NGO Finance – 05-12 - Business Activities by NGOs

01 => There is a certain amount of confusion with regard to business and profit oriented activities of a Voluntary Organisation. Business activities may be undertaken as long as they are incidental to the main objects of the organisation, provided the profits generated are not otherwise distributed.


02 => Section 2(15) of the Income Tax Act defines the term charitable purpose as under:

The expression "Charitable Purpose" includes the following:

- Relief of the poor

- Education

- Medical Relief

- The advancement of any other object of general public utility.

03 => It may be noted that this definition was amended in 1984 and the word "Not involving the carrying on of any activity for profit" was deleted. This was a clearcut indication of allowing profit oriented activities as a part of Charitable Purpose.

04 => In the Finance Act 2008, the definition has been amended as: " Charitable Purpose" includes relief of the poor, education, medical relief and the advancement of any other object of general public utility: Provided that the advancement of any other object of general public utility shall not be a charitable purpose if it involves the carrying on of any activity in the nature of trade, commerce or business or any activity of rendering any services in relation to any trade commerce or business, for a fee or cess or any other consideration, irrespective of the nature of use or application or the retention, of the income from such activity."

05 => Similarly Section 11(4A) was inserted to categorically allow profit oriented business activity as long as they were incidental to the attainment of the objectives.


06 => Sometimes a business undertaking may itself be held by a Voluntary Organisation, or a Trust for charitable purposes. For example, an NGO receives as donation, the rights of distribution of a film and the profit is to be utilised for charitable purposes. In such a case though the business activity is not incidental to the attainment of the objects of the organisation still the profits would be exempted from tax.

07 => Existence of profit need not necessarily be deemed as business activity. A Voluntary Organisation can have activities which generate profit without engaging in business. For instance income from letting out Hall, Dharmasala's and other infrastructure are not considered as business activities.

08 => It may so happen that the business is partially considered to be for the attainment of the obejcts of the Voluntary Organisation. Under such circumstances only such proportion of profit which relates to the attainment of the object will be exempted. It has been clarified vide CBDT circular, that on organisation is not debarred from doing business which are not incidental to the attainment of the objectives, but income from such business will not be exempted. It is not advisable to engage in business activities only for the sake of profits without having any relevance with the objects of the organisation.

09 => The Finance Act, 2008 w.e.f. 1-4-2009 has amended the definition of 'charitable purpose' under section 2(15) which may have far reaching ramifications, for voluntary organisations.

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