Founding an association in Finland

In Finland, founding an association is relatively easy and something virtually all residents have the option to do. Here you can find information regarding the things you should take into consideration before starting an association as well as what founding an association involves in practice.

An association is defined in Finland as an organisation

  • which has at least three members
  • which is non-profit
  • whose activity is intended as permanent, i.e. a group of people organising a one-off event do not comprise an association

A registered association is an association that is registered in the Finnish Register of Associations. A registered association is a legal entity, meaning it can enter into contracts in the name of the organisation and act as a single entity for legal purposes. A registered association is governed by the Associations Act (unofficial translation on the Finnish Patent and Registration Office’s website, opens in new tab). The executive committee of a registered association is accountable to the association, in other words, responsible for acting in a proper manner. In Finnish, a registered association is called “rekisteröity yhdistys”, often abbreviated as “ry”.

An unregistered association is a less formal group which is not registered in the Register of Associations. An unregistered association is not a legal entity and has no legal capacity. The association cannot enter into contracts in the name of the association – instead, the individuals signing the contract will be personally liable for contractual obligations. Unregistered associations are only partially governed by the Associations Act. The new Money Collection Act – which entered into force in March 2020 – has made it possible for unregistered associations to carry out limited fundraising.

Before starting an association, consider the following questions:

Why and for what purpose do you want to start an association?
The founders should first define the overall objectives of the association. These objectives will guide the association’s activities. You can use the following questions as prompts when setting the goals: what is our cause? What do we wish to accomplish? What are we good at? What skills do we have? Research other associations as well and consider what benefit or value your new association would add. In some cases, becoming a member of an existing association is a better option.

Who will carry out the association’s activities?
Legally, an association must have at least three members. Therefore, plan activities together with an active group of people from the start.

How will the association’s activities be financed?
A good financial standing makes continuous and organised operations possible. Usually associations finance their activities through fundraising or with grants and financial assistance. Funding, however, is a major challenge to many associations and an association’s finances require a lot of planning. Consider early on in your planning process how to raise funds for your association. Receiving significant grants requires a high standard of operations and administration, and it is usually a result of long-running operations.

Are you prepared for continuous development of the association and its activities?
An association is never complete. Therefore, the founders should see the association as a long-term commitment. Careful planning of the association’s activities and purpose forms a basis for long-running operations.

Founding an association step by step:

1. Preparations: In Finland, an association can be founded by three or more people who are over the age of 15. The association’s chairperson and vice chairperson must be over 18 years old and resident in Finland, i.e. they must have a home address in Finland, and a residence permit. An association’s chairperson must not be a debtor in ongoing enforcement proceedings and must be known to be of good character.

2. Filling positions of trust and executive committee positions: The association must select an operations inspector, chairperson, vice chairperson, secretary, and a treasurer or bookkeeper. You can find more information on these positions of trust in the Administration section. The founding members can fill these positions themselves, but the positions may also be offered to people who are not members of the association.

3. The founding meeting: In the founding meeting, the individuals forming the association join the association as members and elect the first executive committee. In this meeting, the members also draw up and/or approve the rules of the association and sign the charter. A charter is a free-form written agreement concerning the founding of the association.

4. Registering or not? Registering an association is not mandatory. In addition, since spring 2020, even unregistered associations may fundraise up to EUR 20 000 a year, through so called ‘small-scale money collection’. However, registering the association is important if it aspires to carry out larger-scale operations in the future.

More on founding an association in Finland on the Finnish Patent and Registration Office’s guide (opens in new tab).