Business Daily Media

The dos and don'ts of donating — how to give wisely this Christmas

  • Written by Krystian Seibert, Industry Fellow, Centre for Social Impact, Swinburne University of Technology

Christmas is nearly here, and as we enjoy buying presents for family and friends, it’s also a time when many of us[1] think about donating to charity.

As last summer’s bushfires showed[2], the devastation caused by natural disasters can lead to an outpouring of generosity.

This Christmas is also different because of the very challenging year we’ve experienced.

Read more: Feeling pressured to buy Christmas presents? Read this (and think twice before buying candles)[3]

Although Australia has escaped the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has still hit our communities hard[4]. Charities have been under increased pressure[5], while at the same time, donations have dropped off and fundraising events have had to be cancelled.

So if you have the means to do it, this Christmas there’s even more reason to donate. Here are some tips to make sure you’re donating your precious funds wisely.

First, do some research

Making a donation will often reflect the causes we care about and where we think there’s a need. We will often be guided by our emotions and give on the spur of the moment, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

But it’s also worthwhile doing some research before you provide your credit card details. Even if you’re only giving a small amount, a few minutes of research can help inform your decision and provide you with more confidence about your choice.

The dos and don'ts of donating — how to give wisely this Christmas Christmas is the most popular time for Australians to give to charity. Rogelio V Solis/AP/AAP

The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission is our national charities regulator. It has a free public register[6] where you can search for a charity and access all sorts of information about its activities, governance and finances. Before donating to a charity, it’s worth looking them up to check they are registered.

Many charities have websites and they have a wide range of information about their activities and how your donation will be used. It’s a good idea to have a read through their information before you donate. But be aware, if it’s a very small charity, it may not have a fancy website — so this does not necessarily mean it doesn’t do good work.

Doing some research is also important to make sure you are donating to the people you think you are. Scammers can pose[7] as genuine charities to try and steal your money. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Scamwatch has information[8] about what to look out for. This includes a lack of proper identification for those collecting in person.

Next, read the fine print

When making a donation, make sure to read the terms and conditions.

For example, if receiving a tax deduction is important, make sure the organisation you’re donating to is a so-called “deductible gift recipient[9]”. This should be clear on the donation page, but it’s also something you can check yourself using the federal government’s ABN Lookup[10] tool.

Read more: Beware of bushfire scams: how fraudsters take advantage of those in need[11]

A donation made directly to a charity may be used for a specific appeal, but it may also be for the charity’s broader activities. So, bear that in mind.

In recent years we’ve seen the rise of third party platforms[12] that aim to make donating easier. It’s important to understand how they work.

If donating through a Facebook fundraiser, like Celeste Barber’s bushfire appeal[13], your donation is subject to various terms[14]. For example, you’re not actually donating to the charity nominated in the fundraiser, but the “PayPal Giving Fund Australia”. This is a public foundation that acts like a holding account before the donation is passed on. Importantly, it retains full legal control over the donation once you’ve made it.

If you’re donating through a platform such as GoFundMe[15], you may not be donating to a charity at all, but an individual or a group without charity status. They may still do excellent work and be able to respond rapidly to areas of need in a community, but there are fewer protections around how your funds are used.

Read more: Celeste Barber's story shows us the power of celebrity fundraising ... and the importance of reading the fine print[16]

If you’re setting up a fundraiser yourself, make sure you are fully across the terms of the fundraiser. This will help avoid the same sort of confusion[17] that we saw with Barber’s bushfire appeal, and how the funds she raised could be used.

Remember, running a charity is complex

Although it’s understandable donors often want all their money to go straight to the “frontline” as soon as possible, running a charity is complex.

Charities need to employ skilled staff, rent offices, and do due diligence on how they distribute their funds.

Comedian Celeste Barber at a bushfire relief concert. Comedian Celeste Barber’s Facebook effort raised $51 million for bushfire victims, but there was confusion about how it had to be spent. Joel Carrett/AAP

So don’t begrudge charities that spend some of their donated funds on administration and overhead costs[18] - in fact, be happy they do. Research[19] has shown the level of overhead costs is a very poor indicator of a charity’s effectiveness. Lower overheads can actually be associated with lower impact.

It’s also important to recognise charities are subject to extensive oversight and scrutiny, and will generally do their best to meet the needs of those they serve and the expectations of their donors.

A recent review[20] by the charities regulator found three high profile charities — the Red Cross, NSW Rural Fire Service and WIRES — were “credible and professional in managing donations” following last summer’s bushfires.

As the review also pointed out, responding to a disaster requires a phased response. When using funds, charities must balance immediate needs with those further down the path of recovery.

But donate with confidence

After reading this, you may think donating to charity is complicated. Rest assured, it isn’t!

Doing some simple research and being aware of some pitfalls isn’t hard, and it can help you give more comfortably. If you have the capacity to give, then it’s a great way to make a difference, because every dollar counts.

And if you have the ability to make a regular monthly donation, think about doing that as well. Charities rely on a steady income stream to really have an impact, so a regular donation is a really effective way to contribute to a cause that’s important to you.


  1. ^ many of us (
  2. ^ showed (
  3. ^ Feeling pressured to buy Christmas presents? Read this (and think twice before buying candles) (
  4. ^ hit our communities hard (
  5. ^ under increased pressure (
  6. ^ free public register (
  7. ^ can pose (
  8. ^ information (
  9. ^ deductible gift recipient (
  10. ^ ABN Lookup (
  11. ^ Beware of bushfire scams: how fraudsters take advantage of those in need (
  12. ^ third party platforms (
  13. ^ bushfire appeal (
  14. ^ various terms (
  15. ^ GoFundMe (
  16. ^ Celeste Barber's story shows us the power of celebrity fundraising ... and the importance of reading the fine print (
  17. ^ confusion (
  18. ^ administration and overhead costs (
  19. ^ Research (
  20. ^ recent review (

Authors: Krystian Seibert, Industry Fellow, Centre for Social Impact, Swinburne University of Technology

Read more

Business Reports

EOFY explainer: Everything your business needs to know about the instant asset write-off

Australia has long been renowned as a rich and vibrant small business nation, where entrepreneurialism is encouraged and celebrated. It has, however, been a challenging period for small business owners, and the transition from o...

Brand Expert Shines in Business Awards

Sydney multipreneur Zahrina Robertson, who is known for producing world-class visual assets, has been named a finalist in the North Shore Local Business Awards. The founder of Zahrina Photography & Video[zahrinaphotograph...

New Image acquires Nutrimetics from Tupperware Brands

New Image Group has acquired skincare and cosmetics brand Nutrimetics from Tupperware Brands Corporation (NYSE: TUP) for an undisclosed sum. Nutrimetics is a natural fit with New Image’s portfolio of health and nutrition prod...

Save, spend or invest? New offering allows Aussies to maximise their savings

With the turn of a new financial year, Australians are at a loss of how to make the most of their tax refunds this year with rising costs of living and low return on savings. The Australian Investor Sentiment Report 2022 reve...

Commercial Painting Revitalised Shop Fronts and The Economy – Why Did the Funding Dry Up?

State governments provided retailers with grants to revitalise their shop fronts in a bid to help the ailing industry. The $2000 - $10000 grant aims to ‘add a lick of paint” and some street appeal to retail outlets not onl...

How to Succeed as a Call Center

If you aspire to build a productive and prosperous call center, you need to begin from the zenith or top. After all, your workforce won’t be able to create a positive experience for your customers if they’re not managed pr...

Web Busters - Break into local search