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My Giving Table and Compliance - where the rubber meets the road.

I have always believed in the act of giving and the idea that when we can help someone in genuine need we should do so with an open heart.

I started hosting "parties for a purpose" dinners many years ago, where friends would put money in a hat for a particular cause, such as to support cyclone victims or flood ravaged towns, the money would be collected and donated to charity.

Believing that more people may wish to enjoy lovely evenings with friends, while raising funds for particular causes, I set about to create My Giving Table. My Giving Table was set up as a Not for Profit, Social Enterprise with the goal to encourage more "parties for a purpose" or "events for a cause" to happen by offering a simple online event booking site for hosts to use to invite guests to their events with a transparent, trackable and auditable fundraising platform in the back end, that met the industry regulations for charitable fundraising.

I am often asked about why My Giving Table has such stringent compliance requirements. The answer is simple -when I set up MGT my market research showed that there was a growing level of skepticism about many charities, particularly from young donors who were seeking transparency on how charitable funds were dispersed. My own young adult children said it was important to them that their donated funds were going to provide the critical support needed and not to unrelated expenses - seems like a fairly reasonable request and expectation. The questions I ask of charities are easily answered by those with nothing to hide, and the sole purpose is to offer assurance to those individuals and businesses who wish to know where their generous donations are going.

The charity sector is a very large industry, and being a charity comes with privileges in terms of tax concessions and other business benefits. Because we all support charities from a place in our hearts, rather than our heads, we often forget that charities are actually very large businesses and therefore have compliance hoops to jump through, just as "for profit" businesses do.

Like other big businesses there are rules and regulations to comply with. Most people are surprised to learn that there is no base line of what percentage of money gets used for the core purpose. Administration and operations are, of course, a genuine cost of any business and are also of charities. However, without good governance, fundraising dollars can be diverted and spent on items such as personal travel, private cars and entertainment of those running the organisation.

The ACNC states that internal charity fraud is on the rise, and we should all be aware and discerning when looking at which charities we choose to support.

Simple things to look for are -

"Is one person solely in charge of finances? Is there a reluctance to take help or holidays, delays to audits and reviews, or vague answers to legitimate questions."

We all expect that publicly listed companies have a division between operations and financial compliance and are overseen by an active board, who ensure and sign off on the appropriate use of resources. Charities should have similar compliance in place, but not all do because they lack the required depth of management.

Stories of fund misappropriation (essentially utilising funds donated in good faith, for their own purposes) in the charity sector do every now and then make it to the press. These stories cause great harm to all involved, taking away from the great work being done and obviously make people suspicious about supporting even the well run, compliant and ethical charities.

There are steps that we take at MGT to meet our own company compliance and to ensure the charities we work with are also compliant.

We start with submitting fundraising contracts between MGT and the charity to the Office of Fair Trade. The OFT give their stamp of approval that the charity is correctly registered and operating and able to have tax free donations. The second place we go is the ACNC, the list of registered charities online, where documents of each charity should be displayed for the public record.

The ACNC site should display comprehensive Directors reports, meeting minutes and financials of each registered charity. These reports should outline the core purpose of the charity and the way their funds are used and dispersed annually, their income, grants received, deliverables such as how many people were impacted and helped by their service and expenses should be outlined clearly. These documents are a great way to get a deeper picture of how a particular charity is set up, what they achieve, their governance and their management of funds and services.

My favourite way to understand a charities operation is by visiting them where they deliver their services, at the coal face so to speak, to see firsthand how they operate. As an example, one of the smaller charities we support comes to mind. Open Haven works on the front line to help women and children in crisis, escaping domestic violence situations. When you visit their weekly "Hubs" you see firsthand the power of the work they do, with meals and shopping vouchers being provided to women who are going without food, paid and professional counselors are on hand working with women in a meaningful way to assist them, practical assistance is being given to help women find work or to get their driver's license so they can keep a job. Real emotional and practical support is being given each week to numerous women and children. Particularly telling is when I have a lunch meeting with the management team we all pay our own tab - it isn't picked up with donated money. This is a simple point to note - when you donate to a charity you are not wanting to cover the lunch of people who can pay their way, but surely you are hoping to support those who would miss lunch without your help.

I love reflecting on the varied events and parties that have been hosted through My Giving Table over the last year or so and looking at the smiles and joy that people feel when they are coming from a caring place and opening their giving hearts, for causes greater than themselves.

Seeing the results of each dollar put towards worthwhile programs, there is no question that charities form a vital part of our community fabric. Charities and not-for profits form a safety net and pick up the slack, filling crucial social services and giving support to vulnerable groups in times of need.

There are so many charitable organisations that are run professionally with sound governance and genuinely provide crucial services to our community, these are the ones who truly deserve our support.

This is why, for me, transparency, compliance and accountability are so important, so that the wonderous and generous side of giving continues to create a better community for us all and donations can be given with peace of mind that funds are going to the intended recipient.

Coming up in the next month we have two public events in the calendar - Campfire for the Woman's Heart Book Launch on the Gold Coast will be a lovely evening of stories of resilient Women by Natalie Stockdale and in Airlie Beach we have the second year of the Trudy Crowley Foundation High Tea by the Sea in support of women experiencing Ovarian Cancer.

With a favourite quote in mind from Budda himself "If you knew what I know about giving you would not let a single meal pass without sharing it in some way".

Please if you would like to host your own My Giving Table event reach out and we will assist you to get the idea off the ground.

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