Comparing Apples, Oranges and Lemons Dressed Up As Mangoes

We thank Pro Bono for publishing this article.

Emeritus Professor Myles McGregor-Lowndes looks at the three KPIs the sector can use to judge the new ACNC commissioner Dr Gary Johns in his mission to make charities more transparent.

The new ACNC commissioner wants charities to be transparent. So how will we know if the new commissioner succeeds in his transparency goal five years hence?

For me, there are three KPIs on which the sector and community might judge the results.

The government currently mandates generic accounting standards through the AASB that are not fit for charity transparency purposes.

They do not provide what many users (including donors) want – a template to benchmark or compare financial accounts – let alone indicators of efficiency, or even effectiveness.

To illustrate the point, I recently provided three sets of AASB compliant accounts to a meeting of seasoned sector donors, decades-long professionals who chair charity boards, award-winning regulators and experienced government funders.

Unbeknownst to the small groups looking at them, everybody had the same underlying transactions – just classified differently as allowed by the vanilla AASB standards. Yet when asked to investigate their charity’s administration and fundraising costs each group – each deeply experienced group – arrived at wildly different answers.

The penny fell with a thud to the floor when the identical base transactions were revealed to all. Under current AASB standards, it is not a case of “can you do the accounts”, but “what would you like the accounts to be?”

Transparency of financial accounts is of limited value if you are comparing apples, oranges and lemons dressed up as mangoes. It doesn’t matter how deep you drill with a digital hipster uberised Internet app. We have five years of mixed quality and different accounting treatments that no amount of visual graphing, cleansing, or cooking of the books is going to provide donors or anyone else with any significant clarification about an individual charity’s performance against others.

So…KPI One – Having the AASB agree to a fit for purpose not-for-profit accounting standards such as the UK’s Standard of Recommended Practice (SORP), or Singapore, Canada or New Zealand’s specific accounting standards to give charities an important tool for transparency.

The new commissioner talks of a donor market. Classic economic theory has not-for-profit organisations arising and thriving historically in failed community service markets because for-profit firms couldn’t successfully operate there. The theory goes that donors and consumers place trust in the legal constraints that define a not for profit and more lately in the government providing a taxpayer-funded accreditation of these legal constraints in licensed organisations.

Can the regulatory levers be pulled to boost donor influence to mimic the role of buyers in the widget market? Would donors then discriminate among organisations with their support, as occurs in the rationally-minded scenario of widget buyers and sellers imagined by economists?

Governments have been trying to harness the market paradigm recently to create functional markets where none have existed, sometimes with spectacular failures such as vocational training.

Care is needed in pulling the right levers.

To create such a functioning market, the commissioner will, among other things, have to raise the number of donors recognising that there is an ACNC and a database, and then motivate them to expend effort to use and understand its metrics.

The public recognition of the ACNC is too low, with the ACNC’s recent research showing only one in 20 Australians being able to recall the ACNC unprompted.

Then the really difficult task will be to convert donors from giving as an emotional response to the opposite: a rational cost-benefit decision accompanied by search costs with little immediate emotional reward. The evidence suggests few donors outside staffed foundations and family offices operate this way anywhere in the world.

KPI Two – Screen those accessing the ACNC database and aim to have self-disclosed donors as the majority of the users.

Charity regulation requires a continual balancing of a diverse range of well targeted and context-specific strategies. Magic bullets, and particularly those based on an ideological approach rather than evidence, are doomed to fail.

Donors are only a part of the balancing act. Strategies for putting the worst of the worst charity rogues’ heads on sticks at the market square entrance, educating volunteers about how to comply, building giving norms and cultures, nudging and modelling compliant behaviours, licencing, auditing, accreditation and co-opting various third parties (including donors) to assist in achieving your regulatory objectives are all required in appropriate measures at the right time.

The biggest bang for the regulatory buck is currently with those closest to the action – the board and committee members who are appointed to act in the best interests of the mission of each charity.

Employing regulatory strategies to make them sensitive to the needs of donors, funders, and people who use their services is a winner both in enduring compliance and cost-effectiveness for all actors.

The commissioner should not overlook that the ACNC Act specifies that the ACNC is to reduce unnecessary red tape and support and sustain a robust, vibrant, independent Australian not-for-profit sector.

The commissioner’s political experience and nous are well suited to wrestling state and federal agencies to the table to clear away the dross of forms, fees and particularly WA’s prohibition of charities collecting from donors passing by in stage coaches (an indicator of the need for updated charity legislation in anyone’s language).

KPI Three – Having all states and territories use the ACNC register as the single point of truth, fix fundraising, having government funding agencies adopt the Charity Passport, and the National Standard Chart of Accounts for small charity funding acquittals.

Introducing Simplified Business Reporting for larger charities is also a worthy stretch KPI.

About the author: Emeritus Professor Myles McGregor-Lowndes OAM is the Founding Director of ACPNS. He has written extensively about not-for-profit tax and regulation, NFP legal entities, government grants and standard charts of accounts as a means of reducing the compliance burden. He is a founding member of the ATO Charities Consultative Committee and the Australian Charities and Not for profits Commission Advisory Board. In June 2003, he was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for service to the community by providing education and support in legal, financial and administrative matters to nonprofit organisations.

Read more about the need for transparency of financial accounts and the need for a more streamlined approach to accounting for the nonprofit sector in the Defining and Accounting for Fundraising Income and Expenses report:

Inspiring alumni: Kylee Bates

Kylee Bates
CEO of Ardoch Youth Foundation

Listen to Kylee’s podcast which includes great tips on entering the philanthropy and nonprofit sector

What are you doing now?

I’m the CEO of Ardoch Youth Foundation a children’s education charity that provides educational support programs to children and young people living in disadvantaged communities.  I’ve been in this role around seven months and it’s a great organisation that really seems to punch above its weight.  We have a small paid staff of 19 but a volunteer base of over 1400 who are core to the delivery of our programs and with just under $2 million cash revenue last year we helped over 11,000 children and young people across more than 70 schools and early years services.

In my ‘spare’ time I’m the volunteer World President of the International Association for Volunteer Effort (IAVE) – a global membership organisation focused on promoting, supporting and celebrating volunteering throughout the world.  Our board is global and we have over 800 members across 70+ countries. 

We’ve been following some of the fantastic stories of support through the Ardoch Youth Foundation site. One we particularly love is that of Faye McDougall, a retired optometrist who boards the Chatterbox Bus each fortnight, a mobile service that traverses through Melbourne’s CBD and inner suburbs looking for at-risk teenagers to provide them with bedding, toiletries, computer access, crisis accommodation, food and drinks.


Faye McDougall, donating her time in support of education in disadvantaged communities

Inspiring alumni: Eduardo Camardelli with The Global Fund

Eduardo Camardelli
Finance Specialist at The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria

Listen to Eduardo’s podcast which includes great tips on entering the philanthropy and nonprofit sector

What are you doing now?

I am working for The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The Global Fund invests funds from donor countries and private institutions in more than 140 countries all over the world, with a portfolio turnover of about 10-12 billion dollars every 3 years on average. I am based in Geneva (Switzerland) with my wife and 2 young sons. I am a Finance Specialist within one of the High Impact departments (High Impact Africa II), comprised of 7 African nations. I am working with sub-Saharan African countries that are implementing public health programs to tackle the three diseases, using donor funds. We work closely with United Nations agencies and Programs, Governments, Embassies, International NGOs, Local NGOs, Foundations, Universities and various other stakeholders involved in the Public Health space. In my role, I travel 3-4 times per year to each of the 2-3 African nations I support in particular, where we conduct grant implementation and grant-making missions, audits, trainings, policy development, high level political meetings, donor-coordination forums and more.

We have been following some of the many ways in which The Global Fund is fighting diseases worldwide. We particularly loved this story about Ramadhan Milanzi who is a survivor of tuberculosis (TB) who now donates his time to locating and helping rural victims of TB.


Ramadhan Milanzi, a traditional healer in Dar es Salaam, attends to a patient.

Inspired by our amazing alumni: Andrew Judge

We are constantly inspired and amazed by the work our alumni are doing, and 2017 is no exception. Below are just a handful of alumni who are making a big difference in the sector. We love following their journeys and hearing their stories.

Andrew Judge
CEO, SurfAid

Andrew Judge is the CEO of SurfAid International, a humanitarian organisation whose aim is to improve the health, wellbeing and self-reliance of people living in isolated regions connected through surfing. The organisation works with, and in support of, the community – from the idea for a program to the implementation of the program.
This year SurfAid is proud to celebrate 15 years of supporting communities in remote areas throughout the Asia Pacific region. Andrew says:

“Coming from the private sector, my studies with ACPNS have been invaluable. They’ve given me valuable insights around management, compliance, accounting and fundraising in a nonprofit organisation as well as a clear perspective of how boards operate. Without the grounding the Centre provided, I wouldn’t have been able to work as I have with SurfAid.”

This year we loved following along on the SurfAid blog, in particular reading about Ibu Nurmah, a poor woman living in the extremely remote village of Prado, Indonesia. To help her fellow villagers, Ibu generously donated some of her land so that SurfAid and the community could build a Posyandu (a community health post) where the locals can congregate and receive basic health services and information.

SurfAid Country Director Anne Wuijts talking with Ibu Nurmah about her generous land donation.


QUT’s Nonprofit Courses and Scholarships Available in 2018 WEBINAR RECORDING

Thank you to everyone who joined us for this webinar. The recording is now freely available for download.  


QUT’s Nonprofit Courses and Scholarships Available in 2018

Download here: | Password: Mg8oe8gjN

At this webinar listeners:

  • heard from QUT’s experienced lecturers and from outstanding ACPNS alumni
  • learned about the types of business courses available to those wanting to embark on a career in the philanthropy and nonprofit sector
  • found out what course pathways will be open to you and where a qualification in philanthropy and nonprofit studies can take you
  • got all the info on how you can soar in 2018 by taking advantage of the nonprofit courses and new scholarships available.

Please feel free to forward the link to anyone you think might be interested.

A Rewarding Career in the Nonprofit Sector, How? WEBINAR RECORDING

Thank you to everyone who joined us for this webinar. The recording is now freely available for download.  

A Rewarding Career in the Nonprofit Sector, How?

Download here:

Password: qiTnLzuUr

At this webinar listeners learnt about:

  • the community sector – its scope and diversity and the how & why the demand for qualified professionals has accelerated over recent years
  • breaking into the sector – handy hints on making your transition as simple and as fruitful as possible and what you need to do now to prepare for the change
  • career progression in the sector – how to strengthen your capabilities to match the needs of the sector and make yourself stand out to employers
  • nonprofit courses and new scholarships available in 2018.

Please feel free to forward the link to anyone you think might be interested.

Two fab free webinars to make 2018 great! 6 DEC

Don’t miss this Wednesday’s (6 Dec) free webinars:


A rewarding career in the nonprofit sector, How?

Want to enter or progress in the philanthropy and nonprofit sector in 2018? Find out what you need to know.

If you have always dreamed of a rewarding and meaningful career in the community sector or you’re looking for ways to speedily progress in the sector, this webinar is for you! Hear from nonprofit staff/leaders on their experiences transitioning from for-profit to nonprofit and how their careers have progressed since.

At this webinar you will learn about:

  • The community sector – its scope and diversity and the how & why the demand for qualified professionals has accelerated over recent years
  • breaking into the sector – handy hints on making your transition as simple and as fruitful as possible and what you need to do now to prepare for the change
  • career progression in the sector – how to strengthen your capabilities to match the needs of the sector and make yourself stand out to employers
  • nonprofit courses and new scholarships available in 2018.




Nonprofit courses and scholarships

Want to take off somewhere amazing in 2018? Tune into our free webinar on nonprofit courses and scholarships to find out how.

Did you know that in less than 12 months you could have a valuable qualification under your belt that will make you stand out to nonprofit employers? Hear from QUT alumni from the Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies (ACPNS) on how their qualifications are setting them apart and enabling them to make a difference in the sector.

At this webinar you will:

  • hear from QUT’s experienced lecturers and from outstanding ACPNS alumni
  • learn about the types of business courses available to those wanting to embark on a career in the philanthropy and nonprofit sector
  • find out what course pathways will be open to you and where a qualification in philanthropy and nonprofit studies can take you
  • get all the info on how you can soar in 2018 by taking advantage of the nonprofit courses and new scholarships available.


Annual Not-for-Profit Breakfast Seminar, 1 Dec

Don’t miss this year’s Not-for-Profit Breakfast Seminar, hosted by Paxton-Hall Lawyers.

The primary speaker will be ACPNS Founding Director, Emeritus Professor Myles McGregor-Lowndes who is a consultant at Paxton-Hall.

Myles is going to talk about a range of issues concerning the ACNC, including the government review of the workings of the ACNC and what that is likely to mean for the future under a new Commissioner following Susan Pascoe’s recent retirement.

Following that Paul Paxton-Hall will address a number of current issues affecting the sector, including some recent cases and potential for further reform in the sector.


Date | Friday 1 December 2017
Time | 7.15am (for a 7.30am start) to 9.15am
Venue | Victoria Park Golf Course, Herston Rd, Brisbane

Cost | $77 per person

More information and registration

ACPNS/FIA Alumni Anniversary Breakfast – Oh what a day!

Speakers at the 2017 ACPNS Alumni Anniversary Breakfast

The Broncos Leagues Club played host to this morning’s ACPNS/FIA Alumni Anniversary Breakfast and what a morning it was! 

The breakfast brought together three Millennials, from academia, fundraising and philanthropy to share their experiences with engaging Millennials.

Marie Balczun, Senior Research Assistant at ACPNS presented some key data from Giving Australia 2016 including millennials’ lack of differences with non-Millennials in terms of motivations and cause areas for giving and volunteering. She explained how the differences that do exist are much more to do with age, life stage and capacity to give and volunteer than some fundamental difference with this generation. She also showed how traditional methods of fundraising are not reaching Millennials and the importance of online giving in the future. “Online giving is not going away and it is no longer a Millennial specific issue. Our data showed that non-Millennials were actually more likely to give via mobile devices than Millennials when they gave via the organisation’s website.” She highlighted that organisations need to give opportunities for Millennials to participate in ways that appeal to them – giving online, supporting on social media and providing time-specific volunteering opportunities. “Millennials can be very loyal but this is to a cause, not an organisation”, she said.

Queensland young fundraiser of the year, Will Kirsop, highlighted the importance of thinking about Millennials as employees, not just donors. “Millennial employees are looking for purpose in their work, flexibility feedback.” In terms of donors, Will stressed that “you need to communicate the impact of your work, target your message and innovate to deepen your relationships with Millennials”.

Finally, Prue Pateras of the Tim Fairfax Family Foundation discussed the role of peers and collective giving for high-net-worth Millennials. “Impact investing and collective giving are becoming increasingly important and relevant to many givers, millennials included. Millennials are expecting more from charities and want to see them stepping away from reliance on single funding streams and becoming more innovative and creative in the way they engage funders.”

View Marie Balczun’s the Giving Australia 2016 slide presentation

View Will Kirsop’s slide presentation

View Prue Pateras’ slide presentation

Download the Giving Australia reports and factsheets

Stay tuned for some more key takeaways from the breakfast!

ACPNS HDR students win big!

We have two ACPNS champions to celebrate this week!

Students, Alexandra Williamson and Kylie Kingston won best abstract awards for their papers at the School of Accountancy Higher Degree Research Colloqium held on 1 November 2017.

Have a read of each winner’s abstract below.



An exploration of evaluation as a mechanism for enhancing participation and accountability in not-for-profit organisations by Kylie Kingston

Traditional constructions of accounting and accountability, which are typically embedded in neoliberal logics, privilege the needs of some stakeholder groups ahead of others, and therefore are contributory factors for societal inequalities. From within a critical epistemological position, this research challenges the dominant economic ideology with an aim of creating social change.

Informed by theories of agonistic democracy, dialogic accounting, and transformative participatory evaluation, the motivation of this research is to support the empowerment of marginalised groups by developing participatory evaluation frameworks, for use within not-for-profit organisations. In doing so, service delivery will be strengthened, social justice promoted, and accountability to the beneficiaries of the service increased.

Qualitative case-studies of two not-for-profit organisations will provide the context to explore current practices of beneficiary involvement within accountability and evaluation processes. Data sources will include interviews with three stakeholder groups (board, staff and beneficiaries), secondary data from publicly available documents and publicly available data concerning the legislative environment, of each case. Based upon the analysis and findings, an evaluation framework to be used by the organisation, will be drafted. Beneficiaries will also have a forum to provide feedback upon the draft.

The development of an evaluation framework aimed at giving voice to beneficiaries and increasing accountability to them, has potential societal and practical impacts through the formation of the instrument, the improvement of organisational performance, and the empowerment of beneficiaries through participation within decision-making processes. The research will also contribute to theory development through extending literature on dialogic accounting, accountability and evaluation.


The accountability of public philanthropic foundations by Alexandra Williamson

Accountability, particularly through transparency, is currently of great interest in philanthropy with a focus on best practices, measures and standards.  This paper explores the phenomenon of nonprofit accountability in the context of Public Ancillary Funds (PubAFs).  PubAFs are interesting entities to examine as they share a legal form, but vary widely in internal factors such as mission and identity; and balance their accountability to external stakeholders including donors and beneficiaries.

Nonprofit organisations including PubAFs receive tax exemptions and concessions, and are thus ‘subsidised’ by taxpayers.  Accountability sharpens nonprofits’ focus by enhancing effectiveness and impact, and reducing the risk of scandals and loss of public trust.  However, while PubAFs are regulated by the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission and the Australian Taxation Office, other forms of their accountability have been assumed rather than systematically explored.

Using a primarily qualitative approach, relationships between stakeholders, identity, and accountability are examined through Mashaw’s (2006) and Ebrahim’s (2010) frameworks of nonprofit accountability. The unit of analysis is the organisation, with interviews with managers providing perspectives of PubAFs.

Preliminary findings reveal a strong focus on future sustainability.  PubAFs that support a single organisation exist in a symbiotic relationship with a shared mission yet different aims.  Those supporting cause areas or geographic communities are accountable to mission through the agency of donors.   Organisations with a religious auspice interweave accountability closely with their faith.  The theoretical contribution will be the extension and refinement of nonprofit accountability theory through a typology of relationships and forms of accountability in PubAFs.


Congratulations Kylie and Alexandra!