NGOs are voluntary self-governing bodies or organisations that have been established to pursue non-profit objectives. NGOs fulfil an important role in a democracy through the promotion of public awareness, participation in public life, and ensuring the transparency and accountability of public authorities.

NGOs can remain effective by using a variety of tools and adapting their resources and capabilities to the goal in question, meaning that they are able to serve many different functions, from serving as a means of communication between stakeholders and the public, to advocating active change in law or policy. NGOs may be local, national, or international in nature, and the range of their focus and reach respectively.

There are several ways to exercise your right to civic participation through an NGO. You may support the activities of a particular NGO by, for example, participating in its activities or donating to it. You may also become a member of an NGO and directly contribute to its objectives by, for example, helping to organise its activities and recruiting new members. If you are interested in either of these options, you might look up or get in touch with the NGO that you are interested in and request more information on how to support its activities or become a member. As an alternative, you may establish your own NGO.

How to establish your own NGO?

The requirements for establishing an NGO are listed in the Non-profit Associations Act and Foundations Act. Your NGO may be either a non-profit association or a foundation. A non-profit association is a voluntary association of persons the objective or main activity of which is not the earning of income from economic activity. A foundation is a legal person in private law which has no members and which is established to administer and use assets to achieve the objectives specified in its articles of association. Both associations and foundations are non-profit.

An association can be established:

  • by natural or legal persons
  • on the basis of a memorandum of association
  • for the duration of an indefinite or fixed time
  • by no fewer than two people
  • without an initial property investment

A foundation can be established:

  • by natural or legal persons
  • on the basis of a foundation resolution or a notarised will which contains a foundation resolution
  • for the duration of an indefinite or fixed time
  • by one or more persons
  • without an initial property investment, but with an expectation that such an investment will be required in the future

In order to establish a non-profit association or a foundation, the management board of the organisation has to submit an application to be registered in the non-profit associations and foundations register, which is a part of the commercial register and is maintained by the registration department of Tartu County Court.

The law prohibits the carrying out of certain actions through your NGO, such as activities that are contrary to the constitutional order, criminal law or good morals. However, the NGO may freely perform activities that are not against the law, in particular distributing information about its activities, establishing its own publications and other mass media, organising meetings, processions and pickets, and carrying out other public activities.

What human rights violation may there be?

If you are prohibited from joining or establishing an NGO, your right to freedom of assembly and association may be violated. In addition, depending on the circumstances, this may also constitute a violation of the prohibition of discrimination.


Last updated 08/04/2023