Factsheet: Overseas aid and development charities

Attention:You need to know! Check the ACNC Register to see if your organisation is already registered with the ACNC.

Registering as a charity with the ACNC

The ACNC is the national charities regulator, and makes decisions about whether organisations can be registered as charities. Organisations must be registered with the ACNC before they can be endorsed by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) to receive charity tax concessions.

Overseas aid and development organisations – those with overseas beneficiaries or activities, or who send money overseas – are able to apply for registration with the ACNC if they:

  • fit the legal meaning of charity
  • have an Australian Business Number (ABN)
  • meet the governance standards, and
  • are not a type of organisation that cannot be registered, such as an organisation included in a written decision made by an Australian government agency or judge that lists it as engaging in or supporting terrorist or other criminal activities.

When applying to register, these organisations must identify the charitable purpose of their organisation, for example, advancing health, or promoting or protecting human rights. They may also select other recognised charitable purposes they have, or other charitable activities they engage in, such as education, development or environmental programs.

Attention - Important information!If you are seeking to register a charity that has overseas beneficiaries or activities, or sends money overseas, you will be asked questions about who your activities are directed towards and where your funding will be directed.

Find out more about how to apply to register with the ACNC.

Meeting ACNC obligations

All organisations registered with the ACNC have ongoing obligations under the ACNC Act. These include obligations to:

  • notify us of certain changes
  • keep records
  • report to us each year, and
  • comply with governance standards.

Registered charities who send funds or engage in activities outside of Australia may also need to comply with a set of minimum standards called 'external conduct standards'. These standards have not yet been developed, so this is not a current obligation.

Find out more about the ongoing obligations of registered charities.

Reporting financial and other information

When registered charities report to us each year, Annual Information Statements from 2014 onwards require small, medium and large charities to provide information about (among other things):

  • whether the charity conducted ‘international activities’
  • whether the charity helped communities overseas
  • the names of the overseas countries where the charity conducted overseas activities or helped communities overseas, and
  • the amount of grants and donations made by the charity for use outside Australia (unless the charity meets the ACNC Act definition of  ‘basic religious charity’).

The ACNC has prepared a document which will give you a general idea of the types and quantity of information collected. However, it is important to remember the AIS is updated each year.

Find out in more detail how to complete the 2017 Annual Information Statement.

Governance standards and the ACFID Code of Conduct

The ACNC governance standards are a group of key standards, which include accountability to members and suitability of responsible people. Registered charities must meet these standards.

A number of non-government aid and international development organisations become members of the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID), which is a peak body. All ACFID members sign up to the ACFID Code of Conduct (the ACFID Code). The ACFID Code promotes good practice and aims to improve international development outcomes and increase stakeholder trust by enhancing transparency and accountability of the members.  

Please note that charities that comply with the ACFID Code, in particular the principles and underlying obligations, are highly likely to also meet the ACNC Governance Standards.

ACFID revised its Code of Conduct in June 2017. However, the ACFID Code and the ACNC Governance Standards do not map across to each other in an exact way, and the ACNC may still require your organisation to demonstrate how it meets the Governance Standards.

Obligations to other agencies

If your organisation has obligations to another government agency (such as notification or reporting obligations) it must continue to meet these obligations unless we or another government agency tell you otherwise. This includes agencies such as the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

The ACNC will be working with other government agencies to reduce unnecessary regulatory obligations over time. Find out more about this work and whether it affects your organisation by reading about charity obligations to other regulators.

Risks for organisations operating overseas

Overseas aid charities, terrorism financing and money laundering

The not-for-profit sector has been identified as vulnerable to the risk of misuse for the purpose of terrorism financing, most recently in a report by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international and inter-governmental body that sets standards and promotes measures for combating money laundering, terrorist financing and other related threats. This risk is also monitored by the Attorney-General’s Department, and has been referenced in AUSTRAC’s recent report on terrorism financing in Australia.

Reducing risk

All charities should exercise due diligence and good governance. But when sending money overseas, charities may face particular risks of their charitable funds being diverted or otherwise misused, even if they are working with a local organisation which has similar charitable purposes. The ways an overseas charity will reduce this risk will vary according to its particular circumstances, such as its size, the sources of its funding, the nature of its activities, as well as the needs of the public.

For example, charities who are members of ACFID must meet particular requirements under the ACFID Code, Section B.2.3 Control of Funds and also D.2.3 Anti-fraud and anti-corruption.

Registered charities operating or sending money overseas need take reasonable steps to make sure that:

  • their activities outside Australia are carried out in a way that is consistent with their purpose and character as a charity, and
  • the resources (including funds) given to third parties outside Australia are applied in accordance with their purpose and character as a charity and with proper controls and risk management processes in place.

Charities should also make sure they are not sending funds or working with any people or organisations on the list of proscribed terrorist groups and individuals to which the Charter of the United Nations Act 1945 and Autonomous Sanctions Act 2011 applies. Check this list (which is updated by the government) because providing funds to a proscribed person or organisation is illegal, even if they use the funds for humanitarian purposes.  

External resources

We recommend charities review the resources below, to assist them to understand the risks and steps they can take to reduce them.

Related information

Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission (ACNC) resources

Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) resources

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) sanctions information

Visit DFAT’s website for more information about sanctions laws, where you can

  • check the DFAT Consolidated List
  • subscribe to receive notification of Consolidated List updates by e-mail
  • inquire about whether a specific activity requires a permit through the On-line Sanctions Administration System
  • contact DFAT about sanctions    
  • email to request access to free name matching software – LinkMatchLite.

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) information on governance,due diligence and partnerships

Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) resources

Attorney-General's Department resources

Other external resources

  • Tools4dev – practical tools and tips for overseas development organisations

This page contains links to external websites. Any external links used by the ACNC are inserted for convenience and do not constitute an endorsement or recommendation of any material at those sites.  Information and resources provided by the ACNC is for general information only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice regarding your charity's particular circumstances.

Contact the ACNC

Phone: 13 ACNC (13 22 62)
Email: advice@acnc.gov.au
Mail: Advice Services, Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, GPO Box 5108, Melbourne VIC 3001
Fax: 1300 232 569


Return to all Factsheets