The head of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission has deemed plans to relax financial reporting requirements for more than 5000 small and medium charities "sensible".
Commissioner Dr Gary Johns said he could pick up just about everything he needed to know the annual information statements charities of all sizes were required to provide.
The proposed reforms - stemming from a 2018 review of Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission Legislation - would save more than 3000 charities from lodging reviewed financial statements and about 2000 charities from providing audited financial statements.
The changes would save charities thousands of dollars, and are intended to make financial reporting less burdensome for them.
All of Australia's federal, state and territory governments are involved in the reforms, with a commitment to develop a framework by mid-2021.
Other changes include making the ACNC the single point of registration for national operators.
Work remains to be done to determine the level of revenue thresholds for minimum reporting requirements.
The independent review of 2018 recommended reporting levels of less than $1 million for a small entity and between $1m and $5 for a medium entity, based on rolling three-year revenue.
Dr Johns, who was in Bendigo this week meeting with charities, said accounts were only part of the picture the commission pieced together.
"Most of our information comes from whistleblowers, and it will always be that way," he said.
"We're conscious we're a registrar for 58,000 charities," Dr Johns said.
"Half of them, more or less, are very small and there is no other regulator so we're the first port of call."
He said a lot of other charities were major deliverers of government contracts, who would be held accountable by the agency funding their activities.
Dr Johns said the "holy grail" for the commission's efforts at boosting visibility was finding entities that delivered similar programs.
He believed making information about comparable programs publicly available would be a "game changer" and make charities more accountable to donors.
"This year all the charities that fill out their annual information statement, I'm asking them to tell me what programs they deliver," Dr Johns said.
The commission has leased a product that will enable members of the public to search its website for charitable programs or activities, based on specific terms used within the sector.
"It means by early next year once all the charities have entered in their programs and popped them in those categories anyone can come to our website and search by their charitable interests," Dr Johns said.
Charities would also be asked to be more explicit about what department any government funding had come from, and to disclose whether they were delivering services on behalf of government.
"We want to put on record simple pieces of information from a donor's perspective and let them work it out from there," Dr Johns said.
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