‘Tis the season of charitable giving


Image: Hunger relief charity Foodbank Australia

When our internet landline rings (rarely), I know for certain it will be my sister in New Zealand or Guide Dogs Australia asking for “Mrs Wilson”. She Who Gives to Charity Sometimes is like most of us. If she feels inclined to donate to a charity, she likes to do it on her terms. Guide Dogs Australia is a worthy charity that we support in several small ways (calendars, Christmas cards and so on). In the weeks leading up to Christmas, Guide Dogs volunteers will offer gift wrapping at selected shopping centres. There is usually a dog to pat too.

If you have an email subscription to a charity like the Salvos, Lifeline or Red Cross, they do like to remind you that they’re there. On Monday I had an email from the CEO of Lifeline, Colin Seery. He began: “Christmas is upon us. People will need us. We have to be ready for what could be the busiest days we have ever faced.

The festive season brings additional challenges to charities which support people in need. In 2021 Lifeline received over 98,000 calls in December, a record for that time of year.

“It’s sobering to think that of all the hardship we’ve faced over the past few years,” Mr Seery wrote, “The festive season remains overwhelming for so many.” 

Lifeline says it needs to raise $328,000 to ensure people find the support they’re looking for when contacting Lifeline.

The major problem for fund-raisers – and who knew there are 57,5000 charities in Australia – is that there is a lot of competition for a limited pool of money set aside for ‘giving’. Organisations which offer similar services to Lifeline (The Salvation Army, St Vincents, The Smith Family, Beyond Blue etc), all have their collection tins out at this time of year.

On a global scale, there are the large charities like Red Cross, Save the Children and World Vision. They draw funding from affluent Australians and those who donate as their means dictate.

As the weeks roll by, you can expect to hear about the need for Christmas food hampers and why flooding in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia will make them difficult to deliver. The ABC reported on events unfolding in southern states as suppliers struggle to source food hampers.

Hunger relief charity Foodbank said it had “real challenges” supplying its 1,000 charity partners and schools in New South Wales and the ACT. Chief executive John Robertson said fresh produce and sources of protein were particularly hard to secure when the pressures of natural disasters were factored in.

Foodbank Australia, which organises food hampers for needy Australians on a regular basis, has a big demand this year for its Christmas appeal. Mr Robertson told the ABC that even though production had been lifted from 20,000 hampers last year to 30,000, it was still not going to be enough. Christmas hampers include canned leg ham, Christmas cake, pudding & custard, along with a range of staple foods such as pasta, cereal, canned fruit and vegetables. Foodbank also does this in other states and territories, along with organisations including Anglicare, The Salvation Army, OzHarvest and FoodAssist.

A Foodbank spokeswoman told FOMM the supply chain issues include the recent freight train derailment, which will cut off a main route. The floods in both Victoria and New South Wales in very rich food-producing areas have also disrupted operations, she said.

There is clearly a demonstrable need for charitable organisations to provide food, clothing and shelter for those whose needs are not being met. It is comforting to know the scale of the not-for-profit sector, as outlined by its regulator, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC). As of 2021, there were 57,500 registered charities in Australia and another 600,000 not-for-profits. The latter are commonly small community groups put together for a specific purpose and not all are charities. If they are incorporated they can raise funds if needed, but fund-raising is not usually their core business.

The difficulty for smaller charities is that when they do need to raise funds, for whatever reason, they are competing with the big end of town.

The ACNC report on Australian charities shows that 65% of them are rated small (annual revenue of $250,000 or less). Medium charities are ranked as those with annual revenue of $250,000 to $1 million (16%). Large charities (19% of the total), have annual revenue of $1 million or more. One-third of small not-for-profits are uber-small – revenue of $50,000 a year or less.

The charity sector in Australia overall employs 1.2 million people – 10% of the country’s workforce, the majority employed by large charities.

McCrindle Research says charitable giving is deeply ingrained in the Australian psyche, with 82% of people giving to not-for-profit organisations in some capacity. Of these, 61% believe that not-for-profits are an essential pathway for Australians to fulfil their human duty of providing hands-on-help to others in need.

David Crosbie, CEO of the Community Council for Australia (CCA) said the sector had been transformed in just two decades.

“A charity space shackled with red tape in 2000 and lacking even a legal definition of its powers and purpose has (been) transformed into a vibrant sector with an effective regulator and legally-enshrined advocacy rights.

“But as the number of charities has grown, so too has the sector’s reliance on government funding.

“This in turn has increased the scrutiny on charities to be effective, as more organisations are forced to compete for fewer resources.”  

Mr Crosbie, writing in Pro Bono Australia’s annual report in 2020, said the biggest win for the sector was the establishment through the Charities Act 2013 of a clear legal definition of a charity. This definition included advocacy as a core activity for NFPs(Not For Profits).

Charities had fight again to protect their hard-won status in 2017. The Federal Government’s foreign donations bill threatened to curtail the sector’s advocacy rights, by broadening registration and disclosure requirements for non-party political actors including charities. (Could have been termed the ‘Anti ‘GetUP’ bill’. Ed)The sector successfully campaigned to amend the bill, arguing it would stifle advocacy and impose unnecessary red tape on many NFP organisations.

Flooding and subsequent clean-ups in NSW, Victoria and South Australia will make it difficult for families to regroup in time to celebrate Christmas. For those of us who live in places not affected by floods, look around and you’ll become aware of organisations that provide hunger relief for people who need it.

Foodbank, which is based in South Australia, operates nationally. The organisation sourced 48.1 million kilograms of food and groceries in 2021, equating to 86.7 million meals or 238,000 meals per day. Foodbank partners with farmers, growers and retailers including major supermarket chains to deliver food boxes to charities for distribution to those most in need.

A Foodbank report released in October showed that more than 2 million households in Australia ran out of food in the last year, due to limited finances. This meant sometimes skipping meals or going whole days without eating. About 1.3 million children lived in food insecure households during that time. Demand for hunger relief services is now higher than it was during the pandemic – much of it to do with the roll back of JobSeeker in early 2021.

Whether it’s with the aim of helping people right now or to lift spirits at Christmas, you can help. A donation of $50 can provide a hamper to a family in need.


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