book a virtual meeting Search Search
brisbane

level 16, 324 queen st,
brisbane qld 4000
+61 7 3235 0400

dandenong

40-42 scott st,
dandenong vic 3175
+61 3 9794 2600

melbourne

level 7, 600 bourke st,
melbourne vic 3000
+61 3 8615 9900

sydney

level 21, 20 bond st,
sydney nsw 2000
+61 2 8298 9533

hello. we’re glad you’re
getting in touch.

Fill in form below, or simply call us on 1800 888 966

COVID-19 has exposed for many charities and not-for-profits the need to update their governing documents so they can use technology to carry out important tasks such as member and board meetings, holding elections and passing resolutions.

Governing documents (also commonly referred to as a constitution, rules or trust deed) are a central legal document of a charity or not-for-profit that generally outlines the purpose, governance mechanisms, membership and governing body structure, internal procedures, and powers of an organisation. An organisation must not act beyond the terms prescribed in its governing document.

Many organisations were confronted in 2020 with the realisation that their governing document was inadequate to deal with the realities of governing during the peak of COVID-19.

The lack of modern, up-to-date drafting left many charities and not-for-profits in the lurch, facing issues including an inability to hold meetings other than in person, challenges to the validity of elections held other than in person, an inability to provide electronic notices, and perhaps most frustratingly, an inability to change the governing document during the pandemic to address these concerns.

With the pandemic exposing deficiencies in the governing documents of many organisations, closer scrutiny has also revealed how outdated governing documents have become in the light of legislative changes that have occurred over recent years.

A recent example that imminently impacts all schools operating an early learning centre in Victoria comes as a result of changes to Education and Training Reform Regulations 2017 (Vic), whereby the Victorian Regulation and Qualifications Authority is now requiring that all schools in Victoria operating (or planning to operate) an early learning centre must amend their governing document prior to July 2021 to expressly provide for the delivery of early learning services as a feeder for enrolments to their school within the organisation’s purposes.

More broadly, many charities with governing documents that predate 2012 fail to reference the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission Act 2012 (Cth) and obligations of the organisation and its governing body under this key legislative regime affecting charities.

Other common pitfalls include governing documents that incorrectly reference outdated sections of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 (Cth) or Corporations Act 2001 (Cth), or rules of incorporated associations have not been updated to reflect legislative changes over recent years in many States (such as those flowing from the introduction of the Associations Incorporation Reform Act 2012 (Vic)).

A clumsy governing document can also create practical headaches for an organisation in terms of how it is governed and operated, or fail to adequately ensure the rights of members are protected.

Poorly drafted or outdated governing documents can be a cause of concern and increases risks for organisations, including risk of revocation of registration as a charity with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC).  The ACNC has announced they will be auditing the ongoing eligibility of certain charities over coming years, with one area of focus being charities with no current governing document uploaded on the ACNC Register.

The best tool a not-for-profit or charity can implement to reduce these risks is to regularly review its governing documents.

Charities and not-for-profits should review their governing document at least every three years, to ensure it remains up to date and compliant with relevant regulations, reflects best practice, is practically suitable for the needs of the organisation, is clear (avoids using legal jargon) and continues to accord with their current purposes and mission of the charity or not-for-profit.

A well drafted governing document will not only ensure an organisation is best placed to fulfil its purposes, but will also minimise confusion and disputes, obviating the need to spend unnecessary funds on legal expenses on issues or disputes arising in future.

This article was first published by ProBono Australia.

stay up to date with our news & insights

Health check your NFP governing document in 2021

29 January 2021
hannah fraenkel

COVID-19 has exposed for many charities and not-for-profits the need to update their governing documents so they can use technology to carry out important tasks such as member and board meetings, holding elections and passing resolutions.

Governing documents (also commonly referred to as a constitution, rules or trust deed) are a central legal document of a charity or not-for-profit that generally outlines the purpose, governance mechanisms, membership and governing body structure, internal procedures, and powers of an organisation. An organisation must not act beyond the terms prescribed in its governing document.

Many organisations were confronted in 2020 with the realisation that their governing document was inadequate to deal with the realities of governing during the peak of COVID-19.

The lack of modern, up-to-date drafting left many charities and not-for-profits in the lurch, facing issues including an inability to hold meetings other than in person, challenges to the validity of elections held other than in person, an inability to provide electronic notices, and perhaps most frustratingly, an inability to change the governing document during the pandemic to address these concerns.

With the pandemic exposing deficiencies in the governing documents of many organisations, closer scrutiny has also revealed how outdated governing documents have become in the light of legislative changes that have occurred over recent years.

A recent example that imminently impacts all schools operating an early learning centre in Victoria comes as a result of changes to Education and Training Reform Regulations 2017 (Vic), whereby the Victorian Regulation and Qualifications Authority is now requiring that all schools in Victoria operating (or planning to operate) an early learning centre must amend their governing document prior to July 2021 to expressly provide for the delivery of early learning services as a feeder for enrolments to their school within the organisation’s purposes.

More broadly, many charities with governing documents that predate 2012 fail to reference the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission Act 2012 (Cth) and obligations of the organisation and its governing body under this key legislative regime affecting charities.

Other common pitfalls include governing documents that incorrectly reference outdated sections of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 (Cth) or Corporations Act 2001 (Cth), or rules of incorporated associations have not been updated to reflect legislative changes over recent years in many States (such as those flowing from the introduction of the Associations Incorporation Reform Act 2012 (Vic)).

A clumsy governing document can also create practical headaches for an organisation in terms of how it is governed and operated, or fail to adequately ensure the rights of members are protected.

Poorly drafted or outdated governing documents can be a cause of concern and increases risks for organisations, including risk of revocation of registration as a charity with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC).  The ACNC has announced they will be auditing the ongoing eligibility of certain charities over coming years, with one area of focus being charities with no current governing document uploaded on the ACNC Register.

The best tool a not-for-profit or charity can implement to reduce these risks is to regularly review its governing documents.

Charities and not-for-profits should review their governing document at least every three years, to ensure it remains up to date and compliant with relevant regulations, reflects best practice, is practically suitable for the needs of the organisation, is clear (avoids using legal jargon) and continues to accord with their current purposes and mission of the charity or not-for-profit.

A well drafted governing document will not only ensure an organisation is best placed to fulfil its purposes, but will also minimise confusion and disputes, obviating the need to spend unnecessary funds on legal expenses on issues or disputes arising in future.

This article was first published by ProBono Australia.