Australian development and humanitarian Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) (hereafter, development NGOs) deliver aid in more than 95 countries globally. They receive public donations (not including government funding) from all parts of Australia totalling over A$1 billion. They partner with an ever-increasing range of stakeholders: government, private sector, international organisations, schools, community groups and churches. NGOs are a central means through which Australians give to, and learn about, less affluent communities. Yet efforts to date to learn systematically about development NGOs as a sector have been limited.

This report, the first-ever Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) State of the Sector Report, sheds new light on Australia’s development NGOs. It is based on an unprecedented data gathering effort, enabled by the NGOs’ own transparency. The report focuses foremost on development NGOs that are members of ACFID, drawing on ACFID’s ongoing data collation. Where possible, however, the report also includes information from other NGOs, making use of data from the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC). This affords a picture of the broader community of development NGOs and a sense of where ACFID members fit as a subset of this larger

The highlights of the report include:

  • Total revenue (approximately $2 billion in 2016) and total public donations (over $1 billion in 2016) to Australian development NGOs have grown considerably since 2002. However, neither total revenue nor public donations have grown since 2005 relative to the size of Australia’s economy. Australia is becoming wealthier, but not more generous.
  • ACFID members do not spend excessively on fundraising. Returns on money spent on fundraising range from $5 to $10 for every $1 spent.
  • Larger organisations deliver a higher development and aid spend per staff member than smaller organisations; however, the values for all groups are impressive.
  • An estimated 5,500 people work for Australian development NGOs in full or part time employment. 80% of these work within ACFID member organisations.
  • More than half of the staff of ACFID members are women, yet men continue to outnumber women in senior management and organisation leadership roles. The gender balance of organisation boards is closer to parity. However, board chairs are mostly men.
  • The sector relies heavily on volunteers with over 60,000 members of the Australian public volunteering their time to Australian development NGOs.
  • The share of ACFID members that undertake advocacy has been steadily rising, increasing from 50% in 2011 to 59% in 2015. In 2015, advocacy was most common amongst large ACFID members, although 47% of small ACFID members still reported undertaking some form of advocacy.
  • Larger NGOs work in more countries and have more projects than smaller NGOs. There is no evidence that Australian development NGOs are fragmenting their work across too many
    countries or projects.
  • ACFID members focus most of their work on countries where need is high. However, some of the world’s neediest countries are comparatively under-served. This is a product of variation between countries, not variation between regions. Africa is the region that receives the most funding from ACFID members. Comparatively, ACFID members focus more on Africa than does the Australian government aid program.

The ACFID State of the Sector report aims to be descriptive rather than prescriptive and, as such, refrains from providing advice. Rather, it aims to encourage conversation within the sector and provide the basis for deeper analysis and ongoing learning.

The baseline has now been established. Over time, the report’s value will increase as we start to develop trends and build a better understanding of the state of the Australian international development and humanitarian aid not-for-profit (NFP) sector.