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  • ACNC Public trust and confidence in Australian charities 2017

    The following information outlines the ACNC Public trust and confidence in Australian charities 2017. You can also download in a PDF version ACNC Public trust and confidence in Australian charities 2017.

    Executive summary


    Since 2012 the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) has acted as an independent regulator for the charity sector. Its role in the sector is threefold: to maintain, protect, and enhance trust and confidence; to support and sustain the sector; and to promote the reduction of unnecessary red-tape.

    This research was conducted to continue the tracking of confidence and trust in the Australian charity sector, conducted previously in 2013 and 2015. More specifically the research aims to understand the changes in the general public’s attitudes and beliefs regarding trust and confidence over time.

    Kantar Public used both quantitative and qualitative research to explore the relationship Australians have with the charity sector, the ACNC, the ACNC Charity Register and overall perceptions of trust and confidence.

    • Stage 1: Quantitative research – This consisted of an online survey of 1,611 Australian adults. The questionnaire was consistent with previous years, with some minor changes made to improve comprehension for the respondent. In addition, weighting has been applied to 2017 data to improve the representativeness of the sample.
    • Stage 2: Qualitative research – To complement the quantitative research, six focus groups were conducted across Australia in Perth, Brisbane, Melbourne, Ballarat, Sydney and Newcastle. This provided insight into the implicit drivers of trust, along with the reasons for charitable involvement and awareness of the ACNC and the Register.

    Awareness of the ACNC and perceived importance

    • Two in five (41%) Australians are aware of a regulatory body
      41% think there is a regulatory body for the charity sector, in line with 2015, while unprompted awareness of the ACNC marginally increased. The qualitative research revealed there was an underlying assumption that a specialised body already existed without knowing who it was. This was based on the belief that any sector accountable for a large sum of money should be regulated.
    • There is room for improvement on educating the general public about the functions the ACNC performs
      The number of Australians who claim to be uninformed about the role and functions of the ACNC has increased from 2015 (net uninformed (a score of 0-4) was 76% in 2017 compared with 72% in 2015). Those aware of the ACNC state they are significantly more informed about the functions the ACNC perform (64%).
    • The ACNC is perceived to be responsible for registering charities, handling complaints and granting charity status
      Once made aware of the existence of the ACNC, most Australians associated the Commission as being primarily a body for regulation rather than promoting and training charities. This idea of policing and compliance was echoed in the qualitative stage.
    • It is considered important to have a regulator
      Three quarters of Australians think it is very important to have a charity regulator (74%); this perceived importance has increased since 2015 (70%).
    • Awareness of the ACNC Register has increased
      One-fifth of Australians are now aware of the Register (21%) compared with 2015 (18%), however use of the Register remains unchanged at 7%. The Register was primarily used to understand registration status and for charity validation.
    • It is considered important to have a Register
      Seven in ten (71%) Australians agree it is very important to have a Register.
    • High trust correlates with high awareness and importance
      Australians considered as having high trust and confidence in the charity sector show greater awareness of a regulatory body (53%) compared to the total population (46%) and higher perceived importance of the ACNC (81%) compared to the total population (74%).

    Involvement in the charity sector and information engagement

    • Australians on the whole are charitable
      Nine in ten Australians claim to have had some involvement with a charity in the past year (91%), including donating time, money or goods.
    • Support is driven by importance of the cause, trust, and reputation
      The primary driver of support is the importance of the cause – two thirds (65%) donate for this reason. In addition, the qualitative research revealed there is a strong ‘feel good’ factor associated with charitable support.
    • Most Australians take some action when donating money
      Over four in five Australians (83%) will engage in some form of action or research when donating money. This might involve claiming a tax refund (56%) or researching if they are donating to a valid charity (34%).
    • It is important to disclose how donations are used
      Australians think it is highly important for a charity to disclose information regarding donation use (76%), proportions spent on the cause (72%) and outcomes achieved (69%).

    Trust and confidence in charities

    • There has been a steady decline in trust and confidence in Australian charities
      Since 2013, levels of trust and confidence in charities have decreased 13 percentage points. The level of trust in charities was 37% in 2013, 30% in 2015 and, 24% in 2017. Those who outright distrust charities (14%) has increased significantly from the 2015 research (10%).
    • Older Australians have a higher level of trust
      Older Australians (those aged 55+ years old) are more likely than their younger counterparts to have high levels of trust.
    • Australians are less likely to consider most charities trustworthy
      There has been a significant decrease in those who believe most charities are trustworthy (20%) compared to the previous rounds of research (29% in 2013, 29% in 2015). Although those who believe the charity sector is regulated are more likely to consider most charities are trustworthy (56%).
    • Trust in other institutions has increased
      Contrasting the declining levels of trust in charities, in general trust has increased in doctors, the police, the High Court and the Australian Taxation Office (ATO).
    • Worthiness of the charity cause is the most influential driver of trust
      The most important explicit factor influencing trust in charities is the perceived worthiness of the cause (53%), followed by the proportion of funds going to those in need (51%). As mentioned, Australians think it is important for charities to provide information regarding donation use. It is evident that transparency around donation use is fundamental for establishing trust.
    • Familiarity plays a significant role in trusting a charity
      Over one third (36%) strongly agree they trust charities they are familiar with – half (49%) do not feel confident donating to a charity they do not know, regardless of the cause. The second finding here highlights there are additional implicit drivers of trust in charities.
    • Half the population considers that charities provide an important service
      Half (51%) of Australians strongly agree that charities provide an important service to the community. In particular, older Australians are the most likely to strongly agree (59%).
    • Australians are more likely to trust charities that provide services locally
      Over a third (36%) of Australians agree they trust charities that provide services in Australia while only 15% agree they trust charities that provide services overseas. The qualitative research suggested trust in charities is stronger when the cause is in the same city, town or suburb – this is more likely to be the case in regional areas.
    • Some fundraising tactics employed by charities are unpopular with Australians
      Australians disapprove of charities that pay sales people to raise funds and those that spend what they consider as too much on administration - this can result in distrust.
    • Transparency is essential
      The need for transparency around how charities use resources, including monetary donations, is paramount. Almost three in five (57%) strongly agree they trust charities that are transparent about how they use their resources. This transparency has been called for from several areas of society, in particular from the media, the general public, the ACNC and researchers of the not-for-profit sector.
    • 16% of Australians have heard or seen something about charity wrong-doing
      The qualitative research suggests that this may impact perceptions of all charities.
    • Learning about the ACNC increases trust
      Positively, when people are informed there is a specific charity regulator in place their general level of trust marginally increases to 27% compared to when they were unaware of a specific charity regulator (24%).


    The majority of Australians have engaged with the charity sector in the past year. Charitable support was based on the knowledge there would be a clear and measurable outcome and an understanding that a high proportion of funds donated would contribute towards the cause. This is particularly important, as Australians recognise the positive contribution and influence charities have on society.

    Australians donate to charities primarily for the perceived importance of the cause, the ‘feel good’ factor and a sense of duty to provide for those less fortunate. As such, it can be devastating for an individual to learn their commitment of time and money has gone towards an untrustworthy organisation.

    There are underlying expectations as to how a charity should act and behave. Australians trust charities to ensure they are ethical and honest in their fundraising activities. It is perceived as equally important that charities are well-managed, efficient and deliver on their stated objectives.

    Over time, there has been a significant decline in trust in the charity sector; driven by a reduction in the number of people who claim to have a high level of trust as they move towards a more neutral position. This is best seen with the reduction in the number of people who believe most charities are trustworthy rather than being outright distrustful.

    A key objective of the ACNC is to maintain, protect and enhance trust in the charity sector. Transparency was found to be an essential factor for developing and maintaining trust, echoed in both the quantitative and qualitative research. To this end, Australians think it is important for a charity to provide information regarding donation use, proportion of funds spent towards the cause and overall impact. It is understood that charities are currently not ‘very good’ at providing this information.

    Currently, over half of the population engage in research when donating money to a charity. Research touchpoints are key opportunities for charities to communicate with the general public and in turn drive trust. A research touchpoint is any moment where a charity has contact with an individual, for example online (e.g. their website, ACNC Register page, etc.), in person or over the phone.

    While the majority of Australians are unaware of the ACNC, it is widely considered important that a regulator exists. This importance was largely based on the financial value of the sector and the values that underpin philanthropic behaviour. Australians perceive the primary functions of the ACNC as registering and granting charity status as well as handling complaints. Furthermore, the Register was not well recalled, however given the wide thirst for information, many expressed the view that it would be useful in checking charity registration status and validity.

    About one in six Australians are aware of recent charity wrong-doing, further highlighting the need for a regulator to police the sector and encourage best practice amongst charities.

    After being made aware of the ACNC, Australians are somewhat more likely to have greater trust and confidence in charities overall. This uplift indicates the potential importance of the ACNC as a driver of trust and as such provides evidence suggesting that if the ACNC can raise awareness of its functions and activities among the general public they could potentially improve trust in the sector.

    More information

    Prepared for:

    Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC)

    Kantar Public Consultants:

    Robyn Rutley
    Israel Stephens

      Last modified: 21 Jun 2018QC 56061