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Voluntary Sector Support Guidance

Set up a community group

Deciding to set up a new community group can be an exciting prospect.

There are a number of reasons you might look to develop a new idea. Perhaps you’ve had personal experience of something and you want to use this to help others. Maybe there is a local project that you want to support for example fundraising for new play equipment or helping local people in need. Whatever your reasons, there are things to bear in mind as you start your exciting journey.

Do your research

Before you start it’s advisable to do your research. It’s important to check if there are any organisations with similar ideas to your own.

If there are, you could support their work rather than starting up on your own. Working with others and channelling your combined efforts can often achieve far more. If there is a national organisation with similar aims, you could set up a local fundraising branch. Local fundraising initiatives work well for national charities; read more on the Motor Neurone Disease Association website. Whatever your idea, it’s always worth doing your research and speaking with others about your ideas.

Formal and informal groups

If you do decide to take the next step and start something new, you need to think about how formal or informal your group will be.

There are a vast number of community projects from informal meet-ups to more formal groups with a governing document (or constitution) and trustee board. Depending on what you hope to achieve, you need to decide on the appropriate way to start out. Small gatherings of people in a public place are often described as informal meet-ups, for example a small reading group meeting up in the local library or pub.

Sometimes though, a more formal structure and set-up can be more appropriate. This is especially the case when you’re looking to fundraise or organise campaigns. It’s important when you’re asking the public to support your cause that it is clear and transparent who is running the organisation and what happens to the organisation’s resources including any donations. Being a more formal group can be a much more powerful way of getting your message across. People and agencies are perhaps more likely to pay attention and offer support and resources for your cause if you’re more formalised.

Steering group work

To develop your ideas it’s a good idea to gather a small group of people together to help get things started. These people are sometimes known as a steering group. These people will consider the project together and give the organisation the best start. There are several things the steering group will need to consider:

  • Choosing the right structure
  • Drafting the constitution
  • Naming the organisation, purpose and public benefit

Choosing the right structure

If you’ve decided to formalise your group, you’ll need to write a governing document or constitution. In order to do this, you need to think about the structure of your organisation. There are two main forms or “legal personalities” that your organisation can take:

  • Unincorporated Association – where you are not recognised as an entity in law but you do have a constitution.
  • Incorporated Organisation – is a not-for-profit company with limited liability which is recognised in law. Such a status has a memorandum (terms of an agreement) and articles (a particular section in a series of written documents) and requires registration with Companies House.

The following Charity Commission table sets out the common legal forms or structures and key things to consider such as liability and trustee responsibilities.

Legal form or structureIncorporated Title to land held by Contracts/employment in the name of Liability to third parties limited Additional duties on trustees
Trust No Trustees for the charity Trustees personally (for the charity) No No
Association No Trustees for the charity Trustees personally (for the charity) No No
Company Yes The charity The charity Yes Company law
Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) Yes The charity The charity Yes Charities Act and CIO regulations
Corporation created by Act of Parliament Yes The charity The charity Yes unless excluded by the Act No
Royal charter body Yes The charity The charity Incorporation gives some protection No
Community Benefit Society Yes The charity The charity Yes Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act

It’s important to remember that even if you start small as an unincorporated association using a small group constitution; the organisation may grow and be required to change. By law if the organisation has an income of over £5,000 per year or your structure is as a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) you must register with the Charity Commission.

To help you decide on the right structure, you could use the Bates Wells Braithwaite decision tool.

Drafting the Constitution

All groups and charities need a document that sets out the aims and objectives of the organisation. It must also set out the rules by which your organisation is run. This is normally referred to as its constitution or governing document. A constitution usually covers the following areas:

  • Name of organisation
  • Aims / purpose
  • Members
  • Equal Opportunities
  • Committee and officers
  • AGM and other meetings
  • Finances
  • Changes to the constitution
  • Dissolution

A template constitution suitable for small groups that don’t intend to have an income of over £5,000 and do not intend to incorporate is available to download on the portal.

Naming the organisation, purpose and public benefit

Defining your new group, setting its purpose and what you want to achieve is very important. It will help you work out how to set up and how you will operate going forward. Having a clear purpose will help the public and funders understand what you’re trying to achieve. This will all be set out in the organisation’s governing document so it’s important to get it right.

Your organisation’s “purpose” is what it is set up to achieve. For an organisation to be charitable, all of its purposes must be for the public benefit. The Charities Act 2011 defines charitable purposes as those that fall within 13 descriptions:

  • The prevention or relief of poverty
  • The advancement of education
  • The advancement of religion
  • The advancement of health or the saving of lives
  • The advancement of citizenship or community development
  • The advancement of the arts, culture, heritage or science
  • The advancement of amateur sport
  • The advancement of human rights, conflict resolution or reconciliation or the promotion of religious or racial harmony or equality and diversity
  • The advancement of environmental protection or improvement
  • The relief of those in need, by reason of youth, age, ill-health, disability, financial hardship or other disadvantage
  • The advancement of animal welfare
  • The promotion of the efficiency of the armed forces of the Crown, or of the efficiency of the police, fire and rescue services or ambulance services
  • Any other charitable purposes

Your first meeting

Once the steering group have chosen a structure and drafted the governing document they need to hold an inaugural meeting.

The inaugural meeting is the official launch of the organisation and the steering group may choose to make an “occasion” of this, or keep it relatively small. Things to consider for the inaugural meeting are:

  • Choose a convenient date and time
  • Make sure that a suitable venue is booked in plenty of time
  • Set and agenda
  • Do you want a special guest or speaker to help launch the organisation?
  • Advertise the inaugural meeting, if applicable
  • Decide who will minute the meeting

A basic agenda for the inaugural meeting could include the following:

  • Welcome, introductions and apologies
  • Purpose of the organisation
  • Adoption of the constitution or governing document
  • Election of the trustee board
  • Any other business or discussion points
  • Date of the first trustee meeting

Electing trustees

Very often the people who have been establishing the organisation as the steering group are those best placed to become the organisation’s first trustees.

Trustees are usually elected (voted in) at the inaugural meeting of the organisation. There should be a minimum of three trustees, usually the Chair, Secretary and Treasurer. The governing document or constitution will set out the maximum number of trustees.

Open a bank account

When applying for a bank account make sure that it is specifically for community groups or charities (normally referred to as a clubs and societies account).

It is important to check that the account you are offered is not for businesses, as some banks make monthly charges simply for having an account open. You are looking for ‘free banking’ for your organisation, most high street banks offer such accounts.

You will normally be asked for proof that your group is a voluntary, non-profit organisation. Proof could be a copy of your organisation’s constitution, charity registration, trust deed or memorandum and articles of association.

Make sure that you have at least two signatories for the account. Account signatories will be trustees of the organisation, they should be unrelated to each other and have a good credit rating.

Policies and procedures

Once set up, depending on your organisation and the activities it undertakes there will be lots you need to consider.

A good place to start is thinking through what policies and procedures will support your work. Suggested core policies and procedures include:

  • Safeguarding policy
  • Volunteer recruitment
  • Health and Safety Policy
  • Data Protection and GDPR
  • Equality and diversity policy
  • Risk Management

Volunteer recruitment

Once the organisation has been launched at the inaugural meeting and you have the appropriate policies in place to undertake your work safely, you can start to deliver the all-important work of delivering your organisation’s purposes.

You might need to recruit volunteers to support the organisation, if so the Voluntary Sector Support Team can help with this.

If you need any help or impartial support please email us at community.development@horsham.gov.uk.