Make sense of... starting an association

The French equivalent of a ‘charity’ is an association reconnue d’utilité publique or an association d’intérêt général. The first is a status held by certain large organisations like the SPA animal charity or La Croix Rouge and which has to be applied for from the Interior Ministry. The latter is simpler and is the most common kind of structure. It is easy to set up and later it can apply to become reconnue d’utilité publique, which brings extra benefits and obligations, if it has more than 200 members and more than merely ‘local’ activities.

25 October 2017
By Oliver Rowland

There are thought to be more than a million associations in France, many of which are set up to promote ‘good causes.’

Associations are also sometimes called associations loi 1901 after a law in that year which defined the rules governing them.

They are also sometimes referred to as being à but non lucratif (non-profit-making) however, legally-speaking, this applies to all of them because an association may not share out any profits among members as a company can.

An association is created by at least two people who get together to agree to run a group for a certain purpose or activity and, if it is declared at the prefecture, it becomes a legal entity in its own right. The founders must agree on where it will be based, who its first leaders will be and decide on a list of written rules - its statuts.

It is customary to hold a minuted assemblée constitutive – an initial meeting – to agree on the statuts. They usually include:

  • The association’s name, purpose and where it is based. Its siège social can be the home of a member, a local authority building (it can, on obtaining permission, be the mairie) or a building it will buy or rent
  • Conditions for joining or leaving
  • Rules on how it will be run and the powers of those who will run it
  • Conditions for changing the statuts or closing the association down

Small associations are sometimes set up based on ‘statuts type’ (a standard suggested format) but these may not necessarily be well-adapted to your needs.

One of the first jobs is to decide on a name. You should ensure this will not cause confusion due to it already being used by another association (you can check here: journal-officiel.gouv.fr/association/index.php). The same applies to using a name used by a business (infogreffe.fr) or a registered trademark (bases-marques.inpi.fr).

The statuts should provide for an annual general meeting – assemblée générale (AG).

Important decisions are usually taken at the AG, to which all paid-up members are invited. It gives an account of the previous year and it votes on the budget for the next one and debates upcoming projects. An AG extraordinaire may be called at other times if an important matter has to be decided on.

The statuts also usually provide for two bodies, called le conseil d’administration and le bureau however in small associations these are often one and the same.

The bureau carries out the decisions taken in the AG and is made up of the leaders: usually at least a president, treasurer and secretary. The president represents the association, leads it and has legal responsibility for its activities; the secretary is responsible for administration, organising meetings and taking minutes; the treasurer manages the finances, such as membership fees, planning the budget and banking money.

The conseil d’administration, where one exists, consists of people elected to it at the AG or co-opted to it by existing members of it (called administrateurs). Its job is ensuring the association is being run effectively and it usually meets at least two or three times a year. However some experts say having one – which will usually be included in statuts type – is an unnecessary complication for a small club.

Where one exists, the conseil elects the bureau from its members, otherwise the bureau is directly elected at the AG.

The association becomes an official legal entity by a declaration of key facts about it including details of the leaders, minutes of the assemblée constitutive and a copy of the statuts. This declaration is made to the greffe des associations, usually located at the prefecture and this can be done by letter or online. For more details see Déclarer l’association at: service-public.fr/associations/vosdroits/F3109

The creation of the new association will be formalised by a notice in the government gazette Le Journal Officiel.

You will be allocated an RNA number on the Répertoire National des Associations.

Optionally you can also apply to Insee for a Siret number, which allows you to employ people and apply for grants.

Many types of association (cultural, social, sporting, educational, helping the needy...) may be considered d’intérêt général (of general interest) – which encourages donations by allowing for income tax deductions – as long as it does not cater for an excessively ‘restricted circle’. If in doubt about this you can put in a query called a rescrit to the tax office to check your association complies (no reply means tacit acceptance). Ones that help people in need with food, shelter, clothing etc (organisme d’aide gratuite aux personnes en difficulté) allow for higher deductions.

All associations may receive gifts but only certain kinds, such as those whose sole aim is helping people in need, may receive bequests or notarised donations such as a gift of property.

The image here was drawn by artist Perry Taylor. For more of his work see www.perrytaylor.fr

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