A group of individuals were running a programme in schools providing free healthy breakfasts.  They had no formal documentation in place and had been each individually finding sponsors to fund and provide food for the programme.  They were told by potential sponsors and suppliers that they needed to be registered as a charity in order to obtain future funding and supplies. 

They therefore began attempting to register a Charitable Trust Deed with the Registrar of Incorporated Societies, thinking this would give them “charitable” status and would satisfy their sponsors.

Their application was ultimately successful, but when they showed the registration to the potential sponsors, they were surprised to hear that this was not enough – they needed to register as a charity with Charities Services as well, in order to obtain tax benefits for themselves and their sponsors.

They (like many others) had not realised that this is a two-prong process.

Registering with the Registrar of Incorporated Societies

For a new organisation, this is generally the first step in the registration process. 

This is how a Charitable Trust or an Incorporated Society becomes a separate ‘registered’ legal entity.  It will then have a registration number (similar to a company).  The governing rules (the Trust Deed) become a matter of public record.

Registering this way means the organisation can contract on its own, as a separate legal entity (rather than the officers/trustees in their individual capacities).

Charitable Trusts and Societies each have different requirements as to what needs to be in their rules, and as to the minimum number of trustees/officers.

As already mentioned above, generally this step is taken prior to registering with Charities Services, as Charities Services requires the organisation’s registration number as part of their registration process.

Registering with Charities Services

This is generally the second step in the process.

Charities Services is a different entity and has a different role to the Registrar of Incorporated Societies. Importantly, it has its own separate registration process.

Charities Services holds a register and monitors charitable organisations in New Zealand. The aim is to promote public trust in charitable organisations (through openness and transparency of the register) and encourage best practice in relation to governance of charities. 

If an incorporated society or charitable trust (or indeed a company in some cases) meets the criteria put in place by Charities Services they can be registered as a charity.

The primary criteria is that the organisation has a ‘charitable purpose’.  This includes:

  • the relief of poverty;
  • the advancement of education;
  • the advancement of religion; or
  • anything else that benefits the community.

The charitable purpose must also provide a public benefit, being something that is recognised by law as being beneficial, and is available to the public generally, or at least a sufficient section of the public. 

Registering with Charities Services means the entity becomes a “registered charity” and can obtain benefits such as:

  • You can call yourself a ‘registered charitable entity’.  You cannot do this if you are not registered with Charities Services;
  • You are eligible for income tax exemptions and other tax benefits, including for anyone donating to your organisation; and
  • You can apply for funding from those who provide funding only to organisations with registered charitable status.

How do you register?

Both registration processes above can be completed online. 

They both require:

  1. A Trust Deed/set of Rules that meet certain requirements (eg in the case of Charitable Trusts, that they have sufficient charitable purposes as detailed above); and
  2. An application form to be completed (in the case of the Registrar of Societies, this includes a statutory declaration).

Charities Services also requires a copy of the last financial statements for the organisation, if available and further details about the organisation’s proposed activities, amongst other information.

It is important to take legal advice prior to registering your organisation through either of the above processes, to make sure it can meet the relevant requirements.  This will help to avoid the delay and stress that can arise from having your applications rejected and therefore your funding delayed or lost.


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