In Australia, philanthropy and giving to charity occur in many ways. Monetary donations to registered charities can be tax deductible if the Australian Taxation Office has endorsed the organisation as a deductible gift recipient (DGR) (ATO 2021a). Fewer than half of charities in Australia have DGR status.

Some charities are set up primarily to deliver structured philanthropy through a range of legal structures, such as ancillary funds and trusts. For others, distributing grants may be only one element of their operations (Cortis et al. 2018).

The legal environment in Australia for making financial donations is complex; hence the information on this page is a broad overview of key elements only.

Volunteering – time willingly given for the common good and without financial gain (VA 2015) – is also considered to be philanthropy and/or charitable giving. See Volunteers.

For more detail on financial philanthropic and charitable donations see the in-focus report Philanthropy and charitable giving.

Giving by individuals

The Charities Aid Foundation ranks Australia as the eighth highest of more than 140 countries over 10 years (2009 to 2018) of the World Giving Index, with 3 in 5 Australians making a financial donation to a charity (CAF 2019). People choose to give for a variety of reasons, including to align with values and cultural identity, for personal satisfaction and caring about doing the right thing, and ‘giving back’ (McGregor-Lowndes et al. 2017).

The Giving Australia 2016 study reported the top 3 reasons why people gave as:

  • it’s a good cause/charity (39%)
  • respect for the work it does (21%)
  • sympathy for those it helps (14%) (McGregor-Lowndes et al. 2017).

The study also found that the majority of individual givers donated to non-profit organisations without intending to make regular or planned ongoing donations to that organisation (Scaife et al. 2016). Three in every 5 respondents reported that they generally gave on the spur of the moment, with the highest percentage of donations (57%) made through doorknock appeals (McGregor-Lowndes et al. 2017).

Donors favoured social services (65%) and health organisations – including medical research (61%) – followed by international (25%) and religious organisations (24%). On average, those donating to religious organisations gave the highest amounts ($932 on average per person) (McGregor-Lowndes et al. 2017).

Tax-deductible donations

Donations by individuals of $2 or more to a DGR are deductible from an individual taxpayer’s assessable income. If the donation is property, it must be valued at more than $5,000 to be tax deductible (Martin 2018).

Income tax returns do not show where donations are made, nor do the donations represent all giving by individuals. Tax-deductible donations obtained from tax returns represent only a subset of individual giving as not all donations made can be (or have been) deducted from income tax. Such non-deductible donations might include, non-tax contributions (raffles, sponsorships, fundraising purchases, donations made directly to people), volunteering, donations to non-DGRs or donations made by those who are not required to lodge a tax return.

In 2018–19:

  • individual taxpayers claimed a total amount of $3.9 billion as a tax-deductible donation, a real increase of 1.1% over the amount for the previous year; this was below the rate of inflation, which was 1.6% (AIHW analysis of ABS 2021)
  • 4.2 million Australian taxpayers claimed an average deduction of $933, contrasting with the previous year when a greater number of taxpayers (4.5 million) made a smaller average contribution ($861)
  • 29% of all taxpayers claimed a tax-deductible donation (ATO 2021b; Figure 1).

From 2007–08 to 2018–19:

  • total donations increased from $3 billion to $3.9 billion in real terms
  • until 2010–11, there was a real decline in donations by an average of 10% each year; after this, the annual growth was 5.8% on average each year
  • the proportion of individual taxpayers claiming donations fell from 35% in 2007–08 to 29% in 2018–19
    • the greatest decline was seen from 2010–11 onwards, with a –3.2% growth, on average, each year; before this, the average annual growth had been 2.2% (ATO 2021b; Figure 1).

This chart shows that individual taxpayers claimed $3.9 billion as tax deductions for donations in 2018–19. This represented a real increase of 1.1% from the previous year.

Business giving

Business giving is often driven by an ethical imperative to give back to the community in which the business operates, and to have a social impact. Businesses also recognise the benefits a giving culture has on employee recruitment, retention and engagement (Burns et al. 2017).

Survey data from Giving Australia 2016 estimated that in 2015–16:

  • Australian businesses gave $17.5 billion: $6.2 billion in donations; $7.7 billion in community partnerships; $3.6 billion in non-commercial sponsorships
  • over half of this amount (51%, $9 billion) was given by large businesses even though these represented 0.2% of all Australian businesses
  • the education and research sector benefited most, receiving 22% of total business giving, followed by the culture and recreation sector at 19%
  • 85% of large businesses (with 200 employees or more) facilitated workplace giving, with 56% matching staff donations dollar for dollar; 28% of small and medium enterprises (with fewer than 200 employees) offered payroll giving and 26% matched staff donations (Burns et al. 2017).

Workplace giving

Workplace giving is a joint relationship between employers, employees and charities that enables individuals to donate a proportion of their pre-tax salary. Some employers match staff donations (WGA 2021).

Australian Taxation Office data showed that in 2018–19:

  • 201,237 Australians donated through workplace giving programs
  • the average donation was $215
  • more than $66 million was donated (including employer matching)
  • those aged under 34 were the largest group of workplace givers (WGA 2020).

Ancillary funds

Private Ancillary Funds (PAFs) enable an individual, family or organisation to put aside money in a trust to support charities over the long term. PAFs cannot raise funds from the general public but are endorsed as a DGR.

Public Ancillary Funds (PuAFs) are communal and philanthropic structures that must raise funds only from the general public. A PuAF is a DGR and therefore donations are tax deductible.

Ancillary funds cannot operate programs or deliver services, but they play a supporting role by funding eligible non-profit organisations.

In 2018–19:

  • there were 1,359 PuAFs and 1,731 PAFs, which received donations of around $850 million and $550 million, respectively. The amount received, in real terms, was:
    • for PAFs, 47% lower than that for the previous year
    • for PuAFs, 21% higher than that for the previous year
  • PuAFs distributed $400 million and PAFs distributed around $560 million – 13% of net assets for PuAFs and 7.7% for PAFs
  • charities receiving the highest proportion of distributions from PuAFs were welfare and rights organisations (33%), those with multiple purposes (28%) and health organisations (23%)
  • legislated distributions accounted for 31% of distributions by PAFs, with another 22% of funds distributed to charities with multiple purposes and 21% to welfare and rights organisations (ATO 2021b; Figure 2).

From 2011–12 to 2018–19:

  • donations to PuAFs increased on average by 13% per year in real terms
  • donations to PAFs increased, on average, by 29% per year in real terms, driven by a large donation in 2014–15 from the Paul Ramsay Foundation (McGregor-Lowndes et al. 2019)
  • on average, net assets for both PuAFs and PAFs grew by 11% and 14%, respectively, with assets for PuAFs remaining below those for PAFs over the period
  • PuAFs distributed an average of 15% of assets annually and PAFs distributed 6.9% on average (ATO 2021b; Figure 2).

Note that donations to ancillary funds by individuals may also be captured in Tax-deductible donations.

Charities – recipients of giving

In December 2020, there were around 58,600 registered charities in Australia (ACNC 2020a). Charities make up a diverse sector working across Australia and internationally in a broad range of areas, including health, education, social welfare, religion, culture, human rights, the environment and animal welfare (ACNC 2020b).

In 2019:

  • donations to charities accounted for 7% of the sector’s revenue
  • there was $11.8 billion in donations and bequests, an increase of $1.3 billion (12%) over the figure for the previous year
  • 65% of charities were small (with an annual revenue under $250,000), 16% were medium sized (revenue of $250,000 or more but under $1 million) and 19% were large (revenue of $1 million or more)
  • the most common activities for charities were religious activities and primary and secondary education
  • around 8% of charities reported operating overseas
  • fewer than half of the registered charities (39%) were endorsed as DGRs (ACNC 2021c).

This chart shows that in 2018–19, Public Ancillary Funds received $850 million in donations and Private Ancillary Funds received $550 million, and that the funds distributed $400 million and $560 million, respectively. In real terms, from 2011–12 to 2018–19 donations to Public Ancillary Funds increased on average by 13% per year and Private Ancillary Funds by 29%.

Bushfire relief and recovery

By June 2020, almost $300 million had been donated to 3 major charities to support recovery following the 2019–20 bushfire season:

  • Red Cross – $216 million
  • The Salvation Army – $43 million
  • St Vincent de Paul Society – $23 million (ABC News 2020b).

As well, funds were raised via:

  • online platforms such as Facebook and GoFundMe ($85 million was raised, with over $50 million raised by comedian Celeste Barber)
  • donations from the banking sector, supermarket chains, businesses (such as Qantas, Rio Tinto and Holden) as well as from individuals, celebrities and sportspeople – including a donation of $70 million by Andrew (Twiggy) and Nicola Forrest (ABC News 2020a).

These donations were not only directed to the immediate recovery and support of bushfire-affected areas but also pledged to help create a national plan to mitigate bushfire threats in future, with a focus on climate change.

Impact of COVID-19 on giving

‘The impact of the COVID-19 crisis on Australian philanthropy is forecast to be significant, with the biggest impact not this year but next when total giving is expected to drop back to 2012 levels.’ (PA 2020b).

The economic downturn triggered by the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic put financial stress on the non-profit sector (PA 2020a). As many Australians faced unemployment and financial hardship, a general tightening of budgets – compounded by hygiene concerns around the use of cash – resulted in a drop in the value of charitable donations at a time when they were needed most (F&P 2020). Many fundraising events were also cancelled or postponed (Masige 2020).

In April 2020, 47% of 366 charities surveyed reported that they had experienced a substantial drop in donation fundraising income, with another 20% reporting a slight decrease (Institute of Community Directors Australia 2020).

Analysis undertaken during the pandemic estimated that total giving would fall around 7.1% in 2020 and by a further 12% in 2021 (McLeod 2020).

Where do I go for more information?

For more information on philanthropy and charitable giving in Australia, see:


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ABC News 2020b. Bushfire donations topped $282 million between three major charities – almost half’s still in the bank. Ultimo: ABC. Viewed 5 December 2020.

ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2021. Consumer Price Index, Australia. ABS cat. no. 6401.0 (reference period December 2020). Canberra: ABS. Viewed 2 February 2021.

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F&P (Fundraising and Philanthropy) 2020. The impact of Covid-19 on fundraising. 24 November 2020. New Lambton: F&P. Viewed 14 January 2021.

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Martin F 2018. Tax deductibility of philanthropic donations: reform of the specific listing provisions in Australia. Australian Tax Forum 33(3).

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McGregor-Lowndes M, Crittall M, Conroy D, Keast R, Baker C, Barraket J & Scaife W 2017. Individual giving and volunteering. Giving Australia 2016, report series commissioned by the Department of Social Services. Brisbane: Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies, Queensland University of Technology, the Centre for Social Impact Swinburne, Swinburne University of Technology, and the Centre for Corporate Public Affairs.

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VA (Volunteering Australia) 2015. Volunteering Australia Project: the review of the definition of volunteering. Canberra: VA. Viewed 11 December 2020.

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