Key Points

  • All organisations will have a formal document that outlines the rules it operates by and how decisions are made (e.g. Constitution).  This, plus other internal rules and policies will guide how your organisation operates.
  • External rules usually also apply based on how the organisation is legally structured and what types of activities it undertakes, including how volunteers are managed.

The organisation’s governance helps it deliver on the activities and functions it has been set up to carry out.  There are both external and internal rules that apply to organisations which guide these activities and decision-making.

Every organisation will have some formal internal document that outlines the rules and procedures it operates by. This is likely to be called the ‘Constitution’.  There are also likely to be a set of policies or procedures that apply to the specific activities that the organisation undertakes – such as how it manages its volunteers – that incorporate the relevant legal requirements, standards and guidelines.

There are also external rules relating to governance that apply to all organisations, with some rules depending on what legal structure they have.  There are also specific external laws, policies and procedures that may apply depending on the activities the organisation undertakes. If, for example, the organisation delivers services/support for activities involving children, there are requirements for all staff and volunteers associated with the organisation to have blue cards and other child safety systems; or if the organisation is involved in food handling – there are food handling procedures that the organisation needs to comply with.

Top Tip

Ask for a copy of the Constitution (or equivalent) of the organisation you are thinking of joining or check their website if they have one and ask what legal structure they have.

Ask the Chair or Secretary to explain how the organisation is legally structured and check what this means in the resources below.

Think about the kinds of activities the organisation undertakes and consider what extra rules or laws might apply – for instance if the organisation works with children, there will be a range of child safe organisation requirements.

Want more? ... check out these resources

Fact Sheet – Different legal structures for organisations Volunteering Queensland – 2 minute read


This quick fact sheet lists the common type of legal structures that community organisations use. The rules governing the organisation – and the government authority responsible - will depend in part on which legal structure is in place.

Factsheet – Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission – 5 minute read


This handy summary from the ACNC covers what other regulators or government agencies you might need to know about (or report to !) depending on how your organisation is structured.

Online article - QCOSS - 10 minute browse


Here’s a great summary of the different kinds of legal entities common in the NFP space and the implications for Directors.

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