Registering as a NGO
last updated August 31, 2003

A critical first step in establishing an NGO is researching the legal requirements that must be met in order to achieve legal recognition and eligibility for certain benefits. This legal framework must be reviewed in order to determine requirements for NGO registration and continuation of existence, as well as to ascertain whether the NGO will be entitled to tax exemptions and other benefits. Both the domestic and, for those countries in the accession process, European legal frameworks may impose requirements and confer benefits on NGOs. Some of the questions that might be asked when researching the legal environment include:

 

  • What types of organizations can be legally registered as NGOs, and how are NGOs classified (e.g., as foundations, associations, societies)?
  • What tax exemptions apply to NGOs? Some tax laws exempt from taxation income earned by NGOs, while others allow individuals who make charitable donations to certain organizations to deduct those contributions from their taxes, while other countries may exempt contributions of inheritances.
  • What are the rules that apply to NGO registration? What forms are required for registration? Is the organization required to submit copies of its governing legal documents? Are there other preconditions to registration? For example, regulations promulgated by the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) require NGOs to adopt governing documents prior to registration and also set forth certain issues the internal regulations must address and information they must contain.
  • Are there legal preconditions to registration? For example, is the organization required to obtain insurance, or to ensure that the board is liable for the organization's acts?
  • What requirements must the NGO fulfill to continue to function legally? NGOs may be required to have a governing body with clearly established responsibilities and the power to voluntarily terminate the NGO. NGOs may also be required to submit mandatory reports to the supervising agency.
  • Must the NGO reregister or does it have perpetual existence? Ideally, registration should ensure the perpetual existence of the NGO conditioned on compliance with certain legal requirements, since mandatory periodic registration can undermine the financial stability and efficiency of the organization.
  • Can the government terminate the NGO and under what conditions? The law may provide that involuntary termination of the NGO be decided a court or by the governmental agency in cases of flagrant violation of the laws.

The International Center for Not-For-Profit Law provides a checklist of legal considerations relevant to formation of an NGO, as well as an online database of country laws and reports concerning the nongovermental sector. The United States government has also compiled a database of country reports, laws and codes, searchable by country. The European Foundation Centre's Spring 2003 edition of Newsline provides an overview of current developments on NGO laws and best practices in the European Union.

NGOs may also wish to obtain specialized legal assistance on these issues. A number of NGOs focus exclusively on supporting other NGOs and often offer technical assistance. For example, the Armenian NGO Training and Resource Center helps other NGOs build their organizational capacity. The organization's activities "include training, partnership development, small grants programs, media outreach, electronic communications, technical assistance, information and research, and legal reform/awareness activities." National subsidiaries of the Soros Foundation may also be of assistance.