Helping with the right legal form: The non-profit association

Many people in Germany are very touched by the war in Ukraine and want to help. This has led to numerous private initiatives that, for example, support Ukrainian refugees or bring food, hygiene products and medicines to the Ukrainian border.

If you want to help on a long term basis, you should think about founding an association. The legal hurdles for this can be overcome and the legal form has the advantage that receipts can be issued to donors if the association is non-profit. Finally, no significant start-up capital is required for founding an association.

Please find our checklist below including the essential key points for founding an association:


1. What is the association’s purpose?

Think about what you want to achieve or promote with the association. Try to be as concrete as possible "Help for Ukraine", for example, is very broad and possibly too superficial. Especially if you would like to have the association recognized as a non-profit organization (see section 10), you should describe in more detail who you would like to support with what kind of activities.

2. Should the association be registered?

You can decide whether you want to register the association in the register of associations or not. If you decide for not registering, you save yourself bureaucratic burden. However, the unregistered association does not provide of an own legal personality. As a result, the individual members of the association are jointly liable. A registered association therefore also brings advantages.

3. What name should the association have?

When choosing a name, you should be very careful and check in advance which names already exist for your project. Also well-known brands and company names or similar ones should not be used. In order to avoid cease and desist letters, conscientious research is highly recommended, if need be with the assistance of a lawyer.

4. Are there 7 club members?

If you want to register your association, you need at least 7 members. You can also found an unregistered association with fewer members.

5. When can the formation meeting take place and who records it?

For incorporating the association, you need to meet and decide to found the association. The formation meeting must be recorded, the signatures of the members should be notarized.  The statutes of the association should already be available at this time.

6. Who should take over which position?

The individual tasks of the association are to be distributed among the members. First, the board is to be elected. The board represents the association and can sign documents on behalf of the association. It can consist of only one person, but it is better to always designate at least two people. If a person is absent, the association remains able to act.

7. What statutes does the association have?

You can keep them simple. In addition to the name, residence and purpose of the association, you should determine the minimum number of board members, start and termination of a membership, and which membership fees are to be paid. Regulations on the convening of the General Assembly and on the adoption of resolutions must also be made in the Statutes.

8. Do you want to set up a bank account?

In order to regulate the finances and the receipt of donations, a bank account must be set up for the association in any case. Please contact your bank to carry out this task.

9. Is a business plan required?

From a legal point of view, a business plan is not mandatory. However, it is reasonable and supports the efficient activity and financial discipline of the association and its members if you outline the expectations, the expenses and income to be made in a business plan.

10. How can my association become a non-profit organisation?

You must apply for the association being recognized as having charitable status before the responsible tax office. Therefore, you would need to provide the statutes of the association and the founding protocol. Also helpful is an activity report, including the activities of the association so far and, if prepared separately, the contribution regulations of the association.

If necessary, it is advisable to submit the application for recognition of the non-profit status before the registration of the association for saving the registration fees.

Dr. Karolin Nelles LL.M., Schindhelm Rechtsanwaltsgesellschaft mbH, Frankfurt