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13. Charities in Australia

13. Charities in Australia

By Alena Lien, 

9 March 2019


Hi! How's it going? This is Alena. Welcome to Along Came English.

It's been a few months since my last upload at the end of November. I got pretty busy with work and with preparing for my trip. So I resigned from my regular job, sold my car, packed most of my stuff for storage, gave away a lot of stuff, and moved out.

It sounds really big now, now that I'm talking about it, but the whole process was very routine actually. I had a list of things to do and just gradually ticked them off.

I spent a month in Malaysia, to spend Chinese New Year with my family. It's the year of the Pig, which is the 12th animal of the twelve-year cycle of the Chinese zodiac sign. Next year will be the year of the rat. If you're interested in knowing more about Chinese New Year or Lunar New Year, I did a podcast about that in episode 3 - so do check that out.

So now I'm in Japan. I'm going to be here for a few months travelling around the country. So when I have the time and space to do a podcast, I'll try to get one done.

Vocabulary related to charity

All right. Today, I thought I would talk about charities, which are also known as non-profit or not-for-profit organisations. Basically, a "charity" is an organisation that provides help or raises money for those in need.

Another term associated with charities are "non-government organisations" or "NGOs" for short. Basically, it's just an organisation that's independent of the government.

The charity sector in Australia is huge, with about 80% of the population giving to charities in 2016. Australia also ranked third among over 140 countries on The World Giving Index, which is a global index of donations, volunteering and generosity. Australia ranked third after Myanmar and the USA.

And personally, I've donated to a charity for a number of years before and I also worked as a fundraiser for a month. I'll talk more about them later on.

Now in everyday, general English, the terms "non-profit organisation" and "not-for-profit" are used interchangeably, and NGOs are often charities. But when I did a google search, there were slight differences that came up due to legal definitions of different countries, how they use their income, how they are taxed or not, etc.

So I won't go into all the details because well, it'll get too complicated, so I'll keep it simple by just using the word "charity" here.

So let's first look at the word charity. "Charity," like most english words, have a few different meanings.

So firstly, it refers to kindness and compassion towards others. And this definition isn't very common nowadays unless you have a Christian background. And I see this in old English translations of the bible where the newer translations now use the word "love" instead. So for example, in the book 1st Corinthians chapter 13, there's a verse that says "love never fails," but in the older translations, it states "charity never faileth."

Another meaning refers to the voluntary giving of help or the act of giving.

And the last definition, which I mentioned earlier, "charity" or "charities," refers to organisations that provide help or raise money for those in need. So this will be the focus of this episode.

Let's look at some relevant terms.

"Cause," as a noun, not a verb, refers to a principle or a purpose, or you can think of an issue that you might want to support. A charity would usually have a cause as the purpose of their organisation. A cause, on the other hand, may not always be charitable.

You can "support" a cause or a charity, which simply implies that you're giving to them financially or maybe volunteering.

"Raise awareness" is an expression to mean to increase the knowledge of a certain issue or cause.

"Fundraising" refers to the process of gathering money or raising money. It's pretty common nowadays to have fundraising events like dinner parties, or charity runs - which are marathons set up to raise money for a particular charity or cause.

A "fundraiser" is a person who is raising money.

A "fundraising campaign" is a planned set of activities in order to raise money. This might include calling prospective donors, sending mail, organising events etc.

"Donation" refers to the gift of money or goods, usually to a charity. And donations can also be referred to as "gifts" or "contributions." "To donate" is the verb. A "donor" is a person who donates.

Now this sounds quite similar to charity - the act of giving, but they're not synonymous. "Donations" refer to objects being given, and "charity" refers to the act of it.

A "bequest" is the act of legally giving personal property or financial assets to someone when you die. And this is done through a legal document called a "will," which is done while you're alive and then comes into effect when you die. And a bequest can be made to family, friends, institutions or a charity. "To bequeath" is the verb form, and that's to leave something to someone by a will.

And finally, "volunteer" can be a noun or a verb, and this is when a person works for an organisation for free.

Now some different types of charities include:

  • Religious organisations, like the Salvation Army. Although a lot of what they do is social welfare.

  • Education.

  • Animal welfare. For example RSPCA, which stands for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, is a charity that originated in England.

  • Environmental protection. For example, the World Wildlife Fund. Although interestingly the panda, which is the logo for the fund, is no longer considered endangered but vulnerable - which is pretty awesome.

  • Health. Health charities.

  • Art and culture, for museums and art galleries.

  • And social welfare, like family violence support organisations.

Donating & tax exemptions

Now the charity I had previously supported for a number of years was the Fred Hollows Foundation, which I mentioned briefly in episode 13 about eyes and eyesight. (<- It's now episode 11.) It's named after a famous Australian-New Zealand ophthalmologist.

I was giving to them for a number of years. I remember vaguely that I was walking in the city one day and a very cheerful, blonde lady came up to me and started talking to me about Fred Hollows and what they do. And I was very willingly to sign up for regular donations. And that was kind of it. I mean, the lady didn't really have to work very hard at persuading me to give to their charity.

And personally, I don't have any attachment to any cause, I just think they're all good causes and therefore I am already inclined to give a little bit.

One of the things that I like about this charity is that they invest in education and training people from local communities. And I find that important because I believe that skills are a more important asset than money.

It's one thing to send trained professionals to a community in need, but without educating or training local people, it creates dependence. And when they have to go home, it creates a gap.

So "asset," in this context, means benefit or advantage, something that is considered useful or valuable. It can also mean any resource with an economical value owned by a person or a company, which can be things like a property, or "savings" - which is money saved at a bank.

So I was a monthly donor and the charity set up a "direct debit," where they took a small amount every month from my bank account. A "direct debit" is an arrangement made with a bank allowing a company to withdraw money from an account on agreed dates. And usually this is set up for monthly subscription services or paying bills, but in this case, this was with regular donations.

And on a yearly basis, Fred Hollows would call me asking me to increase my monthly giving. When I signed up to be a regular donor, I gave them my contact details of course, so they can send me any updates, yearly reports, send my tax-exempt receipt, and of course call me.

So thankfully they didn't call me that often, it's usually once a year to ask me to increase my donations. And most of the time I declined because I was happy with the amount of my regular donation.

A "tax-exempt receipt" is a statement from the charity that confirms the money given qualifies me for a tax deduction. So that I'm eligible to pay less tax. And it's actually a pretty good incentive to donate to charities if they're eligible for tax deduction.

A "tax deduction" means that you pay less tax. But what it really means is that your taxable income is reduced, and therefore you pay less.

Op/Thrift shop

Now, in this context of course, donation refers to something monetary, money. But there are many charities that receive items like old clothes, or non-perishable foods as donations.

And the Salvation Army is an example of this. This is an international church and a charitable organisation, which in Australia we call "Salvos" for short. And they have second-hand shops where people can donate their old clothes and furniture.

And in Australia and also New Zealand, we call them "op shops," which is short for opportunity shops, and these are shops operated by a charity to sell donated items at a low price.

And you might have heard them being called a "thrift shop," which is also the name of a famous song by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis.

Now the Salvation Army provides a service where you can arrange for them to pick up any second-hand furniture, of decent condition of course.

A while ago, I called them up to pick up a very heavy sideboard with an attached mirror. And we moved it to the front of the property for them to pick up, but they disappeared the next day, before the Salvos had even come.

So yea, apparently if you dump stuff at the front of your property to throw away, sometimes people come along to pick them up. Yea, so one man's rubbish is another man's treasure.

Telephone fundraising

There are many different types of fundraisers. You might see them on the streets, either trying to sign people up or collect donations. And they might organise charity events or sell products.

Now I worked in a contact centre where I would call people and tried to persuade people to donate. And the company I worked for was quite interesting because it provided a contact service for other charities, so in any given shift, I might be calling donors and potential donors on behalf of a few different charities.

Now I only worked there for a month because I found it very mentally and emotionally draining. It's a job where you get rejected a lot. And you also need to meet your targets, so it takes a certain type of person, I feel, to continue that kind of work.

This sounds very similar to "telemarketing," which is a type of direct marketing where a salesperson will cold-call prospective customers to sell products or services. And "cold-calling" is when you call strangers.

Now I've never worked as a commercial telemarketer before, but I have worked in a call centre where we had to cold-call people asking them to participate in surveys to collect information for social research.

In Australia, there is a "Do Not Call Register," where you can register your number to prevent telemarketers from calling you. However, because I did not work for a (commercial) telemarketing company, we could legally cold-call people asking for donations or invite them to participate in surveys. So yea, a do-not-call register is not foolproof..

Anyway, working for a contact centre providing a service to charities has given me some insight into the business of donations. And I don't want to diminish the value of what fundraisers do, because donations are vital to the operation of many charities and calling people is very effective for that.

At the end of the day, for me, it was a job. I was selling the cause of the charity to whoever I was talking to. And if I was successful in getting a donation, I would then get a commission. And a "commission," in this context, refers to a sum or bonus paid to the agent involved in a transaction.

And during our training, we were taught sales techniques in the form of "scripts," which are texts written for specific charities and specific scenarios. And if you've ever had a phone call from a charity organisation, there's a reason why they speak so fast because they're reading from a script. And they have to share a story about a person that they're helping and the importance of what they're doing before finally asking for money.

And unfortunately there have also been cases of scams - "scam" means fraud, or dishonest scheme and can be used as a noun or a verb. "Scammers" will call strangers asking for donations for a fake charity just to get their credit card details. Of course scammers won't just use a charity as a fake story, they might pretend to be calling from a bank or the police.

Now... of course, there is also the issue of being hired by a charity, meaning that a significant portion of the donation is paid to the company. Which might sound alarming at first, but most large charities have operating expenses, and calling for donations might be part of it.

Now, if you so happen to receive a phone call from a charity - as annoying as it might be to you - you can always interrupt them and ask them to get straight to the point - politely of course. Or you can always just hang up. There's no need to get upset or angry, because at the end of the day, they're just doing a job, which is actually for a good cause.

And being on the Do Not Call Register doesn't cover charities. But what you can do is ask them to call you back less often, like once a year. Or ask them to remove your number from their system. They might try to convince you otherwise but you can be firm in a polite manner.

Now if you're inclined to donate some money but are not comfortable giving your credit card details over the phone, you can always donate through their website. It means the fundraiser won't get a commission, and they might try to convince you otherwise of course, but at least the donation goes to the charity.


Now let's move on to volunteering.

So I've done some volunteering before but they've generally been in churches. And depending on the role, some require more commitment than others. And the roles I've done have generally been quite easy, like greeting people, customer service or even help move things around. And usually they require half a day to a day per week.

And I've had previously applied to provide support, as a friend or a kind of buddy to individuals in the community, but I didn't really go through with it - I can't really remember why.

The thing with volunteering, I've realised, is that because it lacks monetary incentive, the environment tends to be more relaxed, maybe even a little less time-efficient.

I've also volunteered at an environmental NGO when I was at university for like a month. And the reason why I joined at the time was really because I was studying Environment and Sustainability at university and wanted to get my "foot in the door." Meaning that I wanted to enter an industry or business at a low level with a chance of success in the future - not that I did much with it anyway.

All I did there was do some research about different organisations and compiled it into a spreadsheet. And also, the office was in the city and I had to travel in from the suburbs. So it was not the most exciting job and the trouble of getting there for a volunteer position kind of wasn't worth it.

So yea, in general, volunteers really need to be motivated to continue volunteering because it can be quite time-consuming. It often requires you to sacrifice your free time - which is usually quite precious if you work full time or study full time.

Yea, but otherwise, it can be a pretty fulfilling experience to meet other people who are like-minded and believe in the same cause as you do.

Charities in Australia

All right. Well, let's talk about charities in Australia. Some of the following information comes from the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission.

There are currently over 54,000 charities in Australia. And this sounds like a lot considering that Australia only has a population of 24 million, but the USA has approximately 1.2 million charities for a population of approximately 321 million.

So if we compare the number of charities to their respective populations, Australia has 1 registered charity for every 440 people, whilst the USA has 1 charity for every 268 people.

So of course, not all of these 54,000 charities in Australia will utilise cold-calling as part of their fundraising campaign. In fact, it really depends on the type of charity and the kind of revenue they get.

So "revenue" means the total income of an organisation. Some are only run by volunteers without any funding or revenue. And then there are very large organisations with complicated business structures and operations with millions of dollars in revenue. And a majority of Australian registered charities are small and are entirely run by volunteers.

Fred Hollows Foundation would be considered a minority as a large organisation. In 2017, they had a total revenue of just under $85 million - that's Australian dollars.

And this is a significant amount of money, but their total expenditure was just under $87 million for the same year, with a deficit of $2 million. So "deficit" means an excess of expenditure over the income in a given period. I know, it sounds very technical doesn't it?

The Salvation Army in Australia, also a very large organisation, had a total revenue in 2017 of AUD$420 million with total expenses at just under $394 million. No deficit.

Yea. So yea, so the large organisations have a lot of money but they also spend a lot of course.

Promoting social welfare & famous people

There are some more vocabulary related to promoting social welfare. So here's a list of them.

"Humanitarian..." sorry, "humanitarianism," which refers to the promotion of human welfare and the active belief in the value of human life. "Humanitarian" refers to the person.

"Altruism" is the promotion of the well-being of others, sometimes at a cost or risk. And we tend to describe people with the adjective "altruistic."

"Activism is the use of vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change. "Activist" refers to the person.

And "philanthropy" is the desire to promote the welfare of others, especially by generous donation of money to good causes. And people who do this are usually called "philanthropists."

All relate to the promotion of social welfare but with slight differences of course.

So humanitarianism is a pretty encompassing term, because it refers to the belief.

Philanthropists, like Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, are usually filthy rich.

Yea, sorry, when I say, "filthy rich," I don't mean it in a bad way, I guess I'm using it quite casually as a slang term. Please don't misunderstand. I'm not insinuating any kind of illegal... illegal activity in any way.

Bill Gate's net worth as of 2019 is just under US$100 billion but the amount of gifts to charities totals to about $50 billion.

Philanthropists are usually humanitarian, but not all humanitarians are rich philanthropists.

Another famous philanthropist is Warren Buffet, who has given away more than US$46 billion since 2000. And he's considered one of the most successful investors in the world, and is the third wealthiest person in the world. He has a net worth of just under US$85 billion as of 2019.

J. K. Rowling, also another famous philanthropist, author of Harry Potter, apparently had previously lost her billionaire status after giving away much of her earnings to charity, but her current net worth as of 2019 is about $1 billion.

Now although activism is related to philanthropy in that they both work toward promoting social welfare. Activism is about direct involvement, and quite often activists will participate in demonstrations, protests, maybe participate in something illegal in certain countries. Whereas philanthropy is about donating money.

Now a famous activist is Nelson Mendela. He was the first black president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. And his government dismantled the "apartheid," which was a system of racial segregation that privileged white people. However, before that, he was arrested several times, imprisoned for 27 years because of the protests and campaigns he was involved with. And eventually he was released.

Now activists are often considered altruistic because activism can have certain risks and costs. Quite often, they're considered controversial depending on which side of the story you listen to, and Nelson Mendela was definitely one.

On the other hand, philanthropists are not... not usually... sometimes they are but not usually controversial. You may consider them altruistic, but most people won't willingly admit that because well, at the end of the day, they're still rich.

Anyway, I think that's all. I hope this was helpful for you - talking about charities. I'll post the vocabulary list on the website in the next few days.

But yea. Have a good day. Thank you so much for listening and I'll catch you later! Bye!