Advocacy/Taunakitanga

What is advocacy?

Charities are a valuable and trusted voice on issues that affect their communities. Charities can and do speak up in a variety of ways.

Some organisations carry out advocacy as a way of achieving their purposes. Advocacy is a broad term that covers a wide range of different activities.  

Examples of advocacy include:

When is advocacy charitable?

Advocacy is charitable when it is clearly connected to your organisation’s charitable purpose.

Recent examples of advocacy that are charitable include:

  • protecting the environment by supporting restrictions on fossil fuels and a switch to sustainable sources of energy
  • preventing the suffering of animals by opposing research and testing that causes harm to animals
  • protecting human lives by supporting longer sentences for serious offenders
  • relieving poverty by supporting an increase in the minimum wage
  • protecting the environment by supporting increased funding for pest eradication
  • speaking up for people who need help accessing services or information
  • encouraging people to vote and participate in elections.

Your organisation’s advocacy can be charitable even if other charities, organisations, or people have competing views or interests.  

In some cases, an organisation’s advocacy may not be clearly connected to its charitable purpose. In these cases, the organisation would need to provide information showing how its advocacy helps it to achieve a charitable purpose.  

When is advocacy not charitable?

Many not-for-profit organisations have worthy purposes. However, they still might fall outside of what the courts recognise as a charitable purpose.  

Examples of advocacy that are not charitable include:

  • supporting a political party or candidate(external link)
  • supporting a subsidy for a particular industry, without showing how this will provide a benefit to a wide enough class of people.
  • supporting increased funding for for-profit businesses in the hope that they will employ people in poverty
  • carrying out an illegal purpose through advocacy activities.

Ancillary advocacy

Your organisation may still be able to be registered as a charity, even if some of your advocacy isn’t charitable. In these cases, your organisation’s non-charitable advocacy must be ancillary. A purpose is ancillary if it is a small part of what your organisation does, and is closely connected to your charitable purposes.

This page explains what it means to have an ancillary purpose. (external link)

Assessing advocacy purposes

To assess if your organisation’s advocacy is charitable, we consider:

  1. Your organisation’s overall mission or goal
  2. How your organisation aims to achieve its goal
  3. The practical steps your organisation carries out to achieve its goal.

Your overall goal


We first look at what your organisation has been set up to achieve. You may also call this your overall mission or goal.

Some examples of charitable goals include:

  • protecting the environment
  • preventing the suffering of animals
  • protecting heritage buildings
  • advancing health
  • relieving poverty.

You should be able to clearly explain what your organisation’s goal is. It can be difficult to assess if a goal is charitable if it is vague or broadly worded.

You can find more information about why certain purposes may be considered charitable below:

This page explains what it means to have a charitable purpose.(external link)

This page explains why broadly worded purposes may not be charitable in some cases. (external link)

How your organisation aims to achieve its goal

We will also look at the specific things your organisation supports or opposes.

Your organisation’s advocacy can be charitable even if other charities, organisations, or people have competing views or interests.  

Example: An environmental organisation

For example, an organisation could be set up to protect the environment. To achieve this goal, the organisation opposes intensive dairy expansion, to help improve water quality in rivers.

In this example, the organisation’s advocacy is clearly connected to protecting the environment. The competing interests of (for example) the dairy industry does not prevent the organisation from being a charity.

Example: A heritage organisation

An organisation could be set up to preserve heritage buildings. To achieve this goal, the organisation opposes a heritage building being demolished. This advocacy will help ensure that the heritage value of the building is taken into account when decisions about its future are made.

In this example, the organisation’s advocacy is clearly connected to its overall goal of preserving heritage buildings. The competing interests of (for example) health and safety does not prevent the organisation from being a charity.

Example: A health organisation

An organisation could be set up to advance health. To achieve this goal, the organisation supports greater prioritisation of funding for particular health treatments.

In this example, the organisation’s advocacy may not be clearly connected to its overall goal of advancing health. The organisation would likely need to provide more evidence (such as evidence showing that the proposed treatments are effective).

The practical steps your organisation carries out


Finally, we will look at the practical steps your organisation carries out to achieve its goals.

Your organisation can carry out activities such as organising petitions, commissioning research, publishing reports, making submissions to Government, organising lawful protests and publishing information online.

It is not charitable to support or oppose a political party or candidate(external link). If an organisation carries out advocacy activities that are illegal, this could mean that the organisation has a non-charitable illegal purpose.

Example: A poverty relief organisation

An organisation is set up to relieve poverty. While most of its activities are lawful, the organisation sometimes carries out non-violent protests, but where the organisation’s members might break the law. These protest activities are a very small part of the organisation’s activities, and help to raise awareness of poverty issues.

In this example, the organisation’s potentially unlawful activities may be acceptable.

Example: An animal welfare organisation

An organisation is set up to prevent the suffering of animals. The organisation frequently organises protests where it encourages its members to carry out actions that might break the law. These protest activities are a significant part of the organisation’s activities, and aim to raise awareness of animal welfare issues. The organisation and its members have received convictions for many of their protest activities.

In this example, the organisation may have a non-charitable illegal purpose.

More information

Our courts (the High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court) consider evidence put before them, interpret the law, and make decisions about what it means to have a charitable purpose.  

There are four leading court decisions about advocacy as a charitable purpose at the date of this paanui. These are:

You can also view the decisions of Te Rātā Atawhai, the Charities Registration Board on our website.

The Board is an independent three-person body which makes decisions about registering or deregistering charities. 

In practice, most decisions are made by Charities Services acting under formal delegation and guidance from the Board. However, the Board always deals with more complex or novel cases and those where organisations disagree with Charities Services’ decisions.

If you have any questions about your organisation – please get in touch.(external link) You can also register for a one-on-one clinic(external link), where you can talk through your questions with us over Zoom. You may also wish to consult your business or legal adviser.