The concept and practice of koha derives from Te Ao Māori and is separate from the question of charges.

Koha is best understood in the context of a relationship between two people or between groups or organisations. When koha is given it is intended to reflect the nature and aspirations for the relationship looking forward as well as signal something about the relationship and its value currently.

The giving of koha implies a communication of respect for the relationship and as with any relationship, reciprocity is implied. Therefore there are elements of mutual obligation implied in the practice of koha. Sometimes these are expressed across the generations.

The choice of koha is the responsibility of the giver and the freedom to decide what that is to be rests appropriately with the giver.

Koha sometimes is described as a gift. This is to distinguish it from a fee or other payment for services. When the concept of koha as gift is understood in the context of a reciprocal relationship, its description as a gift makes sense. When the concept of a gift is used in a context where a relationship is not implied, it becomes less useful as a way to describe koha.