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Don't feel confused by the terminology. There are a few types of governing document, such as:
However, all voluntary organisation begin with a Constitution. You don't need to worry about the other two until it's time to incorporate or register.
Avoid wasting time reinventing the wheel. A Constitution is a fairly standard document. It is quicker to use the usual format than to try to write one from scratch.
The Charity Commission have a detailed guidance notes on applying to register.
However, Voluntary Action Leicestershire have managed to condense this into a four page template with step-by-step notes. You can download their east-to-follow Constitution Template here.
The most important part of this document comes at the beginning. This is where you outline your charitable object: why does your organisation exist?
A good format to use would be:
Keep it short and to the point.
Educate Littlehampton was founded in 2012 after a 20% rise in gang-related incidents was recorded. The organisation exists to address the needs of vulnerable young people between the ages of eight to fourteen within the Borough of Littlehampton, specifically working with young people at risk of social exclusion and gang involvement.
Educate Littlehampton seeks to do this by:
The ultimate aim of the organisation is to reduce the number of young people in the region becoming involved in gang culture, and to encourage strong community role models for socially vulnerable young people.
It's worth combing through the points on membership and voting to make sure that they fit with the size and scope of your organisation.
If you are not sure, it's best to contact your local Voluntary Action Council. You should be able to pop along and discuss it with them. To find yours, try a Google search of 'your borough or county' + 'Voluntary Action Council'.
It may seem a bit strange needing two-thirds of your members to pass a vote when there are only three trustees in your organisation. Try to think about this longer-term. Eventually you may take on more trustees. You may open a 'Friends of...' scheme, allowing your subscribers voting rights at your AGM.
You can change your Constitution in the future by voting to change it, but it's worth having a think about the future now:
These issues usually become more important the larger your organisation becomes.
Finally, it's worth considering what you will do should your organisation fold.
Not a nice thing to think about when you're setting up, but it is required within a Constitution.
The decision is made easier by charity law. When a charitable organisation disbands, you should seek to pass any equipment or assets on to another charitable organisation working in a similar field.
Once you are happy with your Constitution, it should be signed and dated by your three key Trustees:
Keep a copy of the document available in case members wish to refer to it.
For further assistance, try:
10 Steps to Writing a Constitution - GRANTnet (PDF)
Writing a Constitution (+ Checklist) - Bolton CVS
Constitution Template - Voluntary Action Leicestershire
Model Governing Documents - Charity Commission
Writing a Constitution (+ Samples) - Thame Town Council
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