The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) has released the 8th edition of the annual Australian Charities Report (Charities Report) providing valuable insight into the sector over the 2020 reporting period. This report collates data from the Annual Information Statements (AIS) of 49,165 charities. For most charities, the 2020 reporting period was from 1 July 2019 to 30 June 2020 or from 1 January 2020 to 31 December 2020.

10 key findings

  • Small charities made up approximately two-thirds of all charities (65.3%), with large charities (19%) outnumbering medium charities (15.7%).
  • Nearly one-third of all charities were ‘extra small’ (31.4%). Extra small charities have less than $50,000 in annual revenue. This size category saw the largest increase of all the charity sizes in the 2020 reporting period, largely due to new charity registrations.
  • The revenue of the charity sector was $176 billion – an increase of more than $10 billion from the previous reporting period. However, expenses also increased by $10.2 billion.
  • Revenue from government (including grants and revenue from service contracts) accounted for more than half (50.4%) of the total revenue for the sector.
  • Of the nearly 2,000 charities that were not operating for the year, 650 cited COVID-19 as a reason.
  • The charity sector employed 1.38 million people – 10.5% of all employees in Australia. More than 330,000 of these staff were employed by education charities.
  • Despite making up only 19% of charities, large charities accounted for 93% of the employees. On the other end of this scale, 51% of charities reported not having any paid staff at all. Many of the sector’s small charities are run entirely by volunteers.
  • Volunteer contribution remained high (3.4 million volunteers in total) but decreased by 220,000. More than 810,000 people volunteered for environmental charities.
  • Donations rose by 8% to $12.7 billion.
  • JobKeeper payments to ACNC registered charities supported an estimated 331,000 individuals in the period between April 2020 and September 2020. This reduced to approximately 128,000 individuals between October 2020 and December 2020, and 86,000 individuals between January 2021 and March 2021.
  • Approximately 7% of charities reported overseas operations across 217 countries or regions, with the five most common being: Cambodia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Kenya and Papua New Guinea.

Further context

The 2020 reporting period was particularly testing for charities as it included the devastating 2019-2020 ‘Black Summer’ bushfire season and the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time, most charities were required to fundamentally shift or ‘pivot’ some aspect of their operations, whether by moving online, pausing volunteer services or navigating a period of unforeseen need with limited resources. The Charities Report therefore tells a powerful tale of the resilience of the sector and demonstrates how quickly charities have been able to evolve and adapt. It also highlights the generosity of the public, with an 8% increase in donations during a tough time for many and the emergence of a large proportion of new charities during the 2020 reporting period. For the first time, this report also provides information on the programs run by charities in the reporting period, indicating that charities run an average of one to four programs each, although variances exist as to the way charities report on their programs.

We recommend viewing the Charities Report in tandem with the searchable interactive dataset to obtain relevant insights. You can also view this report in conjunction with the previous report to facilitate useful comparisons.

Any questions?

If you have any questions, please contact our Charities and Social Sector lawyers.


Authors: Darren Fittler, Rebecca Barber and Karla Dunbar

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