Registering an international charity or overseas disaster appeal

Registering an international charity or overseas disaster appeal

We register and regulate charities based in England and Wales. In this section you can find out more about whether your organisation's objectives are charitable, whether you should register with us and how you can support overseas organisations as a way to achieve your objectives. We also have information on responding to disasters.

Should my organisation register with the Charity Commission?

We only register charities which are governed by the laws of England and Wales. We cannot register an organisation set up under the laws of any other country. This includes Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands.

An organisation is a charity if:

For more information about registering with us, please look at the 'Start up a charity' section of our website.

To find out more about registering in Scotland and Northern Ireland, please read the guidance:

How can I check if my organisation's purposes are charitable or not?

Take a look at our guidance on charitable purposes and public benefit.

If your organisation works in the field of human rights, there may be some specific things to think about. See our guidance The Promotion of Human Rights (RR12).

The courts consider they can't decide whether seeking to change the law or policy of a foreign government is or isn't for the benefit of the public. This means that having such a purpose cannot be charitable. See Speaking Out - Guidance on Campaigning and Political Activity by Charities (CC9).

In exceptional cases, an organisation's purpose may be contrary to UK public policy – eg a purpose which undermines national security. This would not be charitable.

Do I need to register my charity in the country where it operates?

You might need to. We recommend that you find this out in advance. In some countries if a charity operates under non-governmental organisation (NGO) regulations there may be tax benefits. Some countries also have specific regulations applying to foreign NGOs operating there, or which provide funds to local NGOs.

The Charity Commission's International Programme website gives information on some regulatory regimes around the world.

Can my charity support other organisations outside England and Wales?

Yes, although not all ways of supporting another organisation are charitable.

If trustees simply pass funds to another organisation without controlling the way funds are spent, this will not be charitable. So giving cash donations to a hospital without controlling what the money is spent on is not charitable, whereas buying a new piece of medical equipment is.

A needy organisation can suggest the types of support it requires, but the trustees of the supporting charity must make the final decision about how money will be spent.

Trustees need to show how they spend their charity's funds to further its objectives, for public benefit. They must also explain that in the charity's annual report. See our guidance Reporting on public benefit.

We strongly advise charities wishing only to support a particular named organisation to word their aims more generally, eg 'to relieve sickness in [country], in particular by supporting [the named organisation]'.

This means that if the named organisation ceases to exist, the charity can continue without needing to apply to us to change its aims.

See also Due Diligence, Monitoring and verification of the end use of funds which provides guidance and tools to help you to check the organisation you are supporting.

I would like to set up an overseas disaster fund or special appeal. Where should I start?

Before setting up a special fund, you should think about whether existing NGOs and aid agencies already working abroad are in a better position to respond to the disaster.

If you decide that you do want to set up a new organisation, see Disaster Appeals (CC40) for guidelines.

My organisation is already working overseas in an area where a disaster has happened. How should we respond?

Existing charities should work in collaboration with others where possible. The main advantages of this approach are:

  • making the most effective use of limited resources
  • giving the public a clear and focussed channel for donations

See our guidance on working with other charities

Case study: Collaboration in response to a disaster

A wide range of relief agencies needed to respond rapidly to an earthquake in a remote part of South Asia. A cross-section of agencies called an early meeting of regional co-ordinators to identify priorities and set out the main responsibilities of each.

One took responsibility for health, one for water and sanitation, one for food aid and three smaller agencies took responsibility for aspects of the relief particularly relevant to their individual objects. Regular planning meetings (twice weekly) took place between project managers in the field to ensure that close co-ordination was maintained throughout the emergency relief programme.

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