Information for registered charities about COVID-19

Updated 4 June 2020

Here you will find answers to some of the questions you may have in regards to your obligations as a registered charity during this time and what support is available. For a list of further information or resources for registered charities please see our resources page.

All charities should read the guidelines and follow updates from the Government’s COVID website(external link). These include health advice for the public, guidance for different sectors and providers, and resources. There is a specific page on the government's site for community groups, faith based groups, clubs and societies(external link) that offers further support.

We encourage you to consider the Government’s Alert Levels(external link) as a rough guide. Develop a plan for how your charity will operate at each level, including any challenges or risks that might arise. If you need some resources have a look at CommunityNet Aotearoa’s COVID advice page(external link).

We will keep this guidance updated over the coming weeks. If you have any questions, contact us at info@charities.govt.nz.

On this page you will find answers to the following questions:

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(external link). We also included more information on some frequently asked information from charitable groups in our April 2020 newsletter(external link).

Charities may also qualify for the small business cash flow loan. Visit Inland Revenue(external link) to find out more.

The government has also announced a targeted support package for social sector and community groups, especially those supporting at risk communities and those aimed at keeping families and whānau safe. Find out more here.(external link) Update: The COVID-19 Community Preparedness Fund has now closed. Find out more information here.(external link)

 Should I consider temporarily putting my charity on hold during this time?

Whether your charity remains open will depend on what you are established to do, and whether it’s safe and practical to operate.  If you aren’t sure of your purposes, check your rules document on the Charities Register(external link).

We also encourage you to do use the Charities Register(external link) to see if there is a charity you can join or collaborate with going forward. We advise that you get in touch with your local volunteering centre(external link). If you want to lend your efforts to another group you should be doing this through the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) authorised Volunteering Centre network.

How would I put my charity on hold or wind up my charity as a result of COVID-19?

If you are struggling, you may want to consider putting your charity on hold. This will depend on how your charity’s rules document is written, but it may be as simple as setting a date when your governing committee will reconvene. If you have employees, you’ll need to seek independent legal advice if thinking about this. You will still need to provide annual reporting to Charities Services while you are on hold.

If you are thinking of winding up, remember that any surplus you have must be distributed to charitable purposes. You will have a wind-up clause in your rules document.  This clause will inform you of where any surplus money or assets should be distributed to.  

You may want to distribute your funds to other charities fulfilling a similar purpose (subject to your winding up clause requirements), or create a fund with your local Community Foundation. We have a blog covering options for when you are ending a charity(external link) that may be helpful.

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

COVID-19 is likely to have had an impact on a number of events and this may continue over the coming months. This may have included the holding of your AGM which might have made 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 was due to hold its AGM during the lockdown period, 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(external link), 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.

Even if your rules do not allow for this flexibility, your charity must not have held an AGM during Alert Level 4 or 3, and charities may have made a decision not to hold an AGM before this time for safety reasons. Currently under Alert Level 2 gatherings of up to 100 people are allowed so if your AGM would exceed this number consider holding off for the time being. 

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.

As the number of people allowed at gatherings increased from 29 May you may now be able to hold your AGM in person. However, holding your AGM remotely may still be something to consider. This is a way to include everyone, particularly stakeholders who may not feel comfortable or safe being in large groups.

The Companies Office has also made temporary changes to their legislation to allow organisations to delay their annual general meetings until a time when it is reasonable to hold them. Find out more here.(external link)

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.(external link)

Is there support/guidance for those registered with the Companies Office?

The Government will be introducing legislation to make changes to the Companies Act to help businesses and not for profit organisations affected by the COVID-19 response. 

The legislation provides more flexibility to charities and relaxes the requirements of annual reporting to the Companies Office. Charities will also be able to delay AGM’s, use electronic signatures and hold electronic meetings, even if their rules document does not allow this usually. There are also further provisions for companies in relation to insolvency and debts.

You can find out more details about the changes here.(external link)

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 haven't been 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(external link), 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 this period, but we encourage you to get in touch with us if you can.

Please only request an extension if your annual return due date is within 2 months’ time. That means for charities with balance dates on 31 March 2020 (with due dates 30 September 2020), please only request an extension from August 2020. Extensions will still be available at that time, recognising the challenges faced by charities by COVID-19.

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(external link), 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. If you are continuing to operate, you need to ensure you are doing so safely. This means making provisions about how to keep your staff, volunteers, customers, members and stakeholders safe.

  • 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.
  • Consider how you can accommodate the needs of staff or volunteers who may be vulnerable to COVID or have other work or home commitments. CommunityNet has some good guidance on remote working(external link) that can help.
  • Whether at home or ins shared spaces, 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(external link), and the Government is offering support to allow for sick leave options to be provided.
  • Take a look at the guidelines for Community Organisations and Volunteers(external link) released by the National Crisis Management team, in coordination with Volunteering New Zealand
  • Direct staff and volunteers to the Government's COVID website(external link) 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 during alert levels 3 and 4, auditors/accountants may not have been able to complete onsite visits. If this caused delays, please contact us by emailing info@charities.govt.nz to request an extension.

How does my charity create a QR code for the government's contact tracing app?

If you are a public facing organisation that has visitors or staff coming on site, you can generate a QR code poster for your premises as long as you have a New Zealand Business Number (NZBN). Charities need to register with Business Connect(external link) to get their QR code posters for their workplace.

To do this you will need the following information:

 To find out more on how to do this, click here.(external link)

If you’re a legally incorporated charitable trust or society you will have been automatically allocated an NZBN and you can find this by searching for your organisation at nzbn.govt.nz(external link). This information is also available on your charity page on the Charities Register(external link).

If your organisation is not legally incorporated or you are an unincorporated group you still qualify and can apply for an NZBN. We have a blog post on this topic(external link) that has more information about qualifying for an NZBN.

To find out more information about NZBN visit nzbn.govt.nz(external link) or call the helpline on 0508 696 926.

Is there a template  to set up a manual system to help with contact tracing if we don't have an NZBN?

Yes. You can set up a manual system by downloading a template for recording visitors here(external link).

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(external link) is a great way to identify charities that operate in your area. Check what help is needed on their website or Facebook pages.

What else should my committee or board think about?

It is important that your board is still meeting (remotely) and actively doing some strategic planning. 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. Your charity could also use this time to update any health and safety policies and procedures to cover how you will operate in the future. You can find some great resources here(external link).
  • Make sure you have a plan for the safety of your staff, volunteers and stakeholders.
  • Throughout the different alert levels there may be major disruptions to your operation. Think about what will work best for your charity and whether you will need to make changes. Will you need to increase staff because demand is higher? Do you have the budget for your current staff levels if your revenue has decreased? Take some time now to do some future planning. There are many resources to help(external link).

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.

What about finances and funding?

Many charities may see a change in their financial position either because of increased demand for services or because their service is no longer available to the public. Some charities have missed the opportunity for their annual street appeal or other fundraising events. Charities that raise funds through products or services may also be seeing a decrease in revenue.

Look at what you have in the bank and what you can pull out of reserves, if you have them. Are you able to continue operating on your current budget? Will you need to make some changes? Are you still applying for funds/grants and have you revised your operational plan for the year? 

If you have funding targeted for other purposes that you want to use now, it is important  to talk to your funder to see if you can change the purpose of your grant. Remember to communicate with your stakeholders and ask them for support if they are in a position to do so.

Think carefully about your fundraising policy in general. Talk to or assemble a fundraising team: there might be opportunities to pursue different fundraising options in the next few months. Take the opportunity to engage with your donors – and make sure they are ok.

How should my charity be operating under the different alert levels?

As the alert level reduces, limitations on gatherings loosen. Currently at Alert Level 2(external link) indoor gatherings of 100 people and outdoor gatherings of 100 are allowed (while maintaining physical distancing and contact tracing requirements). We recommend keeping an eye on the Government COVID-19 website for updated guidance.

Some charities are planning activities according to each alert level, this may be a useful way to keep track of what services you can offer, and communicating this with your stakeholders. See Bellyful NZ as an example(external link), and guidance on the COVID-19(external link) website.

NEMA along with Volunteering New Zealand have provided more guidelines for community groups at Level 2. We have published these on our COVID resources page. If you have questions about specific activities, let us know at info@charities.govt.nz and we will ask for them to be included in guidance.

How are scammers using COVID-19?

Scammers are using COVID-19 to steal information and gain access to individuals’ devices. These scams take the form of emails and text messages pretending to be from known organisations. An example of a current scam email claims to be from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and includes a file for ‘Immunity tips’ against COVID-19. Once the file is opened it releases malware, sending personal information to the scammer.

Always be cautious if your asked to make changes to bank details or make payments to a new account. Wherever possible. follow the procedures that your charity has in place to validate and authenticate any such messages. If in doubt, do not make the changes and try and contact the company or organisation by phone first.

Most emails from legitimate organisations will not include attachments. If you receive an unexpected email from a business or organisation with attachments, do not open them. Always question unsolicited offer of good or other financial support where an advanced fee payment is required.

Do not click hyperlinks in suspicious emails or text messages. In many cases they look legitimate, however the hyperlinks usually direct you to a scam website. Before clicking links in an email, hover your mouse over the hyperlinked text and if it is directing you to a web address that looks incorrect then it is likely to be a scam.

If you get a suspicious text message, delete the contact from your phone and contact the company directly to confirm if it was a scam.

Where to find more information about spam and online scams :

How can I stay in touch with my community about COVID-19 within the rules around spam?

We appreciate that you want to get in touch with your communities about COVID-19. Here’s how to do it without breaching the Unsolicited Electronic Messages Act 2007.

Before sending an email or text message, consider the following:

  • There are already many communications being issued regarding COVID-19 so consider whether it is necessary to send a message in the first instance.
  • Consider whether your message could be added to the front page of your website instead.
  • If you do need to send a message, please clearly identify yourself within your message, particularly if it’s a text message.
  • Provide clear and accurate contact information within your message in case the recipient needs to get in touch with you.
  • Do not send messages to people who are no longer members or have previously unsubscribed from your messages.

You’ll find more information about how to avoid spamming your communities here(external link). This links to information for businesses and the same rules apply to charities and community groups.

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

Kia noho haumaru (Be safe).