What is a charitable purpose?

Not-for-profits that are not charities

Remember, if your organisation is a not-for-profit but its main purpose is not charitable, it is unlikely to be a charity that can register with us.

Purpose of your organisation

Your organisation’s ‘purpose’ is the reason your organisation has been set up, or what your activities work towards achieving. Some people also refer to this as your organisation's mission.

Recognised charitable purposes

'Charitable purpose' has a special legal meaning, developed over years by courts and parliament. The law recognises charitable purposes that include:

  • relieving poverty, sickness or the needs of the aged
  • advancing education
  • advancing religion
  • 'other purposes beneficial to the community' (a general category).

Other purposes beneficial to the community

Some examples of other purposes beneficial to the community are:

  • providing not-for-profit childcare services
  • advancing arts and culture
  • health
  • promoting animal welfare
  • protecting the environment.

The courts have recognised many different types of organisations as having a charitable purpose, and as society changes new purposes are accepted.

Having more than one charitable purpose

Your organisation may have more than one charitable purpose. For example, your organisation may educate the public about the environment, and so advance education as well as advancing the environment. However, if it has non-charitable as well as charitable purposes, your organisation may not be a charity.

Generally, we will decide what your organisation's purposes are by looking at its governing documents. The ACNC may also need to look at other types of evidence such as your organisation's activities, annual reports, financial statements and corporate documents.

Examples of organisations with charitable purposes

Examples of organisations with charitable purposes include:

  • some aged care services
  • disability support organisations
  • accommodation services for people experiencing homelessness
  • church groups
  • non-government schools
  • societies that promote fine arts
  • environmental organisations.

Not-for-profits without charitable purposes

Examples of not-for-profits that may not have charitable purposes include social clubs, sports and recreational clubs, professional or trade groups, and government agencies.

Case study - charitable purpose and registration

The Possums are a junior league football club. The club is run by a management committee whose members are mainly parents of the children who play for the club. The club is incorporated as an association through Consumer and Business Services, part of the South Australian Government. The Possums Club holds an annual fundraiser to raise money for it to use during the year. It always makes sure that its fundraising activities follow South Australian fundraising laws.

Sandy, the Possums Club treasurer, has heard that there is a new national regulator for charities - the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC). She is not sure if their club will need to register with this regulator and whether fundraising laws will change.

The Possums Club will not need to register with the ACNC.

Although the Possums Club is a not-for-profit, it is not a charity (charities are one type of not-for-profit). Only organisations that meet the legal meaning of charity and our requirements for registration can register with the ACNC. Sporting clubs do not usually meet the legal meaning of charity as they may not have a recognised charitable purpose.

Sandy can read more about who can register on the ACNC website.

State and territory governments continue to be responsible for regulating fundraising or gaming activities. The ACNC does not have power to regulate fundraising by charities or other not-for-profits. It registers organisations as charities and collect information about their activities and finances.

The Possums Club needs to make sure it keeps following the fundraising laws of South Australia. The State Government of South Australian has announced that it will make changes to its charitable collections legislation to authorise charities to collect charitable donations if they are registered with the ACNC.

The Australian Government is leading a review of fundraising regulation across Australia.

Attention:You need to know! This factsheet gives more detail about charitable purpose and how purpose impacts on an organisation being considered a charity.