The ACNC Corporate Plan 2019-2020 sets out the corporate priorities for the ACNC for the four year period from 2019 to 2023, and explains how we will meet our statutory obligations.

Message from the Commissioner

Charities registered with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) receive generous support from donors and volunteers as a gesture of belief and confidence in the work charities undertake. Analysis of the 2017 Annual Information Statement data collected by the ACNC found registered charities reported $146 billion in total revenue, which included $10 billion in donations and bequests. Charities also received contributions from 3.3 million volunteers to help deliver their purposes.

Public trust and confidence in charities is strengthened by transparency, accountability, openness and effectiveness, and it is weakened by misinformation and illegal activity. The ACNC gives the data we collect about charities back to the community to promote trust and confidence and support informed decision making about which charities people will contribute to. We also deliver effective regulation by developing information and tools to support charities to strengthen their governance and we work closely with them if they get off track. When necessary we will use our compliance powers to take appropriate action proportionate to problems we seek to address.

Last year we launched our new and improved website, Charity Register, and Charity Portal. The new systems will make it easier for charities to meet their obligations and enable us to capture and display better information about the work of charities. We will make that information available to the public using a common language that both charities and donors can understand. The common language will be in the form of a searchable taxonomy that describes the programs charities deliver and enable more informed giving. Development of the taxonomy will commence this year.

We will continue our discussion on how best to measure the degree to which the not-for-profit sector is robust, vibrant, independent and innovative over time, using the data collected by the ACNC.

We will roll out a range of resources for charities on governance including a governance toolkit, a self-assessment toolkit, information on external conduct standards, and a library for small charities to build on existing resources on our website.

I present the 2019–2020 Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission Corporate Plan, which covers the periods of 2019–2023, as required under paragraph 35(1)(b) of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (Cth) (PGPA Act). This Corporate Plan sets out our organisational vision, values and priorities. It builds on the work completed in establishing the ACNC and is central to our governance and reporting framework.

Hon. Dr Gary Johns

ACNC Commissioner

This Corporate Plan sets out the corporate priorities for the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) for the four-year period and explains how it will meet its statutory obligations.

The ACNC is established under the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission Act 2012 (Cth) (ACNC Act) as the independent regulator of charities at the Commonwealth level. The statutory functions and regulatory powers of the ACNC Commissioner are set out in the ACNC Act, the Charites Act 2013 (Cth) (the Charities Act) and accompanying regulations.

The objects of the ACNC Act are:

  • to maintain, protect and enhance public trust and confidence in the Australian not-for-profit sector;
  • to support and sustain a robust, vibrant, independent and innovative Australian not-for-profit sector; and
  • to promote the reduction of unnecessary regulatory obligations on the Australian not-for-profit sector.

To achieve these objects, the ACNC carries out activities that include:

  • maintaining a public register of Australian charities;
  • registering new charities and revoking those which are no longer entitled to registration;
  • collecting information on charities annually and updating the register;
  • receiving and acting on concerns about registered charities;
  • monitoring charities for compliance with legal requirements;
  • providing advice and guidance to charities and the public to enhance the transparency and good governance of the sector; and
  • working across governments to reduce unnecessary regulation.

The ACNC Act and Australian Charities and Not for profits Commission Regulation (ACNC Regulation) require most registered charities to meet several obligations:

  • to report annually to the ACNC in an Annual Information Statement (AIS) and where applicable, an Annual Financial Report (AFR);
  • to comply with the Governance Standards, and External Conduct Standards when they come into effect; and
  • to notify the ACNC of various changes including details of their responsible persons (generally directors or board members), name, address for service and governing rules.

This plan sets out our vision, values, and priorities. It builds on the work completed under our previous plans and is central to our governance and reporting framework. The following sections outline the ACNC’s operating environment and provide details of the objectives, plans and strategies that govern our activities.

Our vision and values inform the way that charities and the broader community can expect that we will engage and interact with them. They also establish the standards for ACNC staff. We uphold the Australian Public Service (APS) Values as set out in the Public Service Act 1999 (Cth). We aim to achieve our purposes by setting priorities driven by our core activities and supported by enabling services and a positive risk culture where staff manage risk as an intrinsic part of their day-to-day work.

The ACNC's vision is charities that inspire confidence and respect

As the Commonwealth independent regulator of charities, the ACNC is responsible for registering charities and administering the national regulatory framework for over 57,000 charities that work across diverse sectors both in Australia and overseas. We also work across government to reduce unnecessary regulation impacting charities. We publish the information we collect to help the public understand the work of charities and to support the transparency and accountability of the sector.

Charities make a significant contribution to the Australian economy and the community in areas including health, social services, education, arts, the environment and religious practices. The environments in which charities work are dynamic and subject to continuous change. The ACNC has a key role in working with charities to adapt to changes in their regulatory environment, and our regulatory services prioritise building governance capability in the sector.

The regulatory environment in which the ACNC and charities work is likely to change over the next four-year period. Most charities engage positively with change and embrace opportunities to improve their governance. The ACNC develops a range of guidance resources and provides support via our multi-channel contact centre to assist registered charities understand their obligations and embed good practice governance in their operations. Where governance failures occur that present a serious risk to public trust and confidence in the sector, and relate to a charities compliance with the ACNC Act, we will investigate and work with charities to take corrective action and improve governance practices to ensure resources are being directed to meet charitable purposes.

The public, philanthropists and governments provide significant financial and in-kind support to charities to deliver their charitable purposes. The Charity Register acts as a central repository for information about charities to promote a better understanding of the work charities do. We anticipate the ACNC systems upgrade program implemented in 2018 will position us to better deliver the information we collect when charities meet their obligations back to the community. This will assist decision making about funding, donating to, or volunteering with, charities.

The regulatory environment for charities is complex and the ACNC works in close collaboration with a range of stakeholders across government to reduce unnecessary regulation. Our ability to drive change in this area is only partially within our control due to the distributed nature of regulation across tiers of government, but we continue to strive to influence the streamlining of regulation, and to make the ACNC a one-stop-shop for information about charities and where charities can update their information.

Legislative review and new policy initiatives

The final report from the ACNC Legislative Review, titled Strengthening for Purpose: Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission Legislative Review 2018 was published on 22 August 2018. The report, produced by the Review Panel, comprising Chair Mr Patrick McClure AO and members Ms Su McCluskey, Dr Matthew Turnour and Mr Greg Hammond OAM, made 30 recommendations to strengthen the ACNC’s legislative framework. The recommendations centred on the ACNC’s objects, functions and powers, the overall regulatory framework, and red tape reduction for charities. As the government considers the recommendations and makes decisions on potential legislative changes, the ACNC will work with government to implement those changes.

On 26 November 2018 regulations to introduce External Conduct Standards were tabled in Parliament and unless they are disallowed, will come into effect in the second half of 2019. The standards will operate in addition to the existing ACNC Governance Standards. The ACNC has been working to prepare guidance to assist charities to ensure that they comply with the standards. Charities that operate overseas will need to consider how the External Conduct Standards may affect their operations.

Changes to the deductible gift recipient (DGR) system highlighted in our last corporate plan, including integration of the four existing DGR registers to streamline the DGR registration process, are anticipated to commence in 2020 pending the development of legislation to support the reform measures.

Our vision of charities that inspire confidence and respect will be pursued through three Corporate priorities identified for the period 2019–22 that will be delivered with support from our enabling services.

Priority 1: Maintain, protect and enhance public trust and confidence in the Australian not-for-profit sector
Performance criteriaTarget2019202020212022
New charities are registered and included on the Charity Register and charities identified as being ineligible to be registered are revoked and removed from the Charity Register
  • Meet published service standards for processing registration applications and finalising investigations
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Registered charities meet their obligations to lodge an Annual Information Statement (AIS) and where applicable, an Annual Financial Report (AFR)
  • 75% of charities lodge their AIS on time
  • 100% of charities with two outstanding AIS’s are removed from the register annually
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ACNC operates in accordance with a clearly articulated risk framework and risk based approach to charity registration, and compliance activities
  • Policies and business processes align with the ACNC’s Regulatory Risk Framework and risk based approach
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Decisions are evidence based, consistent and transparent
  • Quality assurance processes demonstrate decisions align with the regulatory approach and are legally sound
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Information provided by charities in the AIS and where applicable, AFR, is examined for accuracy
  • Develop, publish on the website and implement a data integrity strategy for each AIS detailing the risk based approach to confirming accuracy of reporting
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Priority 2: Support and sustain a robust, vibrant, independent and innovative Australian not-for-profit sector
Performance criteriaTarget2019202020212022
The ACNC will publish data against the criteria that have been determined to measure the characteristics referred to in Object 2 of the ACNC Act.
  • Publicly available data about these measures is up to date and available on data.gov.au
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Information, guidance and advice provided to charities to help them understand their obligations and support good governance is timely accurate and accessible
  • Enquiries are responded to according to the published service standards
  • Quality assurance reviews of advice provided by staff meets a 75% or higher rating
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Data about charities collected by the ACNC is made available to the public in an accessible format
  • Publicly available data about registered charities is up to date and available on data.gov.au
  • The Charity Register is redesigned to better present data to inform donor decision making
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Priority 3: Promote the reduction of unnecessary regulatory obligations on the Australian not-for-profit sector
Performance criteriaTarget2019202020212022
Reduce unnecessary regulation for charities by simplifying and streamlining reporting
  • The Regulator Performance Framework demonstrates a reduction in unnecessary regulation for charities
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Managing our resources

The ACNC was established with a Special Account by Division 125 of the ACNC Act. The Special Account is an appropriation mechanism that notionally sets aside an amount within the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) to be expended for the purposes specified in the ACNC Act. The balance of the Special Account does not lapse at the end of the annual appropriation period (any unexpended amounts are not required to be returned to the Consolidated Revenue Fund and carry over to the next period). The unspent funds that accumulated in the special account in the first three years of the ACNC’s operation were allocated over subsequent years and the ACNC has been working to reduce its costs to ensure we are structured in a way that enables us to deliver our priorities with fewer resources.

People

People are our key asset. The ACNC promotes a people-centred culture that reflects the ACNC values, strives towards our vision and purposes, and has a strong customer service ethos. To work effectively in a complex and dynamic work environment, and to deliver our priorities, and respond to changes in the government landscape, the ACNC requires a workforce that is nimble, appropriately skilled, innovative and collaborative. Our people work under an effective governance and leadership framework that is guided by this plan and the policies and procedures that inform our regulatory framework. We encourage an honest, collaborative approach to how we work and trust our staff to do their best. Opportunities for advancement are limited by the small size of the ACNC so we need a robust learning and development plan to retain knowledge and develop staff capability, including onboarding and training new employees and refreshing and developing the capability of existing staff.

Our data and innovation

The ACNC is a digital by default, data driven regulator. Last year we completed a systems upgrade program after receiving $2.979 million in capital funds in the 2017–18 budget to replace our core business systems. The solution included the replacement of all key IT business systems including our website, the Charity Portal and Register, online forms, our database and a case management system. Over the coming four years we will continue to develop our systems to improve our regulatory services, collection of data, and capability to make information about charities available to the public and authorised agencies to reduce the reporting burden on charities, and inform our risk based approach to regulation.

The ACNC aims to effectively manage and harness risk across the agency and use it as an essential component of good corporate governance, decision making and performance management to continuously improve the quality of our work and ability to achieve our priorities.

The ACNC encounters a broad range of risks that reflect its responsibilities as a regulator. The tolerance of risk for the ACNC will vary depending on the operating environment, the nature of the work being undertaken and our willingness to accept risk in pursuit of ACNC objectives. The risk tolerances for the ACNC are set by the Commissioner and reviewed regularly. The Management team has overall responsibility for monitoring and managing risk.

Our Risk Management Framework, provides staff with tools and guidance for risk management to be performed in a consistent, proportional and prioritised manner to deliver appropriate risk oversight. Some of the risks affecting the ACNC’s ability to achieve its priorities during the coming year include:

  • ensuring continuity of high-quality data on the Charity Register as we mature our infrastructure and systems
  • maintaining workforce capability and retaining critical organisational knowledge and capability to deliver core regulatory functions
  • maintaining workforce capacity to meet our service commitments as unspent funds in the Special Account are diminished
  • maintaining delivery of core regulatory services within statutory timeframes whilst implementing new government reforms

Governance and Accountability

The ACNC’s internal and external governance committees facilitate the oversight, reporting and communication of risk within the agency. The ACNC is not a Commonwealth entity for the purposes of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (Cth) (PGPA Act). The ACNC Commissioner sets the direction and priorities of the ACNC, determines how resources will be allocated and produces the ACNC Corporate Plan and Annual Report. The Commissioner of Taxation is the Accountable Authority for the ACNC for PGPA Act purposes and provides an independent mechanism to assist us monitor our risk and compliance with the PGPA Act. The Australian Taxation Office also provides many corporate services in the areas of accommodation, phone infrastructure, finance and human resources.

The ACNC’s regulatory approach reflects our five key values of: Fairness, Accountability, Independence, Integrity and Respect (FAIIR). The ACNC uses its powers in accordance with the values outlined in our Regulatory Approach Statement. We assess the risks and evidence before us when exercising our powers and functions, with regard to the matters specified in Section 15-10 of the ACNC Act, including the regulatory principles of regulatory necessity, reflecting risk, and proportionate regulation.

An image identifying the ACNC's five core values: Fairness, Accountability, Integrity, Independence and Respect

The regulatory pyramid summarises the ACNC’s regulatory approach, which is consistent with the regulatory principles of necessity and proportionality. The ACNC aims to only exercise those powers which are necessary to meet the regulatory objective. Much of our work involves preventing problems by providing information, support and guidance to help charities stay on track. Where possible we work collaboratively with charities to address problems. However, the ACNC will not hesitate to use its powers where charities do not act lawfully and reasonably. In serious cases, the appropriate response may be near or at the top of the pyramid.

The ACNC's regulatory pyramid outlines the actions the ACNC can take to address compliance concerns - ranging from providing education and support, to the revocation of charity status.

ACNC – Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission

ACNC Act – the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission Act 2012 (Cth) and the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (Consequential and Transitional) Act 2012 (Cth). The ACNC Act, together with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (Consequential and Transitional Act) 2012 (Cth) established the ACNC and sets out its powers and functions.

Annual financial report – the annual financial report that medium and large registered charities must submit to the ACNC which contains the audited/reviewed financial statements and notes, audit/review report and signed responsible persons’ declaration for the reporting period

Annual Information Statement – the annual statement that registered charities must submit to the ACNC which contains information about a charity’s operations for the reporting period

Charity Portal – an online service where registered charities can update their details and lodge their AIS: charity.acnc.gov.au

Charity Register – a consolidated database of all charities that have met the definition of charity in the Charities Act 2013 (Cth) and other requirements for registration under the ACNC Act

Governance Standards – a set of minimum governance requirements that charities must meet. These are set out in the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission Regulation 2013 (Cth)

PGPA Act – the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (Cth)

Regulation – relates to the regulatory obligations on the Australian not-for-profit sector

Registration – the process of becoming a registered charity

Regulatory approach – how the ACNC approaches its role as an independent charity regulator: acnc.gov.au/regulatoryapproach

Regulatory performance framework – sets out the government’s commitment to reduce the cost of unnecessary or inefficient regulation: jobs.gov.au/deregulation-agenda