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International giving from Australia: frequently asked questions

International philanthropy has become a subject of increasing interest for Australians. Here’s how you can get started.

By Anita Toy, Chief Representative, Give2Asia Australia

For many Australians, the COVID-19 pandemic opened our eyes to the crisis faced by some of our neighbours in Asia. During India’s second COVID wave, the Australian community rallied together to help those affected and created a tremendous wave of interest in giving overseas.

Philanthropy is playing an important role during the COVID-19 pandemic to address the immediate and long-term needs of the global crisis.  And thanks to recent regulatory changes, Australian donors can now receive tax benefits for donations to benefit certain types of overseas charities and projects.

The following offers an introduction to international giving. We hope you’ll be inspired to engage in this rewarding work.

Why don’t more Australians give internationally?

International philanthropy is not widely talked about in Australia, and few local funders have experience giving abroad. There are several reasons.

The first is lack of access to information. Charities in other countries don’t necessarily meet the same reporting and disclosure requirements as non-profits at home. It’s harder to know whether a charity is legitimate and how they’re using funds.

The second reason is complexity. Cross-border donors must navigate legal and logistical requirements both in Australia and in the destination country. As you can imagine, transferring large sums of money overseas can raise red flags.

Lastly, Australia’s tax regulations historically put donors seeking to support overseas causes at a disadvantage. The former “In Australia” rule required all Australian Deductible Gift Recipients (DGRs)—including Public Benevolent Institutions (PBIs)—to serve a purpose and beneficiaries in Australia.

How have the rules changed?

In 2017, Australia changed the rules restricting international charitable giving. PBIs no longer must have their purpose beneficiaries in Australia, allowing them to fund partners and projects overseas.

The philanthropic sector welcomed these reforms. However, there are still some important caveats.

First, donations to benefit overseas causes must be made to a registered Australian charity to receive domestic tax benefits. Give2Asia Australia was established for this purpose.

Second, the cross-border donation must fund work related to poverty alleviation. That’s a big cause, so many projects qualify. But plenty of legitimate charities and projects will not.

Third, donations need to follow all other Australian laws and regulations related to moving money overseas. For example, donations from Australia to sanctioned countries are currently prohibited due to the current political situation. Give2Asia Australia helps donors navigate these hurdles.

Since the new reforms in 2017 to remove the “In Australia” legislation, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission introduced the External Conduct Standards governing the administration and oversight of charities overseas. This standard ensures that any resources or funds send overseas reach legitimate beneficiaries and are used for legitimate charitable purposes.

Why would Australians want to give overseas?

Giving is shaped by our life experiences, upbringing, values and worldview. If you’ve travelled across Asia, visited rural communities and witnessed extreme poverty, you may be more inclined to make a difference and support poverty alleviation. If you are part of a diaspora community, you may prefer to give back to your homeland – also known as homeland philanthropy or migrant philanthropy.

Australians give overseas for a variety of reasons, such as:

  • You want to help those who need it the most. Unlike developed and wealthy countries like Australia, the neediest live in developing countries where there is no social safety nets or access to readily available services.
  • You want your money to go further and help more people. Donations will go a long way in a developing country. For example, The Fred Hollows Foundation can restore eyesight for as little as $25 in a developing country, whereas it would cost thousands of dollars in Australia.

What we are starting to see in Australia is a growing interest in globalised support. As reported by the Australian International Development Network, A Manifesto for Action (2018), this trend will continue to grow because social and environmental issues affect us all, irrespective of where we live. 

What should donors consider when giving overseas?

As an aspiring donor seeking to support an overseas cause, there are some questions to consider before taking the plunge.

  • Where do you want to give?
  • What problem would you like to solve?
  • Who do you want to help?
  • What impact would you like to have?

These are your personal choices and your decision may come down to past experiences or connection to the cause. The answer should align to your giving strategy. Next, consider:

  • Which charities are working in this space?
  • How do I know my donation is going to a genuine charity?

Due diligence helps ensure the charity is the best fit for your giving strategy, is reputable, and has the capacity and capability to fulfill its mission. Conducting due diligence increases the likelihood that a philanthropic grant will achieve its objectives. It also mitigates the potential risks of international grantmaking.

Where can I go for advice or to find more information on international giving?  

International giving can be daunting – especially given the enormous range of worthy causes to support.

Give2Asia Australia brings Give2Asia’s 20-year history in international giving and is well-prepared to help Australian donors achieve their overseas philanthropic goals. If you’re interested in learning more, please request a consultation with our team to start your international giving journey.

The Australian International Development Network is also a great place to connect with like-minded collaborators who are looking to grant or invest to advance the social and environmental conditions of people and communities abroad.

How can I inspire others to give overseas?

Share your stories! The culture of giving in Australia is still relatively private and we need to shift the mindset of these funders because it is inhibiting the growth of the wider sector. Funders need to share their expertise and resources to empower others to take the plunge.

Note: Give2Asia does not provide tax advice. Please consult a qualified professional regarding your individual tax situation.

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