Registering an NGO: A Q&A

Hari Srinivas

certificateWhy should one go for registering an NGO?

In principle, an NGO does not have to register itself to perform charitable, welfare or developmental activities. However, there are some specific types of activities that can only be carried out if the NGO is registered under the country's specific acts or laws governing NGOs (particularly related to fund-raising). In fact, a group can call itself an "NGO" only after it has registered itself.

There are also certain important advantages an NGO may gain upon registration, which it could otherwise not take advantage of. Ideally, due to obligations required of a registered NGO, the registration process leads to the development of systematic thinking and functioning of NGOs.

What are benefits of registering an NGO?

Registered NGOs obtain legal status in order to enable them to interact at the official level, and among donors and other organizations. Members are able to represent the organization, the NGO can open a bank account in the name of the organization, or sign contracts in the name of the organization. A registered NGO can also qualify for financial assistance from government agencies and local, national and international donors.

Other benefits that are believed to flow from registration are guidance and help from relevant registration authorities, contract funds and support from the relevant departments, tax exemption from certain incomes, training opportunities, technical assistance, and concessions when obtaining vehicles, equipment and commodities. However these benefits are not uniformly spread across all types of registration, nor are all NGOs are able to claim them.

Where should an NGO register?

In most countries, there are specialized departments or officers within local governments that deal with registering an NGO (which may also be called by other different names: non-profit organization, voluntary organization, people's organization, etc.)

There are several documents that need to be submitted, and these differ from country to country. Information on the NGO/NPO Board, its mission statement, programmes and projects info, staff members, funding sources, etc. will usually be necessary.

A typical set of documents to be submitted to the appropriate authority for registering an NGO includes - Memorandum of Association or Bye-laws, including applicable rules and regulations; report of annual activities, financial reports/audit reports; sources and pattern of income and expenditure; minutes of the Executive Board or General Assembly that endorses the setting up of the NGO; letters of support (references) etc.

If you plan to ...

  • raise funds (domestic or international) for project implementation
  • hire people to carry out the implementation, and pay them a salary
  • represent the organization in meetings (especially government or UN organized ones)
  • sell products and/or publications (albeit not for profit)
  • take advantage of tax-free breaks that may be in place for NGOs

... yes, its a good idea to register

Remember that 'registering as an NGO' is a huge responsibility, much like starting off a commercial business itself! There are usually a lot of obligations that goes with registeration, such as reporting to the local government, keeping detailed financial records, providing detailed records to the tax office (including proper auditing of accounts), setting up an office space, etc.

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