Embarking on the journey of starting a nonprofit organization can be a rewarding way to make a positive impact on the community and aid those in need. However, developing and maintaining one requires a significant amount of perseverance and time. Therefore, whether you’re a seasoned philanthropist or just starting, it is crucial to thoroughly comprehend its definition and the steps involved in the incorporation process.

What is a nonprofit organization?

A nonprofit organization (NPO) is an independent entity dedicated to solving or improving a specific cause and is not driven by profit.

The NPO does not distribute the profits they make to shareholders, members, or employees. Any income generated is reinvested in the activities of the organization.

However, an NPO can not survive without its revenue stream. Most nonprofit organizations maintain their monetary flow with external funding such as donations, sponsorships, and government contributions. The revenue generated is then used to finance projects, pay for goods or services, and cover administrative, and fundraising expenses.

An NPO is very similar to a Social Enterprise, which also works toward public welfare. However, the way they generate profit and obtain funds are different. While nonprofits gain income through donations or government grants, a social enterprise raises funds through the sales of products or services.

To learn more about this business type, check out our article about social enterprise in Singapore.

How do you get qualified for NPO status?

To qualify for NPO status and operate as a community-led organization, there are two crucial requirements to fulfill:

  • Establish a governing body

An NPO must have a board of trustees, managing committee, or governing council in place. This governing body plays a critical role in the overall management and direction of the organization, ensuring compliance with laws and regulations. They oversee activities, align them with the organization’s mission, and establish policies for resource management.

  • Dedicating to the welfare of communities

An NPO must demonstrate that its activities and programs promote the public good and welfare. This includes engaging in charitable activities, educational programs, and community outreach initiatives that contribute to the well-being of society at large.

How are NPOs in Singapore funded?

In Singapore, nonprofit organizations employ diverse strategies to secure financial resources to support their mission and activities.

  • Donations

One of the primary sources of income for nonprofits is donations, where individuals, corporations, or foundations contribute monetary or in-kind gifts to support the organization’s cause.

These donations can come in various forms, including one-time contributions, recurring donations, or significant grants from philanthropic individuals.

  • Sponsorship

Nonprofits often seek sponsorships from businesses or organizations that align with their mission or target audience.

Sponsorship agreements involve financial support or in-kind contributions in exchange for brand visibility, promotional opportunities, or event partnerships. These sponsorships not only provide financial support but also help raise awareness and expand the nonprofit’s reach.

  • Government funding

Grants from the government are significant revenue streams for nonprofits. Governments at various levels may allocate funds to support specific programs or initiatives that align with their policy objectives.

Nonprofits often compete for these grants by submitting proposals that demonstrate their capacity to deliver results and meet the identified community needs.

  • Selling merchandise or services related to their mission

This can include selling products like t-shirts, art, or handicrafts created by the organization or offering services such as consulting, training, or workshops. By leveraging their expertise or creative assets, nonprofits can generate revenue while promoting their cause.

The funds obtained by nonprofits are essential for covering operational expenses, such as office rent, utilities, salaries, and benefits for staff members, as well as professional services like accounting, legal support, and marketing.

Why set up a nonprofit organization?

Before delving into the process of establishing an NPO, it is essential to review back the very purpose of your incorporation to see whether NPOs have all the features to help achieve the goals. Most social entrepreneurs choose to use NPO to achieve their mission because it:

  • Making a positive impact on society

NPOs offer a structured and organized framework through which founders can channel their skills, resources, and passion toward addressing pressing social issues and serving their communities.

By operating as an NPO, entrepreneurs can create meaningful change and contribute to the betterment of society in a focused and intentional manner.

  • Aligning personal values with actions

Many people feel a strong sense of responsibility and desire to give back to their communities, and NPOs provide an avenue for them to do so.

By engaging with an NPO, individuals can work towards achieving their community-led purpose in a way that is in line with their core beliefs and values.

This alignment fosters a deep sense of fulfillment and satisfaction, as individuals can see the direct impact of their efforts on the lives of those they aim to serve.

  • Mobilizing support from a wide range of stakeholders

Through the collaborative efforts of volunteers, donors, partners, and community members, NPOs can leverage collective resources and expertise to address complex societal challenges.

The sense of community and shared purpose within NPO creates a supportive and empowering environment where individuals can come together, pool their talents, and amplify their impact.

  • Creating long-lasting social change

Unlike for-profit entities driven by financial gain, NPOs focus on the long-term betterment of society. They can implement sustainable solutions, advocate for policy changes, and engage in grassroots initiatives that address systemic issues.

NPOs have the flexibility and autonomy to experiment with innovative approaches, adapt to evolving community needs, and drive transformative impact over time.

Consideration before setting up an NPO

To make informed decisions and set realistic expectations, NPO’s founders need to consider various factors to understand what can hinder the establishment’s success. These crucial factors include:

  • Preparing for unstable financial situation

Nonprofits often rely on donations and other funding sources, which can be unpredictable and subject to fluctuations. It’s important to carefully evaluate the financial viability of the organization and have a plan in place to manage cash flow and expenses.

  • Meeting specific requirements

Nonprofits are subject to various legal and regulatory requirements that vary depending on the location and type of organization. It’s important to understand these requirements and ensure that the organization is compliant with all relevant laws and regulations.

  • Facing hiring disadvantages

Nonprofits may need help with hiring staff, as they often have limited budgets for salaries and benefits. It can be challenging to attract and retain qualified employees, particularly in competitive industries.

Set up a nonprofit organization in Singapore

Singapore is renowned as a reliable and suitable destination for NPO incorporators. It offers advantages like solid government support and the willingness of multinational corporations (MNCs) to contribute.

Recent events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, have stimulated increased philanthropy, volunteerism, and donor participation, fostering a conducive environment for community-led organizations.

In order to enjoy the above benefits, it is crucial to have a thorough understanding of the procedure of establishing a nonprofit organization.

Step 1: Choose the types of entity you want to adopt

Choosing the right type of entity will be beneficial for the business in the long run since each of them has its own perks and drawbacks.

In Singapore, NPO is usually incorporated as a public company limited by guarantee, society, or a charitable trust.

Public company limited by guarantee

A company limited by guarantee is a separate legal entity and can enter into contracts, own property, and be sued in its own name. Unlike traditional companies, it does not have a share capital and its members guarantee a predetermined sum towards the company’s liabilities in case of winding up.


A society, in the context of non-profit organizations, refers to a club, company, partnership, or association consisting of at least 10 individuals, regardless of its nature or objective, that is not already registered under any other law.

Societies are particularly suitable for membership or volunteer-based groups, especially smaller organizations with strong community connections and a lesser reliance on external funding or donations.

Charitable trust

A trust is a legally binding arrangement established through a written document, known as the trust deed. It involves the transfer of property and/or funds by an owner or founder to a group of individuals known as trustees.

The trustees manage the assets for the benefit of other individuals known as beneficiaries, with the aim of achieving a specific objective. In the case of a charitable trust, it is categorized as a purpose trust, as its primary goal is to advance a purpose rather than primarily benefiting specific individuals.

For further information, feel free to explore our article about the Singapore Trust.

Step 2: Name reservation

After deciding on the type of entity for the non-profit organization (NPO), the next step is to reserve a name for the entity. This can be done online through the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) website or a professional services firm.

To reserve a name for an NPO, the proposed name must not already be in use or similar to existing names. The name must also comply with Singapore’s guidelines for acceptable business names. Once the name has been approved, it can be reserved for 120 days, during which time the incorporation process must be completed.

Step 3: Acquire registered office

After reserving a name for the non-profit organization (NPO), the next step is to acquire a registered office. Every NPO in Singapore must have a registered office, which is the official address of the entity for legal and administrative purposes. The registered office must be a physical address in Singapore and cannot be a P.O. box.

Step 4: Complete the registration with the relevant bodies

Regarding nonprofit organizations (NPOs), it is essential to be mindful of specific timelines and registration requirements. Depending on the objectives of your NPO, it is crucial to adequately prepare and fulfill the necessary criteria to engage in activities aligned with your goals.

The most basic registration requirement is that you should register your entity to the relevant bodies to be legally operating as one.

  • Public companies limited by guarantee must register with the ACRA
  • Society must register with the Registrar of Societies (ROS)
  • The charitable trust must be licensed by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS)

It is important to note that the registration process for each type of non-profit organization can be time-consuming. NPO founders should proactively plan their registration and future activities to ensure a smooth and efficient operation.

For instance, if your charitable trust intends to conduct fundraising activities, it is mandatory to register with the Commissioner of Charities within three months from the date of incorporation. This ensures compliance with the regulatory framework for charitable organizations.

Acquire Charities and Institutions of a Public Character (IPC) status

After the non-profit organization (NPO) has been incorporated in Singapore, it is recommended that social entrepreneurs should acquire Charity status and Institution of a Public Character (IPC) status.

  • Charity status

Charity status is the legal recognition of an organization as a charitable entity by the Commission of Commissioner of Charities, indicating its activities align with public benefit.

The status itself is not mandatory. However, it offers tremendous benefits such as tax exemption, enhances credibility, and opens doors to fundraising opportunities for qualified candidates.

To obtain the status, the Commissioner of Charities will assess the application of NPOs to make sure whether the organization’s objectives align with the acceptance criteria for charitable purposes.

Specifically, the objectives should fall into 4 categories

  • alleviating poverty;
  • promoting education;
  • advancing religious causes; and
  • supporting other community-beneficial objectives that are explicitly recognized as charitable.

The details for each category can be found here.

Upon obtaining charity status, organizations must comply with statutory requirements, including financial reporting, record-keeping, annual returns, annual general meeting, and online disclosure of fundraising information.

  • IPC status

IPC status is granted to charities in Singapore that meet transparency and accountability requirements. It enables them to issue tax-deductible receipts to donors, attracting more support.

To obtain and maintain IPC status, charities must comply with various requirements, including issuing tax receipts, maintaining donation records, disclosing financial information, submitting audited statements and reports, and having independent trustees for governance.



Charity status vs Institutions of a Public Character (IPC) status:

While charity status and IPC status are not mandatory, it is advisable to obtain charity status first in order to be officially recognized as a charity and operate as one. Once charity status is secured, organizations have the option to apply for IPC status, which brings additional advantages like tax-deductible donations and increased credibility.


Establishing and maintaining a successful nonprofit organization in Singapore requires a thorough understanding of legal obligations and the procedure to incorporate one. By navigating these aspects effectively, social entrepreneurs can make a positive impact on society through these community-purpose organizations.

If you still have some knots left untie relating to the NPOs, feel free to contact us at service@bbcincorp.com for more information. We are more than happy to help.

Disclaimer: While BBCIncorp strives to make the information on this website as timely and accurate as possible, the information itself is for reference purposes only. You should not substitute the information provided in this article for competent legal advice. Feel free to contact BBCIncorp’s customer services for advice on your specific cases.

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