For an organisation to be recognised as a charity in Australia, it must be registered as a charity with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) under one or more charity subtypes.

Charity subtypes are categories which reflect the 12 charitable purposes under the Charities Act 2013 (Cth) (Charities Act).

In this article we explore the charitable purpose of ‘Advancing culture’, its definition, associated charitable activities and the ways in which charities under this subtype may be endorsed with deductible gift recipient (DGR) status.

What is the charitable purpose of ‘Advancing culture’?

A charity’s purpose is the reason for its existence, in other words its objective or ‘why’. Without limiting what constitutes this purpose, the Charities Act defines ‘Advancing culture’ as including the purposes of promoting or fostering culture, and caring for, preserving and protecting Australian heritage.

Culture itself is not defined, and therefore takes on its ordinary meaning. The Oxford Dictionary, defines culture as “the customs and beliefs, art, way of life, and social organisation of a particular country or group”.

The ACNC provides the following examples of charities registered under this subtype:

  • organisations promoting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and customs;
  • fine arts societies, musical societies;
  • foundations for theatre, ballet, and the opera;
  • museums and libraries; and
  • foundations and trusts supporting these activities.

According to the 8th edition of the Australian Charities Report, just over 2.9% of charities were registered solely with the subtype of ‘Advancing culture’. However, it is important to remember, charities may choose to register under more than one subtype if their purpose intersects with another subtype – for example a charity advancing culture may also have another purpose of advancing social or public welfare.

What activities does a charity pursuing this subtype undertake?

Activities undertaken by a charity must support its charitable purpose. If a charity’s purpose is its ‘why’, then its activities are its ‘what’. That is, what does the charity do to further its purpose? For charities with the purpose of ‘Advancing culture’, activities undertaken to support the charitable purpose may include:

  • promoting and fostering culture;
  • caring for, preserving and protecting the Australian heritage;
  • promoting participation in the arts, including literature,
  • music, the performing arts and visual arts;
  • establishing and maintaining public museums (including botanical or zoological gardens), libraries and art galleries, and moveable cultural heritage;
  • promoting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and customs;
  • promoting culture and customs of language and ethnic groups (other than where the purpose is social in nature); and
  • protecting and preserving national monuments, areas of national interest and national heritage sites and buildings.

These and other examples are provided by the ACNC and also set out in the Explanatory Memorandum to the Charities Act.

Are there additional considerations for charities registering under this subtype?

Regardless of their subtype, not-for-profit organisations wishing to register as a charity with the ACNC must satisfy certain requirements associated with the definition of charity. The Charities Act codifies the definition of charity, which requires (amongst other things) an entity:

  • is not-for-profit;
  • has all of its purposes as charitable purposes for the public benefit (or any non-charitable purposes are incidental or ancillary to, and in aid of its charitable purpose(s));
  • does not have a disqualifying purpose (i.e. engaging in or promoting activities which are unlawful or against public policy, or promoting or opposing a political party or a candidate for political office); and
  • is not an individual, political party or a government entity.

Can a charity be endorsed as a deductible gift recipient under this subtype?

A charity with the subtype of ‘Advancing culture’ is not automatically eligible for endorsement as a DGR. However, it may be endorsed as a DGR under two main ways:

  • as a public library, museum or art gallery; or
  • through entry onto the Register of Cultural Organisations (ROCO).

The ROCO is a list of cultural organisations which can receive tax deductible gifts and is currently administered by the Office for the Arts within the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and Arts.

Australian organisations may be listed on the ROCO if their principal purpose is to promote one of the following cultural activities within Australia: literature, music, a performing art, a visual art, a craft, design, film, video, television, radio, community arts, arts or languages of Indigenous persons, or movable cultural heritage. More information on the ROCO is available here: Register of Cultural Organisations.

For those charities considering pursuing DGR endorsement via this route, it is important to be aware of potential reform, which is intended to transfer administration of the ROCO and the other three DGR registers that are administered by portfolio agencies to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). On 22 March 2023, legislative amendments to enable this reform were introduced into Parliament as part of the Treasury Laws Amendment (Refining and Improving our Tax System) Bill 2023. As at the date of this article, this enabling legislation has not yet been passed by Parliament. Further information on proposed DGR reforms is available on the ATO website.

For more information regarding the requirements on DGR endorsement, you can read our article linked here ‘Could your organisation be endorsed as a deductible gift recipient?’

How can we help?

Please get in touch with our specialist Charities + Social Sector Lawyers if you would like to establish a charity with a purpose of Advancing culture, if you would like to amend the subtype for your existing charity or otherwise review your current compliance.

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