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

Content last updated 27/11/2023

Which incorporated legal structure should you choose?

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If your group has decided to incorporate, the people involved in your group will need to consider which incorporated legal structure will best suit the aims, activities and culture of the organisation.

Choosing the right incorporated structure for your organisation is an important legal decision, as it has consequences for:

  • where your organisation is allowed to operate (ie. only in one state or across Australia)
  • the costs of your organisation's operations
  • who your organisation must provide information to (ie. a government regulator), and
  • what kind and level (detail) of information your organisation must provide

Because choosing an incorporated legal structure has such important consequences for the operation of an organisation, your group may want to seek legal advice on this issue.

Our resources outline the main legal structure options available and the characteristics of each kind of incorporated structure.

More information

If you are setting up a social enterprise, go to our resources on social enterprises.

Which incorporated legal structure should you choose?

Our fact sheets for each state and territory provide an overview of the main characteristics of incorporated legal structures which are suitable for not-for-profit community organisations. These include:

  • incorporated associations
  • companies limited by guarantee
  • Indigenous corporations, and
  • co-operatives

Select the state or territory where your organisation will be based and download the relevant fact sheet:

Once you have decided on which legal structure best suits your organisation, go to our resources on how to set up your organisation.


These are not the only structures available for not-for-profit organisations. For example, there are also charitable trusts, trade unions and companies limited by shares (although usually used for for-profit businesses). These fact sheets don’t cover these structures, but for more information on charitable trusts, see our fact sheet on fundraising foundations and charitable trusts.

Incorporated association or a company limited by guarantee?

For many not-for-profit organisations, the decision about which incorporated structure to choose often comes down to a decision between being an incorporated association or a company limited by guarantee.

Our guides set out in more detail the differences between these two structures and the benefits and limitations of both structures. Our guides explain how the following factors influence a choice between structures:

  • where the group will 'operate' or carry out 'activities'
  • whether the organisation will seek charitable tax concessions or become registered as a charity
  • whether the organisation will be able to pay initial and ongoing fees, and
  • whether the organisation will be able to meet annual reporting, audit and review requirements

More information

Before reading the guides, it's important to think about whether your group will be (or will seek to be) a registered charity.

Select the state or territory where your organisation will be based and download the relevant guide:

More information

Once you have decided on which incorporated legal structure, go to our resources on setting up an incorporated legal structure.

Fundraising trusts and grant making foundations

If you are interested in setting up a fundraising trust entity or grant making foundation, our fact sheet may assist you in considering whether this is the right approach for you.

It's important to note that a trust or a foundation is not the same as a not-for-profit organisation.

Our fact sheet covers:

  • what is a foundation?
  • are there alternatives to setting up a foundation?
  • where can you find an existing foundation?
Fundraising foundations and charitable trusts

For organisations interested in setting up a private ancillary fund, the Australian Tax Office (ATO) provides a model Private Ancillary Fund trust deed. To access the model trust deed visit the ATO website.

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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 help determine the best way forward.

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

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