How to start an International Association in Brussels

How to start an International Association in Brussels

Key questions to ask yourself while setting up an international nonprofit association in Belgium

So you decided to start a nonprofit association, and you want to set it up in Brussels. Or maybe you simply want to relocate your headquarters to Brussels. Even though it might seem like a challenge at first, starting an international nonprofit association isn't that hard to do… as long ask yourself the right questions.

  1. Do I have a clearly stated mission? 
  2. Do I have a funding and membership strategy? 
  3. Do I have a leadership team? 
  4. Have I already fund a location in Brussels? 
  5. Have I chosen the right legal form for my organisation?
  6. How can I build my non-profit organisation's professional network in Brussels? 


    1.   Do I have a clearly stated mission? 

    Your new organisation must have a clear and easily understood mission statement. Start by writing a basic mission statement for your organisation. This way the purpose of the association is clear for its members, as well as for legal and administrative purposes.

    • Why? What’s the purpose?
    • What? Which services will be provided?
    • Who? Who will be helped, who will receive these services?
    • How? How will the services be carried out? Which methods shall be used?


    2.   Do I have a funding and membership strategy? 

    While funding is almost never a sure thing, you should take reasonable steps to assure that funds are not wasted, for instance due to a lack of consideration for sustainability.

    International associations in Brussels use multiple types of financial resources:

    • Membership fees
    • Call for projects/for grants (from a foundation, EU Project, international cooperation)
    • Sponsoring
    • Public subvention
    • Corporate philanthropy
    • Open call for proposals from public authorities
    • Crowdfunding
    • Revenues from their own events, sales or other activities

    Each association also needs a required number of members to ensure its representation, legitimacy and financial stability.

    Does your initial membership strategy correspond to the following criteria?

    • Representation of a sector, community, geographical region, project base or individuals.
    • Adequate members that match the objectives of the association.
    • Clearly stated terms for joining the association, as well as membership rights and obligations.


    3.   Do I have a leadership team? 

    You can appoint a person or an organisation for the day-to-day management, and employ (a) representative(s) for legal purposes and the general representation of your organisation.


    4.   Have I already fund a location in Brussels? 

    Finding the right location for your association in Belgium is a prerequisite for the association’s registration procedure.

    In order to decide on the right amount of office space, you must take into account the size of the association, staff mobility and staff attendance, and frequency of the members and interlocutors that are bound to your core activities.

    If we focus on the organisations that mainly deal with EU matters in Brussels, we can see that most of them are present in the European quarter, at the Avenue Louise and Montgomery Square. Furthermore, all these locations are very accessible, which makes them a very good choice for a prestigious central office.

    The city centre will further expand its office space with new coworking and shared office centres, and a new office development project is currently unfolding at the North quarter and Tour & Taxis.

    You can consider sharing an office with other associations, or sharing with complementary organisations. Belgium’s coworking culture has grown rapidly throughout the recent years, with Brussels serving as a hub for flexible, independent workers who want to benefit from networking with like-minded people.


    5.   Have I chosen the right legal form for my organisation?

    When you establish an association with an international character in Belgium, you can opt for one of these two primary choices:

    • Nonprofit organisations and associations (NPA) – ASBL (in French) and VZW (in Dutch)
    • International nonprofit associations (INPA) – IASBL (in French) and IVZW (in Dutch)

    For INPA

    Compulsory statements:

    • the name and address of the registered office of the association and the indication of the judicial district to which it belongs;
    • the purpose of the organisation;
    • the conditions and formalities of admission and exit of the members;
    • the powers and mode of convocation of the general meeting;
    • the conditions for the appointment of directors;
    • the destination of the patrimony of the association in case of dissolution, which must be assigned to a disinterested end;
    • the duration of the association when it is not unlimited.

    For NPA

    The compulsory statements include additionally:

    • the names, addresses and nationalities of the founders;
    • the maximum membership fee;
    • the minimum number of members.

    The status can be written in Dutch or French.

    We recommend you to consult a lawyer or notary to assist you in your choice. He or she can also guide you through the process of drafting and registering the statutes.


    6.   How can I build my non-profit organisation's professional network in Brussels? 

    Brussels is the perfect place to develop an extensive professional network.

    Here, you can connect with:

    • other nonprofit organisations that are based in Brussels, home of international associations;
    • networks or associations that work in your field (life sciences & biopharma, ICT, sustainability and clean technologies, creative industries and media, business services at centres of excellence in Brussels);
    • Europe’s policy makers. You can’t get any nearer to them than you are in Brussels. The city hosts all the major EU institutions and is home to a huge diplomatic corps, a journalist community and various lobby groups;
    • media or digital outlets, such as blogs, that focus on nonprofits, or are related to your mission;
    • associations supporting the development of international associations in Brussels: ESAE, FAIB, UIA.


    If you would like some more details about any of these questions, the Association Bureau will be pleased to provide you the required information and/or direct you to the right partners.