Disclaimer: The information provided in this section is intended for guidance only. It is not a substitute for professional advice and we cannot accept any responsibility for loss occasioned as a result of any person acting or refraining from acting upon it.
Each of our groups varies widely in structure. It is not necessary to have a committee or even a steering group, though groups do tend to naturally have a smaller, dedicated group of people at their core.
When setting up a new group, chances are you’ll be an unincorporated association – a group of 2 of more people coming together for a particular purpose who haven’t set up an incorporated structure.
An unincorporated association can be unconstituted, although some kind of ‘terms of reference’ document may be useful.
It could also be constituted. You can use a model constitution or write your own.
If you are going to apply for funds for activities, you need to think about where this money will sit. Many groups use the structure of one or more existing charities. Others will set up their own bank account (this requires your group to be constituted and have named signatories on the account).
Registering as a charity
If you have funds in the name of your group over £5000, you are legally required to register as a charity and can follow one of two routes:
- Register an unincorporated association as a charity
- Set up a CIO (Charitable Incorporated Organisation) or Charitable Company
The main difference between these is that in an unincorporated association, the trustees are personally liable. In a CIO or Charitable Company, the organisation is liable, not the trustees (CIO is a new structure set up to include the benefits of incorporation without having to report to Companies House as well as the Charities Commission, which you would need to do as a Charitable Company).
If you are registering with the Charity Commission you will need to identify a Chair, Secretary and Treasurer and submit your constitution. If you are not using a Charity Commission model constitution as your template, you will be asked to explain where your constitution is different from the template.
Community Interest Company
Another possible structure, if you will be trading as a company but putting your profits into the community, is a Community Interest Company.
Charities are allowed to get involved with campaigning but there are rules relating to this. The Charity Commission for England and Wales outlines this in this document.
Once you have chosen a structure and decided to become constituted, you need to decide what your process is for membership:
- Whether you will have members (you can run a group without members but it can be useful to have input from outside your trustee / steering group)
- Who can sign up as a member and what are the criteria for individual / group members and voting / non-voting members?
- How can someone sign up as a member?
- How will you keep a register of members?
Members are different from supporters although some people will be both.
Supporters follow your group, may receive your newsletter (if you have one), come to events etc but have no legal role.
Members are registered on a list kept by your group (which is protected by Data Protection rules). Voting members are able to vote at your AGM or any EGM (Emergency General Meeting) on things like trustee elections, any vote on change of structure etc.
Setting up your group
Working out a governance structure from NCVO
Finding a legal structure to suit your group from Resource Centre
The Charity Governance Code will help you think about things like purpose, leadership and decision-making
Thinking about becoming a charity
Pros and cons of becoming a charity from NCVO
Registering as a charity
The Charity Commission’s guide to setting up a charity – The Charity Commission is the government body that regulates all of the charities in England and Wales.
For the Republic of Ireland the regulatory body is The Charities Regulatory Authority. You can find the guide for registering with the Charities Regulatory Authority here. As this body was only established in 2014 it is quite new, and so you are able to submit queries to them.
In Northern Ireland the regulatory body is The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland.
In Scotland, it is the Scottish Charity Regulator
Membership information from SCVO