Starting a charity in the UK can be a challenging, if not rewarding, process.
Charities are organisations that exist to benefit the public, with a particular focus on a specific issue or group of people.
There’s a certain amount of red tape and regulation involved with setting up a charity. In this article, I’ll try and explain the main considerations.
To launch a charity in the UK, you must meet certain legal requirements. This includes registering with the Charity Commission, a government body that regulates charities in England and Wales. The Charity Commission will assess your application to ensure that your organisation meets the relevant requirements to be a charity, which includes the determining of your charity’s purpose and how it brings public benefit.
Charities require funding to operate. Finding funding sources can be challenging, particularly if you do not have an established network of supporters or donors. You may need to rely on grants, donations, or other forms of fundraising to get started.
Funding from grant-makers is usually subject to specific criteria, which can narrow the field when you come to apply for financial support. Consider other avenues of funding, such as community fundraising (raffles, cake sales, local lotteries, etc.), crowdfunding, corporate sponsorship/support and putting on ticketed events.
Charities in the UK are governed by a board of trustees, who then have legal and financial responsibility for the organisation. It is important to have a strong, committed board that is able to provide effective oversight and guidance to the charity.
It’s wise to choose trustees that, individually, bring different skills and possibly lived experience to the table. This ensures better governance; however, it’s increasingly difficult to find trustees in the current climate, as it’s an unpaid, voluntary role. As a result, you may have to compromise in some areas to secure trustees for your board.
Marketing your cause:
Charities rely on public support, so it’s important to build a positive reputation and establish trust with potential donors and beneficiaries. This can be challenging, particularly if you are working in a crowded or controversial field.
As with a business, how you market your good cause will contribute to its success. Your website, for example, has to make an impact on a range of stakeholders, i.e. beneficiaries, prospective donors, organisations you potentially may wish to collaborate with (coproduction), the Charity Commission, the local community, and service providers.
Once your charity is established, you will need to comply with a range of legal and regulatory requirements, including financial reporting and record-keeping. Failure to comply could result in penalties or even the revocation of your charity status.
Charities are often established with the goal of creating positive social impact, but measuring that impact can be challenging. It’s important to develop effective methods to do this, though, to continually demonstrate the value of your work to donors and to improve your programmes and services.
Many good causes tackle sensitive issues. Your passion to start a domestic abuse charity, for instance, will only take you so far; you will need to incorporate the services of professionals if you don’t have the qualifications to help clients yourself.
Any information gathered about your beneficiaries must meet GDPR considerations and be filed securely. Confidentiality is not just a legal requirement; failure to protect the people you support could demolish the reputation you’ve worked hard to achieve.
Do you need to start your own charity?
Before you jump through all the hoops required to launch your charity, look at other good causes in your vicinity. Would you be duplicating services? Does your local area need your support, and can you be sure this isn’t already on offer elsewhere? Would it be quicker, simpler and deliver more impact if you donated your energy and efforts to an existing charity that supports the people you plan to help? After all, this charity will already have notoriety within your local community, they will already have infrastructure in place and all their relative paperwork filed.
Charities should be all about the people they support—not the founder or the people working within the organisation.
Do one thing well:
It’s tempting to try and solve all the world’s problems when setting up a charity. You know, deep down, however, that this isn’t possible.
It’s both unrealistic and confusing to potential beneficiaries if you try and deliver twenty different services at once. Concentrate on doing one thing well and become known for it. When this element can run by itself almost, only then consider offering something else.
At the end of the day, both donors and beneficiaries need to trust you. If you make promises that you can’t keep, you’ll lose credibility and you could even have a negative impact on the lives of the people you’re trying to help.
Small charities make up almost 99% of the UK’s good causes. Size doesn’t always matter when you’re helping to improve the lives of others. If you feel you will be meeting a need that’s not already being met, that you have the time and headspace to commit to your good cause, and you believe you’ll be able to raise funds to run your organisation so that your services are free to your beneficiaries, I’d say go for it.
If you need help to create your charity or grow it, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.