Information on COVID-19 for registered charities

For charities, there are some specific concerns that we have become aware of, and we will cover those briefly here. We will keep this guidance updated over the coming weeks. If you have any questions, contact us at info@charities.govt.nz.

Will Charities Services Ng? Ratonga Kaupapa Atawhai still be open?

Charities Services will be open for business while Aotearoa New Zealand is at alert level 4. New charities can apply for registration, charities can complete their annual return (if they are able - extensions of time are available), and we are available to answer questions on info@charities.govt.nz.

Please bear with us as we work through any technical difficulties that might come up. 

We will not be able to access our post during this period. When we return to the office, we will contact everyone who we received post from to confirm that we have received and processed your mail. Please contact us using email.

Does the Government's economic support package extend to registered charities?

Yes. More information on the qualification criteria, and how to apply is on the Work and Income New Zealand website.

What if I have to cancel or postpone my Annual General Meeting (AGM) or other key events/meetings?

COVID-19 is likely to have an impact on a number of events over the coming months. This may include the holding of your AGM which might make it difficult for you to finalise your annual return and performance report to meet your filing requirements under the Charities Act. These documents are due to us six months after your charity’s financial year end.

If your charity is due to hold its AGM, check your rules document. This should set out procedures for holding your meeting, including timing of the meeting (for example, within three months of the end of your charity’s financial year), requirements to give notice, the number of people that need to attend (known as the quorum), and how voting can occur.  You can find a copy of your charity’s rules document by searching for your charity on the online Charities Register, and clicking on the “Charity Documents” tab.

Your charity’s rules may be flexible enough to allow you to postpone your AGM, or hold your AGM remotely, through platforms such as Skype or Zoom. You may be also able to present your performance report electronically for approval.

If your charity’s rules do not allow for this flexibility, your charity must not hold an AGM during the Level 4 lockdown period, and charities may have made a decision not to hold an AGM before this time for safety reasons.

While charities are generally required to follow their rules, we won’t take compliance action against charities that are taking practical steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19. You must prioritise taking steps to minimise social contact, even if this breaches your rules on how you should carry out your AGM or meetings.

If you have other key activities or events coming up, that involve bringing people together, consider if they can be postponed or offered in different ways (such as webinars). The Ministry of Health has guidance around events and large gatherings here.

What if I need an extension to file my Annual Return, or need to be urgently re-registered?

Registered charities have six months after the end of their financial year to submit annual returns and financial statements/performance reports. We won’t be sending our regular reminder emails about annual returns being due, as we appreciate this may cause extra stress for some people. If you are unsure when your charity’s annual return is due, you can find this out by searching for your charity on the online charities register, and selecting the “Annual Returns” tab.

If your charity’s annual return is due shortly, but COVID-19 means you won’t be able to file your documents on time, you can ask for an extension. To do this, please email info@charities.govt.nz and let us know how much extra time you need. We won’t be taking action on any late returns during the lockdown period, but we encourage you to get in touch with us if you can.

If you find you have been removed as a charity, and need to re-register urgently, you can do so by logging into your charity’s online account, and sending us an email to info@charities.govt.nz. If you need access to your account, email us and explain your position at the charity.

What can I do to support staff and volunteers during this time?

Charities play an important role in educating and reassuring employees, volunteers, and other stakeholders.

  • Reassure your team that you care about their health and safety. 
  • Communicate any changes to how you do your work or deliver programmes to your beneficiaries and stakeholders.
  • Promote good hygiene (washing hands frequently, coughing into elbows, cleaning frequently-touched surfaces, and avoiding physical contact).
  • Remind any employees of your organisation’s policies related to illness and sick leave and consider being flexible with sick leave for those who are ill or are caring for sick family members, or who have to stay at home but cannot work. Employment New Zealand has good guidance, and the Government is offering support to allow for sick leave options to be provided.
  • Direct staff and volunteers to the Government's COVID website for updates.

What if my auditor/reviewer can’t do an on-site visit?

All charities with operating expenditure of over $500,000 (review) or $1,000,000 (audit) need to get their performance report/financial statement audited or reviewed. Charities also need to get their performance report/financial statement audited or reviewed if their rules say they have to (although they can change your rules if this is not needed).

With social distancing in place, auditors/accountants will not be able to complete onsite visits. It is advisable to scan relevant documents in electronic form to allow audits/reviews to be completed remotely if required. If this causes delays, please contact us by emailing info@charities.govt.nz to request an extension.

What can charities do to help?

In a time of need, charities are essential to meeting need in communities, but it’s important that charities follow their rules document and are acting within their charitable purpose.

There may be charities that could be better placed to provide support, and your group may be able to offer help to those groups. Searching the Charities Register is a great way to identify charities that operate in your area. Check what help is needed on their website or Facebook pages.

What charities should we support during a pandemic?

There is some useful information online explaining where the help is most needed after a pandemic: food banks, housing assistance, and food delivery services, are all areas likely needing additional assistance soon.

If your charity is involved in working with vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, consider ways in which you can support them during this time that meet Ministry of Health guidelines and ensures their safety.

Be aware there are some dishonest people who take advantage of New Zealanders’ generosity by fraudulently seeking donations. Netsafe and CERTNZ (the Government’s Computer Emergency Response Team) are the experts on staying safe online. CERT NZ has developed a list of tips to help you avoid online scams and attacks.

In the wake of significant events there have been reports of phishing emails. Email phishing scams ask you for personal details such as your date of birth and bank account number. They may also ask you to donate to a bank account that fraudulently claims to belong to a charity. If you receive an email requesting a donation and it looks suspicious, do not open or reply to the email – simply delete it as it may contain links to viruses. You can report the suspected scam to Netsafe.

Where can I volunteer?

There are 17 regional Volunteer Centres around New Zealand. The Volunteer Centre network is mobilising to take expressions of interest from those available to help during the pandemic. Each centre will working within their own communities infrastructure. Get in touch with your local centre to connect with opportunities to collaborate.

Connect with your local centre.

What else should my committee or board think about?

Your board should be thinking about how to govern and manage any risks your charity may encounter. If you have management and employees, you should work closely with them in identifying upcoming risks to your charity. Being flexible is key here.

  • Start the conversation about finances and investments (if they are relevant to your charity) and think about how cancelled services or programmes may impact your budget.
  • Take the opportunity to review your rules, health and safety policies, and risk policies. Consider making changes to allow for flexibility.
  • Make sure you have a plan for the safety of your staff, volunteers and stakeholders.

Good leadership is vital right now and boards need to discuss how they will do business and make decisions.  Please remember to review how you are going to communicate with your stakeholders, clients and members.

Be mindful that different members of your team may perceive the threat differently or have special concerns based on their life circumstances. For example, persons with elderly family members may be especially concerned.

If you have other questions, relevant to charities in Aotearoa New Zealand, email info@charities.govt.nz.  

Kia noho haumaru (Be safe).

Further sources of information