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Legal Structures of Not for Profit Organisations

Understanding different legal structures for organisations

Incorporation of an association means that it becomes a legal entity in its own right, separate from the individual members. Put another way, the association is considered at law to have a distinct identity that continues regardless of changes to the membership.

There are various types of entities not for profit groups can incorporate under such as a Corporation Limited by Guarantee or Incorporated Association. Some may come under state or federal legislation such as a councils, guilds or Aboriginal Corporations. 

Many not-for-profits in Western Australia are incorporated under the Incorporated Associations Act 1987 (WA). In Western Australia the Department of Commerce (DOC) is the body responsible for Incorporated Associations Act 1987 (WA). (Please note a new WA Act is currently waiting to be passed by parliament. for more information go to the Department of Commerce site).

Under this legislation an incorporated association certain requirements need to be met.  A main one is that your organisation can not make a profit for its members.  Any surplus money the organisation generates must be invested back into the organisation for the purposes set out in its constitution.  Each incorporated association must also have more than five members and be governed by a management committee (sometimes called a board) and have its own constitution.  

It is important that you understand and abide by the relevant laws and regulations applying to the structure you have been incorporated under.


The following links provide essential information and guides on running a not for profit organisation.

If you have a question about the management or governance of your organisation one of the WACOSS sector development staff may be able to assist you with information or direct you to a relevant service to provide advice or further assistance.

WACOSS also provides training and seminars and consultancy services designed to assist you with the management and governance or your organisation.