Australia’s not-for-profit sector has changed considerably in the past ten years, but just how has a global pandemic changed the way corporates and individuals view donating?

Until the Australian Charities and Not-for profits Commission (ACNC) was established in 2012, the guidelines for the sector were generic and open to interpretation. In the period since, NFPs are now governed with guidelines setting out governance and financial reporting standards, much like any corporate organisation.

The ACNC also arguably enhanced the level of trust in the Australian NFP sector, with schools, community and member groups, and registered charities now needing to ensure donations are dealt with appropriately and transparently.

The introduction of the ACNC weeded out many smaller, less established NFPs who didn’t have the necessary governance structures in place – some even merged as a result – with the remaining able to adhere to the regulations. Some of the governance structures in place would now arguably rival any listed company.

And while the operating environment for many of these organisations has been on an upward trajectory in recent years, the onset of COVID has irrevocably put the brakes on, and continues to impact public and corporate donations.

Events and other fundraising initiatives have also had to be reimagined – and will be for some time yet. The Leukaemia Foundation’s World’s Greatest Shave and Light the Night campaigns, for example, changed their format due to widespread lockdowns and restrictions.

The Light the Night initiative – where people walk with lanterns to build awareness of blood cancers – was last year held virtually from people’s homes. Television personality Osher Gunsberg recorded a message for participants and, under the circumstances, the revised format was a success.

My own experience with the NFP sector goes back some way. In the mid-1990s, a client – Tim Goyder – had just been diagnosed with leukemia and he contacted me to say he had a job – except that it didn’t pay! Tim had the foresight to develop his thoughts into an organisation that provided information and resources to leukaemia patients and their families, and together, we were instrumental in establishing the Leukaemia Foundation of WA.

Leukaemia Foundation WA then joined up with other leukaemia foundations nationally, and in 2005, all states merged to form a national body (with the exception of Queensland, which joined in 2016). Following the merger, the Foundation produced a Blood Cancer State of the Nation Report, which incorporated everything from funding, to research and treatments available, as well as support mechanisms for sufferers and their families. It also established a national taskforce panel comprised of 29 of the country’s top blood cancer experts and a national action plan to map out where they wanted to take the space moving forward.

There are a range of cancer-based NFPs but the Leukaemia Foundation is the only organisation focusing specifically on blood cancer, and has committed to a strategy of zero lives lost to blood cancer by 2035! It’s not necessarily a cure, but is instead aimed at better treatments for prolonged life and more research and clinical trials.

It’s an audacious goal, and one that holds even more significance at a time when fewer people are giving fewer dollars to charitable organisations. To offset some of the financial strain, the Foundation is looking to establish an endowment fund so the returns from that go directly towards funding much-needed research and better treatment for patients.

*Lucio Di Giallonardo has recently been named as the chair of the Leukaemia Foundation.