All voluntary organisatons should have a governing document that clearly outlines why the organisation exists and what, in broad terms, it intends to do. The most common type of governing document that organisations start out with is a constitution. Here's how to go about writing one...
Things you'll need
- Paper and pens for brainstorming
- Input from the people involved in your organisation
- A template from the suggested link
Which type of governing document to choose
Don't feel confused by the terminology. There are a few types of governing document, such as:
- Articles of Association: When registering as a company limited by guarantee with Companies House.
- Deed of Trust: When registering as an un-incorporated charity with the Charity Commission.
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.
Get a Template
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.
Your charitable object
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:
- A brief paragraph outlining the need for your charity. Include a few facts and figures if you can.
- Bullet-point 3 to 5 ways in which your organisation will address this need. What will you do? These only need to be broad. 'Holding workshops' is enough. 'Holding a workshop every Friday between 2 and 3pm' is too much detail, save it for your project outlines. Remember, if you wish to make changes to your constitution in the future, you will need to vote to amend the document. Try to avoid including details that may change regularly. Include the things about your organisation that remain constant.
- Don't forget to include the key objects, such as the location you work in and the groups of people or age ranges you work with.
- Round it up with a brief summary of your overall purpose.
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:
- Developing and providing specialist mentoring schemes for young people and their families.
- Promoting a cross-sector approach to tackling gang crime. Involving social services, teachers, parents and carers.
- Develop a referral scheme in partnership with local authorities, charitable organisations and youth offending teams.
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.
Membership and voting
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:
- Who will your members be?
- Will there be different types of membership?
- Will all members be allowed to vote?
- If not, who will be allowed to vote?
- How many votes are needed to pass a motion? (What will your quorum be?)
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.
Making it official
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:
- Setting up a charity: model governing documents - gov.uk
- 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