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Starting a not-for-profit organisation but not sure where to start? We're here to help. We’ll guide your new organisation through key legal decisions.

Content last updated 18/04/2023

Should your group register as a charity?

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An organisation is a 'registered charity' if it is registered with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC). The regulatory functions relating to charities for which the ACNC is responsible were previously administered by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC).

It is often necessary to register as a charity to access charitable tax concessions.

There are other benefits to registering as a charity, such as being listed on the public register of charities and being able to use the 'Registered Charity Tick' logo, which can encourage public trust in your organisation.

In general, being registered as a charity comes with extra reporting obligations. However, in some instances, reporting will be reduced (for example, for companies limited by guarantee that are registered as charities).

Our resources on charity reporting have information on the special reporting requirements for registered charities.

To help you decide whether your organisation is eligible to register as a charity, our fact sheet covers:

  • what is a charity?
  • the difference between not-for profit organisations and charities
  • how are charities regulated?
  • should your organisation register as a charity?
  • how do you register as a charity?
  • what must a charity do to keep its ACNC registration?
  • using the ACNC Registered Charity Tick
Registration as a charity with the ACNC

What is the definition of ‘charity’?

Since 1 January 2014, Australia has a statutory definition for charity at a federal level. Before this, charity was defined in case law (judge made law) and was difficult to identify and apply. To meet the statutory definition of charity, a group must have charitable purposes (defined in the legislation) and operate for the public benefit. There are some exclusions.

The statutory definition is relevant when deciding whether an organisation is ’charitable’ under the federal law. This decision is most commonly made when a charity registers with the ACNC.

An organisation may be a charity but choose not to register as a charity with the ACNC. An unregistered charity could still be considered a charity under common law. When state-based laws refer to 'charity', they mean the common law (case law) understanding of the term. This common law understanding of ‘charity’ is often relevant at a state level to fundraising laws and state tax concessions (such as stamp duty exemptions).

Being a registered charity is a 'status' rather than a structure. It's also different to being not-for-profit. All registered charities are not-for-profit, but not all not-for-profit organisations are charities. In fact, there are many more not-for-profits than charities.

How does an organisation register as a charity?

To register with the ACNC, your group will need:

  • to be a not-for-profit (including having 'not-for-profit clauses' in its rules)
  • meet the definition of 'charity', and
  • have an ABN

More information 

Read more about the definition of charity and registering as a charity on the ACNC's website.

Getting Started Tool: A free online tool

Need help making key legal decisions? Our self-help tool will ask you a series of questions about your new organisation - in plain and simple English - and will provide you with information to help you answer these questions.

The content on this webpage was last updated in April 2023 and is not legal advice. See full disclaimer and copyright notice.

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