There are, approximately, 169,000 registered charities in the UK at the moment—169,000 organisations that are all vying for a spotlight on their cause, as well as funding to achieve their charitable aims.
Though there are many funding pots, grants, private donors and other sources of funding available, you need to bear in mind that your charity will be competing against 168,999 equally good causes.
It takes time and effort to create a good funding bid, one that has a decent chance of being awarded the amount it’s applying for. Funding bodies are only able to fund a small percentage of the applications they receive, so it makes sense and saves time for both parties if the charity’s ducks are all in a row and the organisation in question knows exactly what it wants to achieve.
I work with many charities who are just starting out. There’s no doubt that every good cause is just that: a good cause; however, a charity needs to be much more than this. It needs to be robust and able to carry out its work. It needs to be working towards sustainability, rather than having its entire business model based on grant income. It needs to have adequate governance and the correct certification, so that funders can be confident that their money won’t be wasted or sent to the founder’s private bank account in Switzerland.
Charities can sometimes be formed on the back of a tragedy or terrible situation, where the founders want to ensure the same thing will never happen again to someone else. Red tape, endless forms, and a lot of work are elements of every successful charity, and it’s important that this is realised at the outset.
If you’re thinking of setting up a charity, or you’ve recently registered to do so, ask yourself the following questions. There are no right or wrong answers; however, understanding why you’re on this path and where you’re heading will be crucial as you progress further down the line.
Why do this?
‘Why did you launch your charity?’ is one question that will likely be asked by every funder you apply to. They’ll want to understand your motivation and your level of time and commitment. They’ll want to see the story of how you came to the idea, the reasoning behind your actions.
There are a lot of benefits to businesses if they have a charitable arm, for example. The continual withdrawal of government funding for frontline services can be the impetus for local people to launch a charity to ensure such services continue.
There may already be one or more charities addressing the area/cause/outcome you plan to cover. Therefore, would it be easier to pour your energies into one of these existing charities, rather than spend many, many hours trying to get your own, similar organisation off the ground?
Is a charity the best basis for your organisation, or would it be better as a social enterprise, community group or other type of body? It is to help address an ongoing issue, or would a sponsor be a better option if it’s for a one-off event/scenario?
Will the beneficiaries of your charity be persons unconnected to its governance? Will the organisation be unbiased, politically? Do you have a basic understanding of charity law and the official lines your organisation will be required to toe?
What are you trying to achieve?
I reiterate, there’s unlikely to be any charity amongst the many thousands that exist that don’t constitute a good, honourable and just cause. That in itself, however, is only one element of a successful charitable organisation.
Once you have an understanding of why you want to launch your the charity, you need to work out what you’re aiming to achieve.
This may sound easy, but it’s actually difficult to be realistic. When on a mission, it’s nice to think you could eradicate your charity’s particular problem across the globe, and a few more issues besides, but in real life, even very small changes can take time to implement, just on a local level. It’s great to dream big, but it’s wise to start small.
What will the end result look like? Will it be a lasting change, a legacy? How will you measure your success? How will you quantify your results and demonstrate to funders how many people will realise a positive outcome from your charity’s intervention?
Do you have the time and manpower to achieve what you’re setting out to do? In a few years’ time, when your initial energy and enthusiasm may have dipped, will the organisation become an albatross around your neck, or do you have plenty of people behind you that would be willing and able to continue steering the charity towards its goals?
This article is not, in any way, shape or form, intended to put anyone off their plans to start a charity. What I hope this information does, however, is help you frame your mindset—and the structure of the organisation—to ensure continued success. How a charity is set up at the outset can be hugely important to this.