Registering an NGO: A Quick Guide
One of the key steps that a group of committed individuals can take to provide a legal basis for their (developmental or other) work is to register themselves as a "non-governmental" organization (NGO). Depending on the country, this term by itself may be different, and can include non-profit organization, voluntary organization, community organization, people's organization etc.
Why 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, in most countries, a group can call itself an "NGO" only after it has registered itself under the country's NGO laws with the responsible local authority or agency.
There are also certain important long-term 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 itself can lead to the development of systematic thinking and functioning of an NGO's management.
Registration is essentially a national process
The "registration" of an NGO is essentially a national process. A group can be set up as a legal entity - as an NGO - only within a country where it is located. National NGO laws usually designate local government departments or agencies for this process, different from those that businesses have to use to obtain a license to operate.
Even if an NGO plans to carry out international activities, in different countries, it is bound by the specific national NGO laws of the country where its headquarters or secretariat is located, or where most of its fund-raising is done. This, in some countries, could also means that most, if not all directors of the board or staff members have to be citizens of the country where the registration is being done.
In fact there is no centralized process of "international" registration. Many United Nations agencies have their own system of allowing NGOs to register with them to undertake activities under a "consultative status," which allows NGOs to contribute to the programes and projects of that UN agencies. But this consultative status process itself requires that an NGO is registered nationally (besides other requirements)
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 flow from registration are - guidance and help from relevant registration authorities, contract funds and support from the relevant departments departments, tax exemption from certain incomes, training opportunities, technical assistance, and concessions when obtaining vehicles, equipment and commodities. However these benefits are specific to a country or a local government and are not uniformly spread across all types of registration types, nor are all NGOs able to claim them.
Where should an NGO register?
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 typically be necessary.
A typical set of documents to be submitted to the appropriate authority for registering an NGO includes -
The documents required change from country to country, and may include other evidential documents (such as financial reserves/assets) as well. The registration process will invariably also include providing annual reports and financial audit reports to the local authorities.
Remember that 'registering as an NGO' is a huge responsibility, very similar to starting off a commercial business itself! There are usually a lot of obligations that goes with registration, 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. which need to be kept in mind.
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