Considering registering as a charity?

Deciding to become a registered charity creates opportunities and obligations for an organisation. This resource aims to help you understand what these opportunities and obligations are.

Calling your organisation a registered charity is a legal privilege that only those charities that have met, and continue to meet, the criteria of being registered are allowed to use. By choosing to apply to register with Charities Services, your organisation will be subject to both the benefits and obligations of a registered charity.

This resource provides a summary of the steps to registration with Charities Services. It’s important to understand that the obligations and responsibilities of registering as a charity can sometimes exceed the benefits and opportunities. Understanding the bigger picture can help you in this decision. It also:

  • ensures everyone in your organisation knows what is required
  • ensures your organisation complies with all of the requirements of the Charities Act 2005
  • limits risks and establishes good precedents
  • helps identify what resources you will need, and
  • assists your organisation to be successful long-term.
The role of Charities Services

Charities Services, Ngā Ratonga Kaupapa Atawhai is part of the Department of Internal Affairs, and administers the Charities Act 2005. Our role is to promote public trust and confidence in the charitable sector and to encourage the effective use of charitable resources. We do this by registering and monitoring charities and processing Annual Returns. We also encourage good governance and management practices by providing educational support, advice and materials.

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Benefits and obligations of being registered

Being a registered charity brings with it a number of benefits, and some obligations. 

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The Charities Register

All registered charities in New Zealand appear on the Charities Register – an online, searchable, public database that is free to use. The Register includes information about each charity’s sector, purposes, activities, and their Annual Return. It is a charity’s responsibility to make sure this information is correct, up to date and provided to Charities Services.

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Geared for success

Regardless of size, income, area of activity or background, there are some key characteristics that effective registered charities demonstrate.

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Charitable purpose

If you decide to apply to register as a charity, you will hear a lot about a legal concept called ‘charitable purpose’. This is a complex legal concept embedded in section 5(1) of the Charities Act 2005. It has evolved through 400 years of case law, since the Statute of Charitable Uses came into force in England in 1601. Judges’ decisions continue to shape the meaning of ‘charitable purpose’ in New Zealand.

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Charitable purpose and your rules

‘Rules’ are the documents that set out your purposes, what you do and how you operate.  For example, they may be your trust deed, constitution or charter. When you apply for registration, we read your rules and consider your activities to identify whether you have a ‘charitable purpose’.

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To be registered, organisations must certify that each of their officers is qualified as an officer under the Charities Act 2005.

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Annual Returns

If you become registered, you will need to file an Annual Return.

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Are you in a good position to register?

Check your readiness by answering yes or no to these questions.

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10 steps to registration

The registration application process is summarised below:

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