Charitable Organizations and Societies

Rangeland Agencies can help you if you want to incorporate a Charitable Organization or Society.

Non-profit organizations have two options: form a Society under the Societies Act or incorporate under the Companies Act.

Societies are independent legal entities governed by the Alberta Societies Act. A Society exists separate and apart from its members, so members cannot be held personally responsible for the debts of the Society. Societies must direct any profits back into fulfilling the objectives of the Society.

Five or more people can form Societies for social activities, recreation, culture, and charity (though there are separate requirements by the Canada Revenue Agency to be considered a charity under the Income Tax Act). Societies can buy, sell, and own property, enter into contracts, sue others, and be sued. Societies cannot carry out trade or business, issue shares, declare dividends, or distribute property among members during the lifetime of the society.

Societies, much like corporations, can be either named or numbered Societies. The name for a named Societies requires a distinctive element, a descriptive element and a legal element (such as Society, Association, Club, Fellowship, Guild, Foundation, Institute, League, Committee, Council, Board, Centre, or Bureau).

If you wish to form a named Society, you must first obtain a NUANS (Newly Upgraded Automated Name Search) report, which will search for Societies with similar names. Society names must be unique. The NUANS report can be ordered online or in-person with Rangeland Agencies.

Non-profit organizations can also choose to form a Non-Profit Corporation instead of a Society. If your organization primarily fundraises, you may not be able to form a Society since some fundraising efforts may be classified as a business. The Societies Act does not permit Societies to carry on trade or business.

The Companies Act which governs Non-Profit Corporations is more complex than the Societies Act and requires Non-Profit Corporations to file as either a private or public company. Private companies must have less than 50 members, must not allow the general public to become members and cannot transfer the interest of a member of the company. If your Non-Profit Corporation doesn’t follow those rules, then it will be classified as public, which requires much more stringent filing and reporting requirements.

A Rangeland Agencies agent can help you decide whether a Society or a Non-Profit Business is the best option for your organization.

Annual returns for a society must be filed directly by mail to Service Alberta. Registry offices are not permitted to process an annual return for a non-profit or society. There is no fee to file an annual return for a non-profit or a society. Service Alberta’s Annual Returns Page has the forms and the mailing address.