When establishing a non-profit organisation, founders can choose from a large range of legal forms. An organisation’s legal structure will determine the types of activities it is legally able to carry out and which government bodies it is required to seek registration from or report to. An organisation formed by royal charter or by special Act of parliament are two possible structures of a non-profit organisation. Find out more about the other types of legal structures here.
Some of the oldest and largest non-profits in Australia take one or other of these legal forms, however, new organisations adopting these structures are now established very rarely.
In the past organisations formed by royal charter were administered by the Prime Minister’s Office, but it now “avoid[s] recommendation of such nonprofit forms”. This form has often been used to incorporate or establish significant organisations. A few examples of these types of organisation are Scouts Australia, The University of Sydney, The University of Tasmania and Engineers Australia.
Organisations formed by special Act of Parliament are established when it is “demonstrated to the government of the day that the organisation is substantial and cannot be accommodated under other incorporating statuses”.
Many universities and religious bodies have been incorporated by a special Act of Parliament. The University of Melbourne, The University of Queensland, the National Library of Australia and the National Gallery of Victoria are examples of organisations established through special Act of Parliament.
Organisations conforming within either of these structures are complicated and expensive to establish. They must comply with the specific act or charter relating to their establishment, often called their “constituting documents”.
This fact sheet is intended as a simple overview of non-profit legal forms and terminology. Non-profit law is incredibly complex and there will be many exceptions, restrictions, allowances and important qualifications that are not described above. This fact sheet is not intended and should not be taken as legal advice. In many cases, serious penalties apply to organisations that are found to be lax in fulfilling the requirements of their legal structure. Dedicated legal advice should be sought from a legal practitioner before taking action.