In Germany 'charity', or Gemeinnützigkeit, only has relevance as a legal term in tax law. Under the heading of 'tax-privileged purposes' (steuerbegünstigte Zwecke) the General Fiscal Code (Abgabenordnung or AO) clarifies the concept of charity (Gemeinnützigkeit). In contrast, there are no special rules for the variety of charitable (i.e. tax-exempt) legal forms in the law of foundations, associations, and companies.
In the charitable sector we find mainly three forms of activities, which are carried out by an independent legal person. These predominant forms are the registered association (Verein), the foundation (Stiftung), and the limited liability company (GmbH). In order to qualify for tax-exemption, both the articles and the de facto activities of the organisation must meet the requirements stipulated in relevant tax provisions.