5256.0.55.001 - Information Paper: Non-Profit Institutions - A Draft Information Development Plan, Jul 2010  
Latest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 27/08/2010  First Issue
   Page tools: Print Print Page Print all pages in this productPrint All RSS Feed RSS Bookmark and Share Search this Product



New data development and its timing depends on the resources available and stakeholder priorities. ABS does not currently have the resources to undertake new data development for the NPI sector.

How to improve the accessibility of information is an overarching issue. Information is of no value if its existence is unknown. Consultation and agreement on how best to assemble and promote the diverse range of information on the sector is required. Possibilities range from a statistical warehouse (a high cost option) to a web based data directory approach.

The measurement framework recommended by the Productivity Commission provides direction for the development of statistical information. However, the development of information is also collection driven. A particular collection vehicle or administrative data source can meet needs across and/or down the framework. The following presentation charts a course between these two approaches.


A. Inputs information

A commitment to an ongoing Non–Profit Institutions Satellite Account

An update of the satellite accounts every three years would be satisfactory for user needs. This is based on the strong growth in the period between the two previous satellite accounts and the expected rate of change in the next few years. As an example, there is an expectation that the NPI sector will manage or own 35% of public housing by 2014.

There would be advantages in aligning the reference years for the satellite account and the GSS data for volunteering, but this would require a four yearly cycle. If they are conducted for different reference years the volunteering information would have to be extrapolated for use in the satellite account.

The Non–Profit Institutions Satellite Account to include an improved range of information

Some increase in activity (ICNPO) detail is highly desirable as areas of significant policy and research interest are not available in the existing product. There should be an aim to produce data for at least the 12 Groups of the ICNPO classification (see appendix 5). The costs of providing more ICNPO detail are substantial, especially when many thousands of NPI records on the ABS Business Register have to be identified, reclassified and maintained in the future. Sample sizes for data collections would have to be significantly increased to provide the extra ICNPO detail.

State and territory governments have wide ranging service provision relationships and policy initiatives with the sector. There is a need for state and territory information in the satellite account, but this would come at a relatively high cost. It is likely that stakeholders would have to consider some compromise between the state dimension and the level of ICNPO detail.

The satellite account is designed to meet needs for high level information in the context of the national accounts. It cannot be expected to meet needs for detailed data. Alternative sources of information using administrative data systems for specific activities may have to be developed to meet this need.

The data items currently available in the satellite account for income and expenses appear to meet user needs for high level inputs information. Extension of the existing capital asset and liabilities measures to include an ICNPO dimension would be useful.

The Non–Profit Institutions Satellite Account to include an improved coverage of small organisations

The satellite account aims to include all economically significant NPIs and all volunteers who provide their services through an NPI organisation. For the 2006–07 account, this represented around 59,000 organisations and 4.6 million volunteers. There is potentially a very large number of very small organisations (possibly 500,000 or more) missing from the survey frame, although their economic contribution is measured implicitly through estimates for the value of volunteer effort. For some stakeholders this has adversely affected the credibility of the information, even though preliminary ABS analysis has shown it to have had a relatively small impact on the overall bottom line of the satellite account (although it may be more significant for some activity segments or for data items such as donations from households and businesses).

The ABS business survey frames could be supplemented with NPI organisations that are registered for taxation purposes but do not pass the economic significance test applied by the ABS. Future satellite accounts should contain prominent discussion and analysis of the likely impact of missing organisations on the data.

There is little or no prospect for including all small organisations in the sample frame for the satellite account. (See the section below on obtaining information on the extent and characteristics of small community organisations).

ABS Industry collections related to the NPI sector

A regular NPI survey is an essential source for the satellite account. This requirement would have to be embedded in the program.

Stakeholders have a continuing need for Industry Surveys such as Community Services, Performing Arts, Sport and Physical Recreation, and Interest Groups. Large scale surveys of these industries will not be undertaken in the future except on a user pays basis.

ABS industry surveys could provide a vehicle for collecting information on the spectrum of business–giving (see the section below on philanthropy).

Non–ABS information for NPI inputs

Discussions with AIHW and other government organisations are required to examine possibilities for better highlighting the contribution of NPIs in their data.

Discussions are also required with university research institutes such as the Australian Centre of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies at QUT and the recently established Knowledge 4 Social Impact Cooperative Research Centre. They have programs underway to build knowledge systems for the sector.

The ABS can have an important advisory role on best statistical practice through its leadership of National Statistical Service.

Available sources would appear to meet most user needs for high level data related to volunteer services provided through NPIs.

There is an emerging interest in volunteering and civic engagement by the business sector. While there have been studies focusing on this, there is a need for consideration to be given to collecting this type of information more regularly.

Census data has potentially high analytical power for analysis of household characteristics down to the small area level. An important area of work concerns the need for ABS to provide advice on the coherence of data from different sources of data on volunteering, including the population census.

The ABS has not provided an estimate of the economic value of all volunteering. The large number of volunteers providing services to government organisations (including the vast number of emergency services volunteers) are excluded by definition from the satellite account. Options should be considered to address this. The satellite account could be extended to include an extra module containing information for all volunteering. It would have to be renamed as the Non–Profit Institutions and Volunteering Satellite Account. Alternatively, a valuation of all volunteering using the same methodology as the satellite account could be included in the ABS Volunteer Survey release.


There is a need to better understand the dimension and characteristics of giving, and the factors affecting decisions to give. The satellite account provides information on the sources of income. What is missing from this is information about the characteristics of givers, the types of organisations they support and the factors affecting the decisions of individuals and entities to give or not to give. ATO data is a useful but limited source of annual information on the occupation and demographic characteristics of individuals making tax deductible donations.

Information on the dimension and characteristics of household and business giving could be improved by:
  • Including questions on individuals giving in the ABS Household Expenditure Survey (conducted every six years), the GSS survey (in conjunction with the volunteering module) or another suitable household based collection vehicle.
  • Including questions on business giving and possibly philanthropic foundations in ABS business surveys every few years.
  • Collecting more in–depth qualitative information using purposive samples and case studies. Research institutes and peak bodies might be best placed to undertake this type of work.
Government funding of NPIs

Information for the sector would be significantly improved if government financial reporting systems provided information on the totality of government financial relationships with NPIs. Consideration should also be given to how to classify the financial relationships, and in particular which payments are in the nature of a grant, and which payments are for services provided. This distinction is important for the satellite account and economic statistics more generally.

Progress on this aspect of information improvement would depend on having the matter considered by an intergovernmental forum. Consideration should be given to the best way of advancing this discussion.

The number and characteristics of Non–Profit Institutions

There is considerable interest from governments and the sector in having a definitive estimate of the total number of NPIs, their characteristics and their location. Depending on the definition, an approximate estimate of 500,000–700,000 organisations is regularly quoted based on the work of Lyons and Hocking (footnote 3).

The ABS business register includes those NPIs that satisfy an economic significance test. This was around 58,000 organisations in 2006–07. It would be feasible to supplement the business register with around 100,000 additional NPIs that have an active tax status with the Australian Taxation Office. An investigation could be undertaken into what data are available from Australian and state government registries of incorporated associations and charities and what needs to be done to make it more useful for statistical purposes. However, it appears that a large number of organisations would remain outside of these administrative systems.

Following Lyons and Hocking, estimates of the potentially large number of small unincorporated associations might be updated and improved by extrapolating from small area samples or by local government questionnaire. These types of studies require a local knowledge of the sector and are probably best undertaken by state and territory governments in collaboration with sector peak bodies and research institutes. The design of such studies should also consider the wider statistical potential of such information and how it might be integrated with existing administrative information on the number and characteristics of NPIs. It is likely that a degree of uncertainty would remain around the meaning and voracity of such estimates.

Productivity Commission recommendations for a National Registrar of Not–for–Profits, if implemented, may provide the best prospects in the longer term.

B. Outputs, outcomes and impacts information

Proxy market values using input costs and shadow prices are widely regarded as providing only a partial measure of the contribution of NPIs. However, the advantage of economic measurement is that monetary units enable aggregation of the wide range of services produced by the sector so they can be placed in the same context as the measurement of the wider economy.

However, such measures do not provide information on the social outcomes and impacts from NPI activity. The Productivity Commission framework aims to tease this out. Also, to assume that output changes over time at the same rate as costs is likely to understate growth in NPI outputs because of expected improvements in the productivity of the NPI sector over time.

Although the need has been established for a suit of quantitative and qualitative indicators to measure the outputs, outcomes and impacts of NPI and volunteer activity, the ABS is not aware of any systematic attempts to apply this approach for measuring the contribution of the NPI sector. The ideas are at the early stage.

Research and consultation is required in order to scope high level outputs, outcomes and impacts indicators appropriate to the sector. This is a substantial project. The work already undertaken to develop indicators for the government sector under COAG initiatives and by the ABS, AIHW and other agencies to measure social phenomena and wellbeing more generally would be important guides. The difficulty will be to develop indicators that are reflective of NPI activity separate to the multitude of other factors that would typically influence community outcomes and wellbeing.

University research institutes in collaboration with sector peak bodies and other agencies might be best placed to lead the early development of ideas and to undertake initial assembly of available indicators.

Progress is likely to be in the longer term.


There are two main streams of information development needed at the micro–data level:
  • There is a wealth of data collected from individual NPIs that engage in government service contracting and from regulatory processes, but the challenge is to capture it in such a way that it can be made available for wider statistical use. Improved information sharing including greater access to publicly funded research and data is one of the priorities for action under the Australian Government’s Compact with the Third Sector. State and territory governments have complementary initiatives.
  • The Compact with the Third Sector and the Productivity Commission Report refer to the need to streamline administrative processes around financial reporting, program evaluation and other reporting requirements of governments. This includes the use of more standardised and best practice program evaluation across agencies, 'collect once, use often' approaches to information collection and sharing and a more coordinated approach in agency relationships with NPIs.

The ABS is not in a position to lead developments to improve administrative processes. However, it is one of the stakeholders in government initiatives to improve information sharing and public access to data. The design of administrative systems should take into account the statistical potential of any information collected. The ABS has a National Statistical Service role as an advisor on good statistical practice and to promote the capture of administrative data for statistical and research use.

Government agencies that have service contract and other financial and regulatory relationships with NPIs should give consideration as to how to improve the availability of confidentialised micro–data information for research use, and more generally improve information sharing and access to research results consistent with the Australian Government’s National Compact and similar state and territory initiatives. They should also give consideration as to how to improve and streamline administrative processes around financial reporting and program evaluation, and how to optimise the collection and use of information, including for statistical purposes (collect once, use often).

Work is needed to investigate what micro–data sets (if any) relevant to NPIs are publicly available from government administrative systems and other sources. Such a stocktake could be undertaken as part of the National Compact initiatives to provide greater access to publicly funded research and data. Early work by the Australian Centre of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies to assemble and analyse NPI unit record data collected according to the new Standard Chart of Accounts is also worthy of note.
3 Lyons and Hocking 2000, Dimensions of Australia’s Third Sector, Centre for Australian Community Organisations and Management, University of Technology, Sydney. <back