Societies are governed by the Societies Registration Act 1860, which is an all-India Act. Many states, however, have variants on the Act.
Societies are similar in character to trusts, although there a few essential differences. While only two individuals are required to form a trust, a minimum of seven individuals are required to form a society. The applicants must register the society with the state Registrar of Societies having jurisdiction in order to be eligible to apply for tax-exempt status. A registration application includes the society's memorandum of association and rules and regulations. In general, Indian citizens serve as members of the managing committee or governing council of societies, although there is no prohibition in the Societies Registration Act against non-natural legal persons or foreigners serving in this capacity.
According to section 20 of the Act, the types of societies that may be registered under the Act include, but are not limited to, the following:
Societies established for the promotion of science, literature, or the fine arts,
For education; and
Public art museums and galleries, and certain other types of museums.
The governance of societies also differs from that of trusts; societies are usually managed by a governing council or managing committee, whereas trusts are governed by their trustees.
Individuals or institutions or both may be members of a society. The general body of members delegates the management of day-to-day affairs to the managing committee, which is usually elected by the membership. Members of the general body of the society have voting rights and can demand the submission of accounts and the annual report of the society for inspection. Members of the managing committee may hold office for such period of time as may be specified under the bylaws of the society.
Societies, unlike trusts, must file annually, with the Register of Societies, a list of the names, addresses and occupations of their managing committee members. Furthermore, in a society, all property is held in the name of the society, whereas all of the property of a trust legally vests in the trustees.
Unlike trusts, societies may be dissolved. Dissolution must be approved by at least three-fifths of the society's members. Upon dissolution, and after settlement of all debts and liabilities, the funds and property of the society may not be distributed among the members of the society. Rather, the remaining funds and property must be given or transferred to some other society, preferably one with similar objects as the dissolved entity.