Setting up a charity
We are unable to provide assistance for individuals or groups thinking of setting up a charity, but we hope this page will help you better understand the criteria you will need to meet in order to become a registered charity and whether it is the best course of action for you to take.
What is a charity?
A charity is a particular type of voluntary organisation, and must conform to a number of regulations set out in charity law.
Depending on what you wish to achieve, setting up a charity may not be the best approach. The Charity Commission (the independent regulator for charitable activity in the UK) has useful information about things to think about before setting up a charity, including an introduction to basic operating requirements and some example situations when an alternative approach might be more appropriate.
Why become a registered charity?
- income generation some grant-makers only fund registered charities and likewise, individuals may be more willing to donate (either time or money) to registered charities
- tax breaks charities qualify for a number of tax exemptions and reliefs on income and gains, and can take advantage of Gift Aid (a means of reclaiming tax on donations)
- discounts many organisations offer free or discounted help to charities
However, if your income does not exceed £5,000, you can still enjoy these benefits without having to meet the regulatory requirements of registered charities.
Do I qualify to register?
You will need to meet two criteria in order to be able to register as a charity:
- the aims of your organisation must be exclusively charitable (for a full list of charitable purposes, please visit the Charity Commission website)
- your organisation must be set up for public benefit (rather than for an individual or select group of people)
There is more information about the qualification and application processes on the Charity Commission website. It's also worth exploring whether there are existing charities with the same (or similar) purpose as your own - with limited funding available, sharing resources and working together could make it easier for you both to achieve your objectives in the long-term. The Charity Commission have an online database of registered charities that includes facts and figures about the work and finances of each charity.
What other options are there?
If you don't meet the legal requirements for setting up a charity, or decide that it isn't the right approach to achieve your objectives, there are alternative options. For example, you could set up a social enterprise (using your profits to benefit others instead of the organisation) or a charitable trust.
Our free reference and decision-making tool GetLegal.org.uk is designed to help you understand what legal and governance structure is most appropriate for you, whether you wish to establish a charity, social enterprise or co-operative organisation.
Where can I find more information?
- Charity Commission
Anybody seeking to register a charity must first apply to the Charity Commission – make their site your first point of call to learn more about the legal requirements of setting up a charity.
Our free reference and decision-making tool is designed to help you understand what legal and governance structure is most appropriate for you, whether you wish to establish a charity, social enterprise or co-operative organisation.
- KnowHow Not for Profit
Questions to ask and stages to go through when setting up a charity - guides that you can edit and share your experiences abd insight.
- Setting up a social enterprise
A paid for training video helping you to clarify your social purpose and types of products and services you will offer.
- Umbrellas Directory
Umbrella and Resource Agencies provide voluntary and community organisations with a range of advice, information, and capacity-building services. Find out whether there's an umbrella body specialising in your proposed area of work.
- National Association for Voluntary and Community Action (NAVCA)
NAVCA provide advice and support for thousands of charities and community groups on a local level – search their directory to find your nearest branch.
- Volunteering England
If you intend to include volunteers in your work, it might also be worth getting in touch with Volunteering England – a membership organisation committed to supporting and enabling volunteering.
- Direct Gov Setting up a charity
Web resources taking you through the start up process.
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