Australia’s Faith-­based Charities

A study supplementing the Australian Charities 2013 Report. 2015 edition, Penny Knight, David Gilchrist.

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Executive summary

Faith-based charities make an enormous and arguably under-recognised contribution to Australia’s social infrastructure and social well-being. They are by far the largest single category of charity in Australia with a third of all charities including “Advancement of Religion” as one of their charitable purposes and with “Religion” nominated as the main activity for a quarter of all charities, more than four times the size of the next largest category of activity.1

Faith-based charities are not a homogeneous group. They range from those serving small local community congregations to some of Australia’s largest providers of essential services in primary, secondary and tertiary education, hospital, ambulance and health services, as well as aged care, housing and disability services. Some of these charities have been in operation for more than 150 years and are so much a part of the fabric of our lives that they have been given typically Australian nicknames such as “The Salvos” and “St Vinnies”. Whatever our personal beliefs, most of us come into contact with faith-based charities on a regular basis as users of services, through volunteering or as a result of donating.

This report is based on the information provided by faith-based charities that submitted a 2013 Annual Information Statement (AIS) to the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission. It supplements and should be read in conjunction with the Australian Charities 2013 report, published by Curtin University in late 2014.2 A key finding from this first detailed analysis is that many charities with a religious affiliation did not include religion as one of their purposes or activities. For example, many schools and community service providers established under the auspices of a religious organisation are not included in this data. Therefore, the findings in this report under-represent the number and contribution of faith-based charities in Australia. As such, this report provides a good initial overview of Australia’s faith-based charities, but also highlights the need for more accurate information from charities in order to enable the development of a better understanding of the sector by the general public, donors and policy makers.

Of the charities that included advancing religion as one of their purposes or for which religion is their main activity, we found that:

  • Thirty eight per cent of charities with the purpose of advancing religion also have other purposes. These include advancing education (24%), relief of poverty, sickness or the needs of the aged (18%), childcare services (4%), and a wide range of other charitable objectives (16%). (Note: multiple responses).
  • In comparison with charities with other purposes, faith-based charities are smaller. Nearly three quarters are classified as Small (annual revenue of less than $250,000) and only 12% are Large (annual revenue $1m or over).
  • The charities that identified as faith-based employ a total of 133,000 staff or 14% of all staff employed by charities. However this is likely to be a significant understatement of faith-based charities’ contribution to total employment by the charity sector.
  • Faith-based charities attract a proportionately larger number of volunteers than other charities. They are also more likely to be operating outside Australia, either in direct service delivery or through making donations.
  • Fewer faith-based charities have reporting obligations to Commonwealth or state/territory governments. Further, the amount of time spent by those charities meeting government reporting requirements is considerably lower than that spent by the overall population of charities.

1 This report is based on the 38,341 2013 Annual Information Statements submitted by charities by 30 June 2014.

2 Available at www.acnc.gov.au/ACNC/Pblctns/Rpts/Curtin or from: www.business.curtin.edu.au/courses/accounting/research/not-for-profit/reports.cfm