Thinking of setting up a charity – think again (please) 

The pandemic has got a lot of people thinking – about the importance of family friendship and the inequalities in the world today. It’s also got people thinking about what they can do about it – one of the things considered could be to create a charity to support an identified need –  perhaps to combat loneliness or to support mental health; extra support for children’s education or to find a cure for long Covid.     

Whatever the cause, is creating a new charity the best way to solve the issue or problem? 

There are approximately 169,000 registered charities in England and Wales (Statista, Jan 2021) and many more unregistered organisations with charitable aims and objectives.  

There are large national charities and small local ones, charities that support medical research and others that plant trees. There are ones that provide services and others that fund services. There are charities that are registered as corporate entities and others that are family led Charitable Trusts. What they have in common are recognised charitable aims and objectives; a formal structure; trustees and/or management boards with roles and responsibilities. They have a duty to fulfil their aims and objectives and report what they do. 

So why would I suggest not setting one up? Particularly if there is a cause close to someone’s heart perhaps in the name of a family member? 

Mainly because I think we should, wherever possible, strive to make best use of the resources we have and, if you look carefully enough, there is a charity out there somewhere that is already contributing to your cause and perhaps you could consider working within an existing structure rather than adding to the ever increasing pool. You can seek out charities through the Charity Commission website or seek a cause to fund through many of the online fundraising sites set up. If you want to volunteer – visit Do-it.org.uk 

So what happens if I haven’t convinced you? How do you go about setting up a Registered Charity? 

The Charity Commission (a non-ministerial government department) is the regulator of charities in England and Wales) and applications to become a Registered Charity are conducted through them. The process is completed through their website.  

Alternatives to a Registered Charity 

You don’t have to become a registered charity – and depending on your objectives, you could consider alternative structures, very loosely termed as Organisations with a Social Purpose – including voluntary led organisation with charitable aims and objectives (Unincorporated Association); Community Interest Company (CIC); or a Co-operative to name a few potential structures.  

How do charities and other social purpose organisations function 

Charities and the alternatives should be considered similar to businesses – they have similar structures in having board members (Trustees/Directors) and administrative duties, they need a controlling document (constitution) and processes for conducting their business (through staff or volunteers). They should have a plan of operation (how they will deliver their objectives) and potentially communication methods (website, emails, social media etc.) to support their activities. They are also subject to regulation including the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), the Equality Act 2010, Health and Safety Act and other regulation depending on activities. 

Different structures have pros and cons and it’s important to think carefully and seek advice before deciding which structure fits best – your local Community Voluntary Services (CVS) network can help or look for support through the various structure bodies (Like Co-operatives UK) or contact Clarity for support to set up your organisation. 

Jacqui Wolstenholme  

Clarity CIC associate 

April 2021