Navigating the complex landscape of social enterprises can be challenging, particularly when it comes to understanding the legal structures involved. At Caroline Rose Charity, we are here to help demystify the legal framework for social enterprises in Australia.

Understanding the Landscape

Unlike some countries, Australia does not have a specific legal structure designated for social enterprises. Consequently, social enterprises often adopt one of several existing legal structures depending on their objectives, operations, and funding sources. Each of these structures has its own advantages, limitations, and regulatory obligations.


1. Company Limited by Guarantee

This structure is often used by not-for-profit organisations that operate nationally. The company has members rather than shareholders, and its profits must be used to further its objectives rather than being distributed to members. If your social enterprise plans to seek deductible gift recipient (DGR) status or other tax concessions, this structure may be a good fit.


2. Proprietary Limited Company

A Proprietary Limited (Pty Ltd) Company is the most common type of company structure in Australia. In this model, the company is owned by shareholders and the profits can be distributed to them. However, a Pty Ltd can be structured as a social enterprise if it includes specific provisions in its constitution that ensure profits are directed towards its social purpose.


3. Incorporated Association

Incorporated Associations are generally used by smaller, locally-focused not-for-profit groups. They are easy and cost-effective to set up, but they are not designed for profit-making or trading activities. However, an incorporated association can operate as a social enterprise if its activities align with its stated purpose and any profits are used to further that purpose.


4. Co-operative

Co-operatives are member-owned enterprises that can distribute profits to members or use them to further the co-operative’s purpose. Co-operatives must adhere to the cooperative principles and can be an ideal structure for social enterprises that value democratic governance and member participation.


5. Trusts

Trusts involve a trustee who holds property or assets for the benefit of others (the beneficiaries). Trusts can operate as social enterprises if their activities are aimed at benefiting a particular community or advancing a social purpose.


Navigating Your Path with Caroline Rose Charity

Choosing the right legal structure for your social enterprise is a crucial step and will depend on a variety of factors including your mission, business model, funding strategy, and growth plans.

At Caroline Rose Charity, we stand ready to assist social enterprises at every step of this journey. Our business planning and advisory services are geared toward providing the guidance you need to navigate these choices and establish a robust foundation for your social enterprise.

While configuring the legal structure might appear as a formidable task, it represents a crucial juncture in your social enterprise voyage, one that will define the future of your impact within the community. Don’t hesitate to contact us today to commence a conversation about how we can be of assistance.


For additional valuable resources for Social Enterprises, consider visiting the Social Enterprise Toolkit.