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UnitingWorld: charity review

[Updated 4 May 2020 – see Charity Response]

This is review in the series ‘Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) Members’. ACFID ‘is the peak body for Australian non government organisations (NGOs) involved in international development and humanitarian action.’ It requires Members to adhere to a Code of Conduct. ‘UnitingWorld’ is one such Member (note the spelling).

COVID-19

Donors

The name in the ACFID membership list links to a website in the same name, ‘UnitingWorld’. Here they seek donations from the public.

The ACNC, in their article, Donating to Legitimate Charities, gives “some things to consider to help you make sure your donation is going where it is intended”:

  1. Check the charity’s name.
  2. Ask for identification from anyone seeking a donation.
  3. Be careful of online requests for donations.
  4. No tax deduction doesn’t mean the charity is not a legitimate one, and
  5. Find out more about how the charity says it uses donations.

Here’s the results for ‘UnitingWorld’, with #5 supplemented by the essentials of the ACNC’s What should I consider when deciding which charity to support?[1]

1.  A search on the ACNC Register for ‘UnitingWorld’ shows that there is no charity registered in that name. But the search does give a result – Uniting Church in Australia – National Assembly (UCA). This is because this charity has ‘UnitingWorld’ as part of two of its ‘Also known as’ names:

[2]

So, UnitingWorld is not a registered charity. It did, however, recently, obtain an ABN[3], perhaps as a precursor to becoming a charity? [4]

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2.  There is nothing to suggest that UnitingWorld raises funds door-to-door or in public places.

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3.  The web address begins with a closed padlock symbol, so the website is secure [the ACNC article above[5]].

The security of your information is not mentioned at any point in the information gathering process.

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UnitingWorld’s ABN record (via the ACNC Register record) says that it is not entitled to receive tax-deductible gifts. The opposite is claimed on the website:

The reconciliation lies in the fact that the website, as shown by the ABN in the footer, belongs to UCA, not UnitingWorld:

So, the tax-deductible donations are being sought for one or more of these UCA funds (from UCA’s ABN record) that have deductible gift recipient status:

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5.  The use of your donations

As context, here is what UnitingWorld is about.

The audited account of how a charity uses donations is the Financial Report 2019.

In the case of UnitingWorld, because it is not a charity, there’s nothing on the ACNC Register. And the charity of which it is a part, UCA, has not attached a financial report for Uniting World to its Register entry. But as a member of ACFID, it must produce financial statements. These are on UnitingWorld’s website.

Note 14 in the Notes to the financial statements says that it is not UnitingWorld that is the member, but just one of the two UnitingWorld programs, the ‘Relief and Development program’.

The UnitingWorld financial report confuses UCA and UnitingWorld:

  • On the cover, it includes the UCA name and ABN along with the UnitingWorld name[6].
  • It includes a section ‘Appeals for Tax Deductible Donations’ in Note 1 (d) when UnitingWorld can make no such appeal.
    • The DGR fund mentioned there belongs to UCA (see above), not UnitingWorld.
  • It says, in Note 1 (m), that ‘The Agency is a charitable institution for the purposes of Australian taxation legislation and is therefore exempt from income tax’. It is UCA that exempt – UnitingWorld is not a separate charity that needs exemption from tax (as Note 19 acknowledges).

This confusion aside, how were your donations used?

Cash spent

From the Statement of Cash Flows (with last year in the second column):

Although this is one more line than most charities, it doesn’t give much information about where the cash went.

Cash unspent

UnitingWorld holds $12.38 million in cash, cash equivalents and financial assets. This is 20 months’ worth of revenue, nearly five years of donations. They do not explain why this much is held.

$7.43 million of financial assets are shown only as ‘Financial assets at fair value through profit and loss’.

Resources consumed (i.e. accrual)

This, from the Statement of Profit or Loss and Other Comprehensive Income, is how the activities translated into expenses:

None of these items is defined.

This is the information given on the largest expense (55% of the total):

The organisation receiving the money is not disclosed. Nor is how UnitingWorld ensures that (a) the money reaches the overseas organisation, and (b) it is used for the purposes given.

Directors

UnitingWorld, although only an unincorporated department of UCA, has a board:

These were the people on this board at the time of publication of the annual report (page 43), and therefore most likely the people responsible for the UnitingWorld financial report):

Andrew Glenn

Paul Swadling

Margaret Watt

David Hodges

James Batley

Colleen Geyer

John Manning

Tina Rendell-Thornton

Impact

Nothing systematic found on UnitingWorld’s impact.

Charity response

UnitingWorld ‘welcomes feedback’. We sent a draft of an earlier version of this review to them on 1 April 2020. Later we discovered the UnitingWorld financial statements, so sent them an updated review on 23 April 2020. Although they received the email, they had not replied by the time of publication, one month after first contacting them.

Update:  Two days after publishing the review, Leo Iosifidis, National Director – Strategic Finance and Admin, sent the following response:

Thank you for sharing your review with us.

UnitingWorld is an activity of the National Assembly of the UCA, and operates an OADGS fund through which it is able to receive tax deductible gifts.

It has been in operation for over a decade, and has been a member of ACFID, and accredited by DFAT during that time, meeting the highest standards of governance that requires. It is likely that in the near future, it will transition to operating under its own ABN.

We will, as always, continue to aim for the highest levels of transparency.”

Reviewer’s response:  Although it is reasonable to expect it, neither membership of ACFID nor accreditation by DFAT ensures that the standards of these organisations are met.  Even if this were so, each of the ‘standards of governance’ required by these two organisations are not necessarily the generally accepted highest standard of governance possible.

 

 

  1. A section in the article, Donating and Volunteering:
    • Focus on the nature of the charity’s work, its beneficiaries and the impact the charity is having in the community.
    • Is it clear what the charity is trying to achieve and how its activities work towards its objectives?
    • Would you like to spend your money, or time if volunteering, to support these objectives?
    • Is the charity being transparent about its activities?

  2. This parallels Note 1 in the UCA Financial Report 2019:
  3. None of the four entities that comprise UCA are charities. Uniting Aboriginal And (sic) Islander Christian Congress is the name of one of UCA’s tax-deductible funds. UnitingCare Australia does not exist as a separate entity with an ABN. Like UnitingWorld,
  4. The ACNC’s information (in its article above) is out-of-date.
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