Why is this important for my church?
Let’s begin with the attention-grabbing headline first...
Failure to comply could result in revocation of your church's charity status!
If a church missions program fails to comply with the External Conduct Standards, it could result in the revocation of your church's ACNC charitable status, meaning your church will lose access to all Commonwealth charity tax concessions, exemptions or benefits to which your church was previously entitled.
The ACNC is in the business of improving charity compliance, not closing them down, however that is not a case for complacency. They are willing to make an example out of charities that have seriously or deliberately breached their standards and will use this action as a deterrent for poor compliance. We really want to avoid being their example.
According to the ACNC, “Charities do not need to submit anything to the ACNC to show they meet the External Conduct Standards but must be able to provide evidence of meeting the Standards if requested.”
Once again, this is not a case for complacency, in fact, it is the opposite. If the ACNC is asking you for evidence of your compliance, and compliance means you have kept records of your compliant overseas activities, then they will expect those records to be promptly produced. A request for time to prepare those records, means you did not keep the required records (Standard 2), therefore you are already non-compliant.
These External Conduct Standards now sit alongside the ACNC Governance Standards and the ACNC annual reporting requirements as part of their church board’s basic compliance and risk management responsibility. This makes it a very, very import consideration for every church.
Can I limit my church's exposure to these standards?
Yes, in fact there is one particular way that you can significantly reduce exposure. The External Conduct Standards do not apply to your church's overseas missions’ activities when they are carried out through another ACNC registered charity. This is because it will be the other ACNC registered charity, that will have their own obligation to comply with the External Conduct Standards.
For example, if your church supports an overseas missionary through ACCI Missions, then your church does not need to comply with the External Conduct Standards in regard to this particular overseas activity. ACCI Missions, as an ACNC registered charity, is already responsible for complying with the External Conduct Standards in relation to our missionaries and our project partners. You can view our ACNC External Conduct Standards Compliance Declaration here.
You will still need to comply with the ACNC Governance Standards in regard to any organisation that you donate funds to, and the External Conduct Standards for the management of funds sent for overseas activities. However, it is possible for you to significantly reduce your church's exposure.
What will the ACNC expect from my church?
The ACNC does not prescribe what a charity must do to meet these External Conduct Standards. Each church will need to decide what is appropriate based on the circumstances of their own overseas missions’ program. The sorts of factors they would need to consider include:
- the nature, scale and complexity of the church’s overseas activities and funding;
- the size and the number of staff and volunteers;
- the locations in which it operates;
- the church's level of knowledge and experience in managing similar projects or activities;
- the involvement of third-party organisations in these activities and their particular circumstances;
- the effectiveness of current policies and procedures that govern its activities or funding; and
- any issues or difficulties it has experienced with previous overseas activities or funding.
The ACNC also expects a church to have considered the risks associated with its overseas activities and funding. This means that the reasonable steps that a church must take, and the reasonable procedures it must have in place, will depend on both its particular circumstances and the associated risks involved.
A large charity with operations in several countries and formal partnerships with several overseas third parties will likely need to do more to comply with the External Conduct Standards than a small charity providing a small amount of funding to one low-risk overseas activity.