Starting a charity can be a noble undertaking, allowing you to contribute positively to the causes you care about most. In the UK, setting up a charity requires you to navigate several procedures and adhere to certain guidelines, regulations, and responsibilities. This article aims to guide you through the entire process, from conceptualisation to registration and beyond.
1. Identifying Your Cause
Before anything else, you must first have a clear vision for your charity. What is the purpose? What issue or cause do you aim to address? This might stem from a personal experience, an observed need in your community, or a wider global issue you feel passionate about.
2. The Governing Document
Once you have identified your cause, the next step is creating a governing document. This document outlines your charity’s purposes, who runs it (trustees), and how it is run. It should also include details about what happens if the charity needs to close down. Different types of charities (trust, association, charitable incorporated organisation) require different types of governing documents, so ensure you have selected the most appropriate structure for your charity.
3. The ‘Charitable Purposes’
UK law dictates that all charities must have ‘charitable purposes’. These are defined as purposes that benefit the public in some way. Some examples include the prevention or relief of poverty, the advancement of education, the advancement of religion, and other purposes beneficial to the community. Your charity’s objectives must fall within one of the categories outlined by the Charities Act 2011.
4. Selecting Trustees
Every charity must have trustees who are responsible for managing and administering the charity. There are rules about who can be a trustee, and trustees have legal responsibilities, including acting in the charity’s best interests, managing the charity’s resources responsibly, and acting with reasonable care and skill.
5. Naming Your Charity
You’ll need to choose a name for your charity that’s not misleading, offensive, or too similar to the name of an existing charity. The Charity Commission, the regulator for charities in England and Wales, provides guidance on choosing a name.
Consider how your charity will be funded. This may include donations, grants, service charges or a combination. Having a robust fundraising strategy is essential to ensure your charity has a sustainable future.
If your charity’s income is over £5,000 a year or it’s a charitable incorporated organisation (CIO), you must register it with the Charity Commission. As part of the application process, you’ll need to provide details about your charity’s purposes, governance, and finances. If your charity’s income is under £5,000, it won’t be eligible for registration, but you can still apply to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) for recognition for tax purposes.
8. Post Registration
Once registered, there are several things you must do to ensure your charity remains compliant. These include keeping your charity’s details up to date, reporting annually to the Charity Commission, and safeguarding your charity’s reputation by maintaining public trust and confidence.
9. Complying with the Law
As a charity, you must ensure that you comply with all relevant laws and regulations. This includes everything from data protection laws to employment legislation, fundraising regulations, and financial reporting requirements.
Furthermore, if your charity works with vulnerable groups (such as children or adults at risk), you will need to ensure that you have appropriate safeguarding policies and procedures in place.
10. Managing Finances
Running a charity means managing finances responsibly. Trustees must keep accurate financial records and ensure that the charity’s money is used in a way that furthers its purposes. It’s important to set up strong financial controls to avoid mismanagement or misuse of funds. A charity must also have a reserves policy, outlining why funds are held back, which should be reviewed regularly.
11. Making Decisions as Trustees
Trustees make strategic decisions for the charity. They should meet regularly to discuss the charity’s work, agree on the approach, and review performance. All decisions should be made collectively and in the best interest of the charity, not personal gain. It’s crucial to keep records of these meetings (minutes) as a proof of decision-making processes.
12. Communicating with Supporters and the Public
Building a supportive community and maintaining transparency are pivotal. Develop a strategy for how you’ll communicate your charity’s work to supporters and the wider public. This could involve a range of techniques, including newsletters, social media, events, and press coverage.
13. Evaluation and Impact Reporting
It’s crucial to evaluate your charity’s work regularly. This helps you understand what’s working, what’s not, and how you can improve. Measuring and demonstrating your impact is also key for maintaining support from funders, beneficiaries, and the wider public.
14. Adapting and Growing
As your charity grows, you’ll need to review and adapt your strategy. Your charity’s needs might change over time, as might the context in which you’re operating. Being able to adapt and evolve is key to sustaining your charity in the long term.
Starting a charity in the UK involves more than just a passion for a cause. It’s about good governance, legal compliance, financial management, communication, and most importantly, making a positive difference. It can be a challenging process, but the potential to create lasting impact makes it a rewarding journey. Remember, the Charity Commission and various charity support organisations can provide advice and resources to help you along the way. Your charity’s success lies in your hands and your dedication to the cause. Good luck!