Every day, new reports of grave human suffering in the Israel/Palestine conflict continue to surface in the media and online. As humans, our natural impulse is to help. Donating funds to relief efforts is something that we often reach for in such times, and Australians are amongst the most generous public donors in the world.
Yet, many of us feel uncertain about how to donate, and where. It is natural that in an environment of conflict and crisis, our confidence in systems and processes can be rocked. We all want donations from the Australian community in response to a crisis to be used in the best way possible. But what is the best way? And what can you expect to know about how the money is spent?
That is where we can help. ACFID’s core business is in regulation and governance, and we are well-placed to decode this to help build that confidence. Here is what to look for in establishing that you have donated to a reputable organisation, and that those funds are used well.
Check that the organisation you’re donating to is the real deal
The first step is to ensure that an organisation that you are considering donating to is valid. If an organisation is a registered charity, their website should clearly display the organisation name, address, general purpose, and an Australian Business Number (ABN). You can check the information provided by searching for an organisation’s ABN on the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) Charity Register. The website may also indicate whether your donation is tax deductible, which apply to donations above $2. You can check this under the tab “deductible gift recipient status” on the Government’s ABN lookup site here.
A donations page should explain how funds raised through an appeal will be spent. In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, this information will be quite general, as organisations collect the information that they need. However, as this information becomes available, websites should be updated, providing information to donors with more specific activities, covering what, where and how the charity will be implementing their relief effort. If you can’t find this information, you can contact them and ask.
Check the organisation is safeguarding funds and meeting standards
Some charities sign up to standards that regulate their work, stipulating approaches to fundraising and other activities. For overseas development and humanitarian work, members of the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) sign up to the ACFID Code of Conduct, and choose to report to ACFID on their compliance.
The Code prescribes a standard that sets the bar higher than Government regulation, and is indicative of their commitment to accountability. Importantly, the Code of Conduct also has an independent complaints handling mechanism, through which a member of the public, a beneficiary, any donor or stakeholder can make a complaint about Code signatories. You can read a list of the organisations signed up to the Code on ACFID’s website.
This is particularly important in the context of the current emergency. A signatory to the ACFID Code of Conduct is an organisation that has chosen to adhere to a standard that sets the bar high, ACFID members are required to have policies and procedures in place to ensure that funds and resources are properly controlled and managed. This includes having standards around who they will receive donations from and how they ensure that funds are being used for the purpose for which they are intended. These standards cover counter-terrorism, money-laundering, fraud, corruption, and checks against the criminal code. You can read more here.
For the current crisis, and with other current global humanitarian emergencies, ACFID runs a consolidated appeals page, listing all ACFID member organisations that have been assessed by ACFID as having met these standards. You can find this page on our website here.
Find out how the organisation is responding
All parts of the humanitarian system are working around the clock with staff and volunteers to coordinate a response that maximises coverage of the impacted population while minimizing duplication of relief efforts. The scale of the current crisis, the lack of critical communications infrastructure and unimpeded access for relief workers has made the challenge of this process enormous.
This involves phases of assessing needs, locating and identifying vulnerable groups, delivering immediate food, water, and shelter relief. Different humanitarian organisations work together in what’s known as the “cluster model”, a system of coordination which ensures that international responses to humanitarian emergencies are predictable, accountable and have sufficient global capacity to overcome complex crises and natural diseases. Some of the eleven clusters include health, protection nutrition and water, sanitation and hygiene. Many humanitarian agencies also work with local partner organisations on the ground, who know the local context and needs best.
The organisations listed on ACFID’s appeals page indicate what types of relief they are working on – giving you the option of supporting a particular form of relief if you choose. There are also coordinated funding mechanisms such as the Emergency Action Alliance that run a centralized appeal platform on behalf of 15 major charities and then distribute appeals funds as best to accommodate the work of those members responding directly to an emergency.
Look for indicators that the charity is accountable and transparent
Running an effective organisation costs money, even when it is not-for-profit. Employing skilled staff and recruiting volunteers, buying and maintaining the technology to collect your donation securely and keep your data private, accounting software to track where the money went are just some of the list of expenses. . Fortunately, many established charities already have good systems up and running and can work to keep these costs as low as possible. But this should not be confused with an expectation that they are non-existent, and to suggest this is the case is misleading and undermines the value of the charitable sector’s contribution to our communities. An organisation should be able to explain how funds were spent in a transparent and accountable way, and this is what you should expect of them, not delivery for free.
In the case that a charity does pledge to ensure 100% of funds received will go directly to a cause, you should be aware this cost will need to be absorbed elsewhere.
Consider ongoing support
Established charities are able to mobilise rapidly because they have ongoing programs. These programs fill critical gaps in social service delivery, and help those in communities both here and overseas who need healthcare, shelter, protection every day, not just in an emergency.
One positive that can arise from a crisis is that the generosity of the Australian public shines, and charities are able to harness this generosity to extend critical relief to those who need it. As a donor, you can help this to be an everyday reality.
When you find a charity that deserves your trust, consider becoming part of their regular giving program.
Donations from the public are vital for charities to keep delivering the support and care that many vulnerable communities depend upon. These organisations have a responsibility to the public to ensure they are transparent and accountable, to ensure that public trust stays in place.
Author : Jocelyn Condon, Chief Operating Officer, ACFID
Jocelyn leads ACFID’s effectiveness and engagement team, which manages NGO membership, work under the ACFID Code of Conduct, and ACFID’s learning and innovation program.
Image credit: Tyler Lagalo