In any given year, ACFID collects a significant amount of data on its members. Elements of this data have been presented in our annual reports each year and from time to time, specific one-off pieces of research and data gathering are also carried out. While each of these data forms is useful and serves a purpose in its own right, ACFID saw value in consolidating such data to build up a more comprehensive and robust analysis of the State of the Australian aid and development NGO sector.

The purpose of the report is to provide ACFID’s membership and the wider NFP aid and development sector with an understanding of where the sector is at, where it is going into the future and how it is progressing on that journey. It aims to do this by iteratively developing a shared understanding of both what a healthy sector looks like (as captured in the characteristics) and the current state of the sector (as reflected in the data and analysis). By exposing the difference between the two, we hope that the report will generate discussion, ideas and a commitment for action.

The report is framed around a suite of characteristics. Each characteristic has a set of indicatorsagainst which the characteristic is reported. Individual indicators do not necessarily point directly to the health of the sector in regard to that characteristic. Some are proxy indicators, and some will hold more weight than others. Therefore, when reading the report, it is important to look at how all indicators under the characteristic speak collectively. As engagement with stakeholders continues, both indicators and characteristics may change over the coming years as we continue to refine and develop both the report and our data collection.

In response to need and varying focuses within the sector, the report will provide an in-depth analysis into a particular characteristic or element of one. For the inaugural report, we look more closely into the financial resourcing of the sector.

In some areas of the report, current aggregate data does not allow us to develop a picture of the stated characteristic at all. This will be discussed in more detail in the concluding chapter.

The report has drawn on data from numerous, readily available sources. Detailed information on the methodology and datasets used can be found in Annex A.

The ACNC collects data from approx. 55,000 NFPs each year. This is achieved through Annual Information Statements (AIS) that are designed to cover all types of charities and therefore can only speak directly to a few of the indicators in this report, such as some areas of funding, staffing and volunteering. Most importantly, the AISs do not have a single variable that allows aid and development NGOs to be easily distinguished from other types of NGOs that work overseas. As such, we have isolated NGOs based on a set of filters, providing an imperfect result but a good approximation that is similar to other researchers who have done the same.

The largest database that we drew from is the ACFID Annual Statistical Survey which provides detailed information regarding the organisations in our membership and the work that they do down to individual project level. For this reason, this dataset is the backbone of the report.

The report is based around a suite of characteristics of a healthy development NGO sector. Each characteristic captures important aspects of how development NGOs function as a community, how development NGOs interact within the Australian community, and how development NGOs work in other countries. Each characteristic has a set of indicators that we report against.

As a community

Characteristic 1: is made up of a diverse community of transparent and accountable organisations.

Characteristic 2: has an adequate and sustainable resource base.

Characteristic 3: is innovating, learning, adapting and evolving in response to achievements, lessons learned, changes in context.

Characteristic 4: is working collaboratively both within and outside the sector.

Characteristic 5: has a healthy and diverse workforce.

With the Australian community

Characteristic 6: has advocacy and campaigning capacity and influence.

Characteristic 7: has a high level of influence, engagement and support with community and other stakeholders.

Characteristic 8: is supported by an enabling legal, political and policy environment.

In the world

Characteristic 9: has an appropriate sectoral and geographic focus.

Characteristic 10: is fostering development and humanitarian responses that enable sustainablechange in-country through empowerment of local actors and systems.

Characteristic 11: is delivering significant social, political, institutional, economic and environmental outcomes and impact, and contributing to systemic change.

Are ACFID’s members representative of the sector?

The main issue with ACFID Annual Statistical Survey data and other ACFID datasets is that they pertain only to ACFID members. This raises the question of whether the findings that are true for ACFID members are likely to be the same for the rest of the sector. Figure 1 shows the share of organisations identified as likely development NGOs in the ACNC dataset that were ACFID members. Data is from 2016.1

1 The number of ACFID members that we could find in the ACNC dataset (123) was slightly lower than the total number of ACFID members in the same year (126). We believe that this discrepancy stems from organisations providing different names to the different datasets. The difference is small enough to be immaterial.

Figure 1 : Number of development NGOs that are ACFID members in 2016

Just over one fifth of organisations identified as development NGOs in the ACNC data were ACFID members in 2016. This seems low. However, as Figure 2 shows, it is only amongst the smallest NGOs that ACFID membership is rare: 64% of all NGOs that had an income over $1,000,000 in 2016 were ACFID members.

The fact that most medium and large NGOs are ACFID members is significant for two reasons. First, in terms of gross income, roughly 75% of all money earned (and spent) by development NGOs in the ACNC dataset in 2016 was done so by ACFID members. Second, as we will show in a subsequent section of the report, the bulk of staff working for Australian development NGOs work for ACFID members. Although the ACFID Statistical Survey does not capture all development NGOs, in many of the central areas of this report, such as financial indicators and staffing, ACFID members have a very large footprint. For this reason, the Statistical Survey serves as a very useful tool for estimating the state of the sector as a whole.

When thinking about individual NGOs or groups of NGOs, matters are more complicated. ACFID members commit themselves to a particularly high standard of practice through the Code of Conduct.2 This means that we cannot confidently generalise from the sample of Australian development NGOs that are AFCID members. When dealing with larger NGOs (and to an extent medium NGOs), we are helped by the fact that a large share of NGOs with an income over $1,000,000 are ACFID members. This means that what we find for ACFID member organisations will be true for the bulk of development NGOs in this size group.

However, for smaller NGOs this is not the case. When we use ACFID data to describe smaller NGOs we can only talk about a minority of organisations of this size in the broader sector, and the ACFID member organisations that we have data on may well be an atypical minority.

2 Detailed information on the ACFID Code of Conduct can be found at, accessed 15 Dec 2017.

Figure 2: Number of development NGOs that are ACFID members by size category (ACNC data)

Many of the attributes that we studied in the rest of this report varied substantially between different sized NGOs. In order to give you a sense of this, when we use ACFID Statistical Survey data we often break our charts down so that they provide information on three different groups of NGOs. Individual NGOs are categorised based on their annual development spending which in this case means disbursements to international programs, program support costs and community education.

Large NGO’s have an annual development spend of greater then AU$10,000,000.

Medium NGOs have an annual development spend of $1,000,000–$10,000,000.

Small NGOs have an annual development spend of less than $1,000,000.

We use these groups because they are used in other ACFID reporting.

Of the 126 ACFID members in 2016, 23 fell into the large size category that we used in this report (an annual development spend of greater than AU$10,000,000), 44 were medium sized (annual development spend of $1,000,000–$10,000,000) and 59 were small (annual development spend of less than $1,000,000).