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To be eligible to be registered as a charity with the ACNC, your organisation must:

  • be not-for-profit
  • have only charitable purposes that are for the public benefit
  • comply with the ACNC Governance Standards
  • comply with the ACNC External Conduct Standards if operating overseas
  • not have any disqualifying purposes (which are engaging in, or promoting activities that are unlawful or contrary to public policy; and promoting or opposing a political party or candidate for political office), and
  • not be an individual, political party or government entity.

It must also have an Australian Business Number (ABN) with the right ‘entity type’. See our guidance about legal structures for more information.

Generally, a not-for-profit is an organisation that does not operate for the profit, personal gain or other benefit of particular people (for example, its members, the people who run it or their friends or relatives).

The definition of not-for-profit applies both while the organisation is operating and if it winds up.

To be registered, your organisation must show the ACNC that it operates on a not-for-profit basis. For most organisations this is done by having a governing document with a suitable not-for-profit clause, and then by consistently following this clause.

An organisation can still be a not-for-profit if it simply provides a benefit to a member while genuinely carrying out its charitable purpose, pays a member a reasonable amount for services they have provided, or offers reasonable reimbursement for a member's expenses.

A not-for-profit can make a profit, but any profit must be put back into the organisation and used for its charitable purposes.

See our guidance about being not-for-profit for more information, and sample clauses your organisation can use to demonstrate its not-for-profit character.

A purpose is what an organisation has been set up to achieve or what your activities work towards. Some people also call this the organisation's mission or objects.

To be a charity, all of your not-for-profit's purposes must be charitable (except purposes that are simply incidental or ancillary to the charitable purposes).

The law recognises many kinds of purposes as charitable. The Charities Act 2013 (Cth) lists 12 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 (where that change furthers or opposes one or more of the purposes above), and
  • other similar purposes ‘beneficial to the general public’ (a general category).

Other purposes that were recognised as charitable by the general law before the Charities Act came into effect continue to be charitable. The charity subtypes of Public Benevolent Institution (PBI) and Health Promotion Charity (HPC) also continue to be recognised.

Your organisation may have more than one charitable purpose.

The law requires all of your organisation’s purposes to be charitable, except for those which are ‘incidental or ancillary to’ your main 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.

There are also some purposes that are not recognised as charitable, as well as some purposes that are disqualifying for charity registration.

See our guidance about charitable purposes for more information.

To register as a charity, your organisation's purposes must be for the public benefit.

There are many ways your not-for-profit can benefit the public – it can provide goods, services, education, counselling or spiritual guidance, or improve the environment. Some purposes (for example, advancing education, relieving poverty and advancing religion) are presumed to be for the public benefit, unless there is evidence otherwise.

Charities may aim to benefit the public generally, or a particular group of people (for example, a local community, refugees or young people).

Charities do not have to benefit everyone in a community, but any restrictions must be consistent with their charitable purpose. For example, a food bank could restrict its beneficiaries to people who cannot afford their own food, but it could not restrict it to people based on their appearance.

Your organisation may not be a charity if it is too restrictive with its benefits. For example, an organisation set up to provide scholarships to those who work for a particular employer is unlikely to be a charity.

See our guidance about public benefit for more information.

To be eligible to register, your organisation must be a not-for-profit and have only charitable purposes for the public benefit. In addition, it must have an Australian Business Number (ABN), comply with the ACNC Governance Standards, and meet ACNC External Conduct Standards if operating overseas.

There are certain types of organisations that cannot be registered as a charity with the ACNC.

An organisation cannot be registered as a charity if it is:

  • a political party
  • a ‘government entity’ – this is part of an Australian or foreign government or one of its agencies, and some organisations established by a state or territory under a law, or
  • included in a written decision made by an Australian government agency or judge that lists it as engaging in or supporting terrorist or other criminal activities.

In addition, the ACNC cannot register an individual, or a partnership (a particular legal structure) as a charity.

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