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The urge to merge: charities encouraged to join forces

Christmas is a time for giving but with at least 54,000 charities operating in Australia, how do you decide who to donate to?

In the lead-up to the festive season the Community Council for Australia is warning of confusion and fatigue, as charities that overlap each other’s work continue to compete for donations.

“There is an argument for scale and there certainly is an argument for merging,” said council CEO Rev Tim Costello.

“There’s enough blindness, poverty, homelessness to go around for all of us as charities.

“Let’s find a way to make it simpler for the donor.”

As well as calling for more collaboration, Rev Costello is pushing for Australia to adopt a system where new charities should prove their causes are not being addressed by existing ones.

If existing charities are already addressing those causes, then the new charities should be encouraged to join the established groups.

Susan Pascoe, head of the Australian Charities & Not-For-Profit Commission, said the method is supported in principle around the world, but to go any further would raise a common legal predicament.

“Because we implement the law as it exists, if a candidate meets the criteria to be a charity, then we have no grounds on which to refuse them,” she said.
Ms Pascoe said the numbers of new charities and charities that close each year are about the same.

The urge to merge

A recent study by the Australian Institute for Company Directors (AICD) surveyed nearly 3,000 directors of not-for-profit groups.

The study found that nearly a third of directors had at least discussed the possibility of a merger this past year. Seven per cent said they were in the process of merging, while another seven per cent said they had already done so.

Mohan Gunasekara is the head of migrant resettlement group Illawarra Multicultural Services. He’s considering whether a merger with similar organisations, including charities, would deliver services around Wollongong more efficiently.

“It’s more about maximising or better utilization of cost,” he said.

“It’s about being able to respond in areas that we don’t normally respond or provide services by the savings that come from some sort of amalgamation.”
Jayne Meyer-Tucker was the CEO of children’s charity Good Beginnings Australia, before it merged with Save the Children earlier this year.
While losing her position wasn’t ideal, she said it was necessary.

“It’s about encouraging everyone to put aside some of the ego, and the ‘organisation growth’ part of it, and really staying focused on the purpose,” she said.
“Are we in these roles to grow organisations and ourselves, or are we in the roles to achieve outcomes?”

Ms Meyer-Tucker has since formed Volunteer Family Connect, aligning charity and university groups to provide support for families and children.
She hopes the model will prove to be a more effective method of helping those in need.

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