A charitable organization is a type of non-profit organization (NPO). It differs from other types of NPOs in that it centers on philanthropic goals (e.g. charitable, educational, religious, or other activities serving the public interest or common good).
The legal definition of charitable organization (and of Charity) varies according to the country and in some instances the region of the country in which the charitable organization operates. The regulation, tax treatment, and the way in which charity law affects charitable organizations also varies.
- 1 Australia
- 2 Canada
- 3 United Kingdom
- 4 United States
- 5 List of relevant organizations
- 6 See also
- 7 References
Definition of charity
The definition of charity in Australia is derived through English common law, originally from the Charitable Uses Act 1601, and then through several centuries of case law based upon it. In 2002, the Federal Government establish an inquiry into the definition of a charity. That inquiry proposed that the government should legislate a definition of a charity, based on the principles developed through case law. This resulted in the Charities Bill 2003. The Bill incorporated a number of provisions, such as limitations on charities being involved in political campaigning, which many charities saw as an unwelcome departure from the case law. The government then appointed a Board of the Taxation inquiry to consult with charities on the Bill. As a result of widespread criticism from charities, the Government decided to abandon the Bill.
As a result, the government then introduced what became the Extension of Charitable Purpose Act 2004. This Bill did not attempt to codify the definition of a charitable purpose; it merely sought to clarify that certain purposes were indeed charitable, whose charitable status had been subject to legal doubts. These purposes were: childcare; self-help groups; closed/contemplative religious orders.
To publicly raise money, charities in Australia are required to register under the State jurisdiction within which they intend to raise funds and must be registered in each and any State within which they intend to publicly raise funds. For example, in Queensland charities must register with the QLD Office of Fair Trading. An example of a registered charity in Queensland, Australia is Sunnykids so whilst Sunnykids can publicly raise funds for charitable purposes, and whilst such donations are tax deductible in every Australian State and Territory - the funds themselves may only be raised in QLD as this is the only State within which the charity is registered to raise funds. In order for the charity to raise funds in the remaining seven Australian States and Territories it would need to register in each State or Territory individually. Needless to say, Many Australian charities are calling on Federal, State and Territory governments to unify legislation to allow registration in a single State or Territory to allow charities to raise funds in all 8 Australian States and Territories.
A registered charity is an organization established and operated for charitable purposes, and must devote its resources to charitable activities. The charity must be resident in Canada, and cannot use its income to benefit its members. A charity also has to meet a public benefit test. To qualify under this test, an organization must show that:
- its activities and purposes provide a tangible benefit to the public
- those people who are eligible for benefits are either the public as a whole, or a significant section of it, in that they are not a restricted group or one where members share a private connection, such as social clubs or professional associations with specific membership
- the charity's activities must be legal and must not be contrary to public policy
England and Wales
Definition of charitable organization
Section 1 Charities Act 2006 provides the definition in England and Wales:
- (1)For the purposes of the law of England and Wales, “charity” means an institution which—
- (a)is established for charitable purposes only, and
- (b)falls to be subject to the control of the High Court in the exercise of its jurisdiction with respect to charities.
- the prevention or relief of poverty
- the advancement of education
- the advancement of religion
- the advancement of health or the saving of lives
- the advancement of citizenship or community development
- the advancement of the arts, culture, heritage or science
- the advancement of amateur sport
- the advancement of human rights, conflict resolution or reconciliation or the promotion of religious or racial harmony or equality and diversity
- the advancement of environmental protection or improvement
- the relief of those in need, by reason of youth, age, ill-health, disability, financial hardship or other disadvantage
- the advancement of animal welfare
- the promotion of the efficiency of the armed forces of the Crown or of the police, fire and rescue services or ambulance services
- other purposes currently recognised as charitable and any new charitable purposes which are similar to another charitable purpose.
A charity must also provide a public benefit.
Before the Charities Act 2006 the definition of charity arose from a list of charitable purposes in the Charitable Uses Act 1601 (also known as the Statute of Elizabeth), which had been interpreted and expanded into a considerable body of case law. In Commissioners for Special Purposes of Income Tax v Pemsel (1891), Lord McNaughten identified four categories of charity which could be extracted from the Charitable Uses Act and which were the accepted definition of charity prior to the Charities Act 2006.
- the relief of poverty,
- the advancement of education,
- the advancement of religion, and
- other purposes considered beneficial to the community.
English charities must comply with the Charities Acts 1992 (Part III), 1993, 2006 which regulate matters such as charity reports and accounts and fundraising.
Charitable organization structure
As of 2011[update] there are a number of types of legal structure for a charity in England and Wales.
- Unincorporated association
- Company limited by guarantee
- Another incorporation, such as by Royal Charter
The unincorporated association is the most common form of organization within the voluntary sector in England and Wales. An unincorporated association is essentially a contractual arrangement between individuals who have agreed to come together to form an organization for a particular purpose. An unincorporated association will normally have as its governing document, a constitution or set of rules, which will deal with such matters as the appointment of office bearers, and the rules governing membership. The organization is not though a separate legal entity. So it cannot start legal action, it cannot borrow money, and it cannot enter into contracts in its own name. Also the officers can be personally liable if the charity is sued or has debts.
A Trust is essentially a relationship between three parties, the donor of some assets, the trustees who hold the assets and the beneficiaries (those people who are eligible to benefit from the charity). When the trust has charitable purposes, and is a charity, the trust is known as a charitable trust. The governing document is the Trust Deed or Declaration of Trust, which comes into operation once it is signed by all the trustees. The main disadvantage of a trust is that, as with an unincorporated association, it does not have a separate legal entity and the trustees must themselves own property and enter into contracts. The trustees are also liable if the charity is sued or incurs liability.
A company limited by guarantee is a private limited company where the liability of members is limited. A guarantee company does not have a share capital, but instead has members who are guarantors instead of shareholders. In the event of the company being wound up the members agree to pay a nominal sum which can be as little as £1. A company limited by guarantee is a useful structure for a charity where it is desirable for the Trustees to have the protection of limited liability. Also, the charity has legal personality, and so can enter into contracts, such as employment contracts in its own name.
A small number of charities are incorporated by Royal Charter, a document which creates a corporation with legal personality (or, in some instances, transforms a charity incorporated as a company into a charity incorporated by Royal Charter). The Charter must be approved by the Privy Council before receiving Royal Assent. Although the nature of the charity will vary depending on the clauses enacted, generally a Royal Chartered will offer a charity the same limited liability as a company and the ability to enter into contracts.
The Charities Act 2006 introduced a new legal form of incorporation designed specifically for charities, the Charitable Incorporated Organisation. As of 2011[update] this is not yet available for charities to use.
The word Foundation is not generally used in England and Wales. Occasionally a charity will use the word Foundation as part of its name e.g. British Heart Foundation, but this has no legal significance and does not provide any information about either the work of the charity or how it is legally structured. The structure of the organization will be one of the types of structure described above.
Charitable organizations that have an income of more than £5,000, and for whom the law of England and Wales applies, must register with the Charity Commission for England and Wales. For companies, the law of England and Wales will normally apply if the company itself is registered in England and Wales. In other cases if the governing document does not make it clear, the law which applies will be the country with which the organization is most connected.
Where an organization's income does not exceed £5,000 it is not able to register as a charity with the Charity Commission for England and Wales. It can, however, register as a charity with HM Revenue and Customs for Tax purposes only. With the rise in mandatory registration level, to £5,000 by The Charities Act 2006, smaller charities can be reliant upon HMRC recognition to evidence their charitable purpose and confirm their not-for-profit principles.
Some charities which are called exempt charities are not required to register with the Charity Commission and are not subject to any of the Charity Commission's supervisory powers. These charities include most universities and national museums and some other educational institutions. Other charities are excepted from the need to register, but are still subject to the supervision of the Charity Commission. The regulations on excepted charities have however been changed by the Charities Act 2006. Many excepted charities are religious charities.
Charities in Northern Ireland are registered with the UK HM Revenue and Customs. The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland  has now been established and has received the names and details of over 7,000 organisations that have previously been granted charitable status for tax purposes. The entering of these organisations onto a new and temporary list under the heading of “Organisations that have previously been known as charities” is continuing. This list is not the new register, but will be made publicly available on the CCNI website.
The 20,000 or so charities in Scotland are registered with the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR), which also publishes a Register of charities online. Scotland has the highest number of charities per capita in the world.
Taxation of Charities
Charitable organisations, including charitable trusts, are eligible for a complex set of reliefs and exemptions from taxation in the UK. These include reliefs and exemptions in relation to income tax, capital gains tax, inheritance tax, stamp duty land tax and value added tax.
In the United States, a charitable organization is an organization that is organized and operated for purposes that are beneficial to the public interest, however a distinction is made between types of charitable organizations.
Every U.S. and foreign charity that qualifies as tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code is considered a "private foundation" unless it demonstrates to the IRS that it falls into another category. In a general sense, any organization that is not a private foundation (i.e. it qualifies as something else) is usually a public charity as described in Section 509(a) of the Internal Revenue Code.
In addition, a private foundation usually derives its principal fund from an individual, family, corporation, or some other single source and is more often than not a grantmaker and does not solicit funds from the public. In contrast, a foundation or public charity generally receives grants from individuals, government, and private foundations and although some public charities engage in grantmaking activities, most conduct direct service or other tax-exempt activities.
This leads to another distinction: Foundations that are generally grantmakers (i.e. they use their endowment to make grants to other organizations, which in turn carry out the goals of the foundation indirectly) are usually referred to as "grantmaker" or "non-operating" foundations. These of course tend to be private foundations. Some private foundations however, (and most public charities) use their received funds to directly engage in service activities themselves and achieve their goals "personally," so-to-speak.
The requirements and procedures for forming charitable organizations vary from state to state, as do the registration and filing requirements for charitable organizations that conduct charitable activities or solicit charitable contributions. So effectively in practice the detailed definition of charitable organization is determined by the requirements of state law of the state in which the charitable organization operates, and the requirements for federal tax relief set by the IRS.
Federal tax relief
Federal tax law provides tax benefits to non profit organizations recognized as exempt from federal income tax under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC). The benefits of 501(c)(3) status include exemption from federal income tax as well as eligibility to receive tax deductible charitable contributions. To qualify for 501(c)(3) status most organizations must apply to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for such status.
There are several requirements that must be met for a charitable organization to obtain 501(c)(3) status. These include the organization being organized as a corporation, trust, or unincorporated association, and the organization’s organizing document (such as the articles of incorporation, trust documents, or articles of association) must limit its purposes to being charitable, and permanently dedicate its assets to charitable purposes. The organization must refrain from undertaking a number of other activities such as participating in the political campaigns of candidates for local, state or federal office, and must ensure that its earnings do not benefit any individual. Most tax exempt organizations are required to file annual financial reports (IRS Form 990) at the state and federal level. A tax exempt organization's 990 and some other forms are required to be made available to public scrutiny.
The types of charitable organization that are considered by the IRS to be organized for the public benefit include those that are organized for:
- Relief of the poor, the distressed, or the underprivileged,
- Advancement of religion,
- Advancement of education or science,
- Erection or maintenance of public buildings, monuments, or works,
- Lessening the burdens of government,
- Lessening of neighborhood tensions,
- Elimination of prejudice and discrimination,
- Defense of human and civil rights secured by law, and
- Combating community deterioration and juvenile delinquency.
A number of other organizations, including those organized for religious, scientific, literary and educational purposes, as well as those for testing for public safety and for fostering national or international amateur sports competition, and for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals, may also qualify for exempt status.
The IRS, except in rare circumstances, refers to all organizations qualifying for exemption under 501(c)(3) as charities.
List of relevant organizations
Charity regulating bodies
- Australian Taxation Office
- Canada Revenue Agency
- Inland Revenue Department (Hong Kong)
- Public Trustee (Ontario)
- Charity Commission for England and Wales
- Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator
- Charity Commission for Northern Ireland
- United States Internal Revenue Service
- Charitable trust
- Cy pres doctrine
- Non-profit organization
- Social enterprise
- List of charities accused of ties to terrorism
- ^ "Extension of Charitable Purpose Bill 2004 (Bills Digest, no. 164, 2003-04)" (PDF). Australia: Department of Parliamentary Services. http://www.aph.gov.au/library/pubs/bd/2003-04/04bd164.pdf. Retrieved 2009-07-25.
- ^ "Charities". Queensland Government - Office of Fair Trading. http://www.fairtrading.qld.gov.au/charities.htm. Retrieved 2011-11-06.
- ^ "Charities and Giving". Canada Revenue Agency. http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/chrts-gvng/menu-eng.html. Retrieved 2011-11-06.
- ^ "Registered charity". Canada Revenue Agency. http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/chrts-gvng/chrts/menu-eng.html. Retrieved 2009-07-25.
- ^ "Charities Act 2006". The National Archives. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2006/50/contents. Retrieved 2011-11-06.
- ^ "Charities Commission: Charities and Public Benefit". http://www.charitycommission.gov.uk/Charity_requirements_guidance/Charity_essentials/Public_benefit/default.aspx. Retrieved 2010-08-24.
- ^ "Seniors Network - Unincorporated Association". http://www.seniorsnetwork.co.uk/constitution/unincorporated.htm/. Retrieved 2008-08-24. [dead link]
- ^ "NCVO - Legal structures for voluntary organisations". http://www.ncvo-vol.org.uk/askncvo/index.asp?id=107/. Retrieved 2008-08-24. [dead link]
- ^ "Guarantee Company - Not for Profit Companies - Charities". http://www.sfsgo.com/guaranteecompany.asp/. Retrieved 2008-08-24. [dead link]
- ^ "Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO)". Charities Commission. http://www.charitycommission.gov.uk/registration/charcio.asp. Retrieved 2011-10-14.
- ^ "Registering as a Charity". http://www.charitycommission.gov.uk/publications/cc21.asp. Retrieved 2008-08-21.
- ^ Applying to HMRC for recognition as a charity for tax purposes
- ^ "Charity Act 2006". http://www.llw.co.uk/charity_act.htm. Retrieved 2008-08-21.
- ^ www.charitycommissionni.org.uk
- ^ a b "IRS document P557". http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p557.pdf. Retrieved 2008-08-27.
- ^ FoundationCenter.org, What is the difference between a private foundation and a public charity?, accessed 2009-06-20
- ^ "NASCO National Association of State Charity Officials". http://www.nasconet.org. Retrieved 2008-08-27.
- ^ "IRS document P4220". http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p4220.pdf. Retrieved 2008-08-27.
- ^ Governing Nonprofit Organizations, Marion R. Fremont-Smith, Harvard University Press, 2004.
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