Charitable purpose/Take atawhai

To be registered as a charity, your organisation must have charitable purposes.

What does it mean to have a charitable purpose?

Your organisation’s purpose is what your organisation has been set up to achieve. You may also call this your overall mission or goal.  

Your purposes are laid out in your organisation’s governing document (for example, your trust deed, constitution or charter).

In Aotearoa, our courts make decisions on what it means to have a charitable purpose. Over the years, as society has changed, our courts have recognised many new charitable purposes which meet new social needs in New Zealand.

What is a charitable purpose?

There are four categories of charitable purposes, which are set out in the Charities Act 2005:

  1. Relieving poverty
  2. Advancing education
  3. Advancing religion
  4. Other purposes beneficial to the community.

Some examples of purposes that fit within the fourth category (“other purposes beneficial to the community”) include:

  • advancing health (including through public participation in sports)
  • supporting charitable needs, such as old age, disability or homelessness
  • protecting the environment
  • preventing or easing the suffering of animals
  • running a marae on a Māori reservation.

What isn’t a charitable purpose?

Many not-for-profit organisations have worthy purposes and activities. However, they still might fall outside of what the courts recognise as a charitable purpose.

A charity’s purpose and activities must provide benefits to the public, however not everything that benefits the public is considered “charitable”. Find more detailed information on the difference between charitable and non-charitable public benefit on our Public benefit and charitable purpose page.

Some examples of purposes that are not charitable include:

  • providing support to high performance or elite sportspeople
  • providing support to or promoting a for-profit business
  • supporting the economic development of a community that is not in need of regeneration
  • helping people into home ownership, unless the people are in charitable need and have no other reasonable housing options
  • providing benefits only to a closed group of members, unless the people are in poverty
  • advocating to prevent seabed mining in New Zealand.

You can find more information on when certain kinds of organisations may be considered charitable below:

Ancillary non-charitable purposes

Your organisation may still be registered as a charity, even if some of your purposes are not charitable. To be a registered as a charity, your organisation’s non-charitable purposes must be ancillary to your charitable purposes.

A purpose is ancillary if it is a small part of what your organisation does, and closely connected to your organisation’s charitable purposes.

For example, if a community sporting group’s main focus was on encouraging public participation in sport, but it decided to provide advanced training for a few players with potential, this would likely be seen as ancillary.

Assessing charitable purpose

Deciding if an organisation has a charitable purpose can be difficult.

If your organisation applies to be a registered charity, Charities Services will look at the stated purposes set out in your governing document, usually in your purposes or objectives clause.

Charities Services will also look at the activities your organisation carries out, or plans to carry out in the future. You will be asked to provide a description of these activities if you apply to register. Charities Services will check that your organisation’s activities only support your charitable purposes.

More information

You can view the decisions of Te Rātā Atawhai (the Charities Registration Board) published on our website. The Charities Registration Board is an independent three-person body which makes decisions about registering or deregistering charities.

If you have any questions about your organisation, please contact us. We are happy to provide you with guidance about your organisation’s purposes and activities.