While the rules, laws and requirements for those engaging in charitable fundraising varies from state to state, the following general information should give you a good idea of when the laws apply and what they cover.
The various charitable fundraising laws follow a similar pattern. They:
- first define what is meant by charitable fundraising (often referred to as a fundraising appeal)
- then make it clear that you are not permitted to conduct a fundraising appeal without an authority.
Conducting an appeal without the appropriate authority is an offence in every Australian state and territory with penalties ranging from a fine of $110,000 for a corporation in the ACT, to a $100 fine in Western Australia.
And there are of course also the exemptions that allow you to fundraise without an authority in certain circumstances.
The general rule
As stated at the beginning of this article, the general rule is ...
If you are asking for or receiving money from the public to support a charitable cause, you will likely need an authority from the government.
This general rule is far reaching and applies:
- both before and while you are asking;
- if only part of the reason behind why you are asking for the money is charitable;
- regardless of whether the money is asked for or received in person or other means (such as by email, post, telephone or fax);
- if the money is asked for or received through a lottery, art union or competition, or as a result of sponsorship in connection with an event or activity such as a walkathon or telethon;
- if the money is asked for or received in connection with the supply of food, entertainment or other goods or services; or
- if the money is asked for or received in connection with any other commercial undertaking.
What activities are not considered charitable fundraising?
The activities that are not considered charitable fundraising and can be performed without a charitable fundraising authority vary from state to state.
Sorry to go on about the variances across states and territories, but it is important. And we would hate for you to take this general information as being specific to your state or to your circumstances!
So, in general terms, you don't need a charitable fundraising authority if you are:
- requesting or receiving fees for membership of your organisation;
- specifically appealing to or receiving money from members of your organisation;
- requesting that money or property be left in a will;
- appealing among the staff of your organisation to support a fellow worker or that worker's family; or
- applying for (or receiving) government funds.
Which organisations could be exempt from the need to hold a charitable fundraising authority?
Yep, you know what we are about to say ... The organisations listed below as examples of those that could be exempt from the need to hold an authority are indicative only and will vary from state to state.
And to make things just that little more confusing (as if they weren't confusing enough!) is that some organisations are exempt from the law altogether while others are only exempt from the requirement to hold an authority.
Organisations exempt from the requirement to hold an authority may still need to comply with the requirements of the relevant laws such as having an annual audit, keeping financial records, and allowing public access to certain information.
Organisations that could be exempt include:
- Religious organisations;
- Local councils (including any council committee or council related trust);
- Some universities;
- Organisations, or individuals, that raise less than a specified amount annually (e.g. $15,000); or
- Organisations that have been established by an Act of Parliament and are subject to the control and direction of a government Minister.
What could happen if you fail to comply - what's the fall out?!
If you or your organisation participates in a fundraising appeal that you know, or could reasonably be expected to know is being conducted unlawfully, you are likely to be guilty of an offence. As such, your organisation, or even you and your team, could be penalised through fines and in some serious circumstances maybe even through a prison sentence.
While the regulators are unlikely to jump straight to imposing penalties, particularly if you have breach the law accidentally or unknowingly, you shouldn't depend on this and should take steps to inform yourself and your team about the charitable fundraising requirements in each state and territory within which you carry on charitable fundraising activities.