Purpose of your organisation
To be registered as a charity, your organisation must have a charitable purpose.
Your organisation’s ‘purpose’ is the reason your organisation was set up, or what your activities work towards achieving. Some people also refer to this as the organisation's mission.
How we decide your purposes
When you apply to register your organisation as a charity, you need to demonstrate its charitable purpose. Generally, the ACNC will decide what your organisation's purposes are by looking at its governing document, which usually sets out its purpose or ‘objects’. Your organisation’s governing document is its constitution, rules or deed. We may also need to look at other types of evidence such as your organisation's activities, annual reports, financial statements and corporate documents.
Some activities may not seem charitable, but are appropriate if they are to further a charitable purpose. For example, an organisation that has activities designed to raise money for a charitable purposes - such as operating a recycled clothing shop, where the profits raised are used to provide accommodation for homeless youth.
Once we decide your organisation’s purposes are charitable, and that it is otherwise eligible, we register your charity. When we register it, we register it with one or more charity ‘subtypes’ - these are charity categories that reflect its purposes (for example, 'advancing education' or 'advancing health').
The charity subtype with which we register your charity can affect the tax concessions that may be available to it.
You may be required to provide further information to support an application for particular subtypes of charity, such as a Public Benevolent Institution or Health Promotion Charity.
Recognised charitable purposes
'Charitable purpose' has a special legal meaning, developed over years by courts and parliament. The courts have recognised many different charitable purposes, and as society changes new charitable purposes are accepted.
The Charities Act 2013 (Cth) lists twelve charitable purposes:
- advancing health
- advancing education
- advancing social or public welfare
- advancing religion
- advancing culture
- promoting reconciliation, mutual respect and tolerance between groups of individuals that are in Australia
- promoting or protecting human rights
- advancing the security or safety of Australia or the Australian public
- preventing or relieving the suffering of animals
- advancing the natural environment
- promoting or opposing a change to any matter established by law, policy or practice in the Commonwealth, a state, a territory or another country, and
- other similar purposes ‘beneficial to the general public’ (a general category).
Purposes that the law recognised as charitable before the Charities Act came into effect remain charitable. The charity subtypes of Public Benevolent Institution (PBI) and Health Promotion Charity (HPC) also continue to be recognised.
PBI and HPC
A PBI is a type of charitable institution whose main purpose is to relieve poverty, sickness, suffering or disability.
A HPC is a charitable institution whose principal activity is to promote the prevention or control of diseases in people. This may include providing public information about a disease, research to develop cures or treatments, or providing equipment to help people who are suffering from the disease.
Both PBIs and HPCs, as well as a charity with a purpose of the advancement of religion, may be able to apply for extra tax benefits.
These might include fringe benefits tax exemption or endorsement as a deductible gift recipient (DGR). There are strict requirements that apply and you must be able to demonstrate that your organisation can meet these before it can be registered as being one of these subtypes.
Deductible gift recipients (DGRs)
Certain DGR categories require charities to be registered with the ACNC before applying for DGR status with the ATO. If your organisation is a charity that wants to apply for DGR endorsement, it may need to be registered with the ACNC first.
You can apply to register your organisation as a charity with us and apply for deductible gift recipient (DGR) endorsement with the ATO at the same time.
ATO’s guidance on DGRs. Read more in the
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 - its purposes are both to advance education and advance the natural environment.
The law requires all of your organisation’s purposes to be charitable, except for those which are ‘incidental or ancillary to’ your main the charitable purposes.
Your organisation may have more than one purpose - and many activities - and still be a charity, as long as these all further the charitable purpose.
If your organisation has non-charitable purposes, and these do not further its charitable purposes, your organisation is unlikely to be registered as a charity.
Purposes that are not recognised as charitable
Some purposes may benefit the community, but not fit the legal meaning of charitable purpose. For example, your organisation may not fit the legal meaning of charity if it is a:
- social club – unless its purpose is charitable such as to help people who are socially isolated or disadvantaged, and the club’s social activities are the way it achieves this purpose
- sporting and recreational organisation – unless its purpose is charitable such as providing sporting activities for the people with disabilities or the elderly
- professional or trade group – unless its purpose is charitable, such as advancing education.
These organisations may still:
However, they are unlikely to fall within the general legal meaning of charity as we apply it.
Purposes that cannot be charitable
Some purposes are deliberately disqualified from being charitable, such as:
- the purpose of engaging in or promoting activities that are unlawful
- This includes a charity set up for charitable purposes but which is in fact used to act unlawfully. This organisation is not a charity because its activities show that its true purpose is to engage in unlawful activities.
- the purpose of engaging in or promoting activities that are against public policy
- It is not against public policy to have a purpose of advocating for a change in government policy or law, or from promoting a law or policy – in certain situations these may be charitable purposes, for example advancing public debate on a charitable topic. An example of an activity against public policy would be educating people in how to build illegal weapons. Even though education is a charitable purpose, it would not be a charitable purpose to educate people in a way that may put members of the public at risk
- the purpose of promoting or opposing a political party or a candidate for political office.
- Charities can still distribute information or engage in debate about the policies of political parties or candidates, where these activities must be ways of achieving their charitable purposes.
Find out more about charity tax concessions and other benefits for registered charities.