increasing transparency of the information about not-for-profits.


How can I be safe with online requests for donations?

Be extra cautious if you are requested to donate online, especially if you are asked to click on a link provided by an unknown person. This kind of activity is very common in emails, so if you find something suspicious, it’s safer to just delete it.


You can do your research on the ACNC Charity Register to assure the legitimacy of a charity and emails sent in its name. Keep in mind that even well-known charities can fall victim to scammers. It’s always good to be cautious online.


If you get a strange donation link, search for the charity’s official website. Whenever you are donating online, ensure the web address begins with “https” and there is a closed padlock symbol next to the website address. It is strongly recommended that you avoid sending any personal information via email or transferring money to a person you don’t know.


When giving through Little Phil you can always find both the “https” at the start of our website address and the closed padlock symbol. We want to bring clarity to charity, so transparency is big for us. We’re a safe online donation platform where you can give with confidence. Using data from the ACNC allows us to ensure the charities you’re supporting are legitimate.


If a charity doesn’t offer tax-deductible giving, does that mean they are illegitimate?

To put it simply, no. The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) only endorses certain types of charities to offer tax deductions on donations. These charities are referred to as Deductible Gift Recipients (DGRs) and many of the registered charities don’t hold this DGR endorsement.


If the charity is not able to offer this tax deduction for donations, it does not mean that they are illegitimate or that their work is not vital. Having a DGR endorsement simply means that some charities are entitled to a tax concession. At the end of the day, it’s always up to you. For some, being able to claim your donation back on your personal tax is very important. For others, this may not be a concern.

How do I raise my concern about a suspicious charity?

Sometimes you can sense something is not right. So if you’re concerned with the conduct of a registered charity, you can directly report your suspicions with the ACNC through their online form. Alternatively, you can contact their advice team on 13 ACNC (13 22 62). During this call, their team will take you through the form.


The ACNC doesn’t always have the power to look into every concern — but if you’re unsure, contact them to discuss your concern. If the ACNC finds they are unable to help you, they may be able to direct you towards the agency that has jurisdiction to deal with the issue.


So, what’s the next step? Once you’ve raised your concern, either via the online form or over the phone, the ACNC will notify you that your worry has been received. From time to time, the ACNC may reach out to you for further information or to inform you that they don’t have jurisdiction to resolve the issue.