What you need to consider
Setting up a new group or organisation will involve a variety of work and there are a number of things you will need to consider. The more aware of what you need to do the easier the task will be. Forethought and good planning at this stage can save a lot of wasted effort or work later. There are a lot of people with the expertise you need who can advise you and agencies that can help you. It has all been done before so you should be able to build on other peoples experience and resources.
How you organise yourselves is up to you but there is recognised good practice and those your organisation needs to work with (like your bank manager, funders, members and the Inland Revenue) may have requirements that you have to work within.
You may already have got a lot of work done in setting yourselves up. However it is good to check that there are not things you are missing or a better way of going about what you are setting out to do. Have a look at the list of questions below if only to reassure yourself that you have got it all set up right.
What exactly will the group, that you are setting up, do. Is it just for those involved, its members, like 'a photography club'? Is there a service you are offering to the community at large, like 'counselling for the bereaved'? What do you aim to accomplish? How will you know if you are being successful?
Where are you going to be based? What area will your organisation cover – geographical or other (e.g. collectors of orchids, those with Sickle Cell Anaemia)? You could start locally and gradually expand rather than take too much on from the start.?
Who are your potential customers or members? Do they want what you are offering? Is there a proven need for what you intend to provide. You may be the only ones interested in 'parascending' in your area.?
Are there organisations that already offer what you intend to provide? Duplicating a service can be expensive, a waste of resources and create ill feeling with those you compete with. Funders will not want to be a part of that. Joining an existing organisation and working with them saves a lot of hard work setting yourselves up and getting everything off the ground.?
If there are groups already doing something similar you might work together to develop something new or set up a group for them in your area if they do not already reach there. You might share resources, premises and expertise.?
You may already have a core group of people who want to come together to form this organisation. If you all have the time, energy and commitment to do everything yourselves you can get going. If you need a lot more volunteers or other expertise you will have to be sure you can get this help. There are dangers of just getting together a team of planners who are not able to do the work themselves, or equally a group of capable volunteers with no one who has leadership or management skills.
Community pages in local newspapers, local radio, notice boards in community buildings, libraries, schools, colleges, and health centres are all good places to let people know what you are doing and to ask for people to join in.
If everyone does what they want to do it is unlikely that the whole job of setting up your organisation will get done. You need to be clear about all the jobs you will need to do and who is going to take on what. It is important to know when people are going to get these jobs done by and what help or support they will need to complete these tasks. A Plan of Action will tell your members, supporters, and other interested people, what you are doing, why, and how you will go about it. You will need a plan if you apply for a grant.
Your plan should explain:
What your group intends to do – Objectives
How it intends to do it – Methods
The resources it has available (e.g. people's time and support; any special skills; money; equipment; use of premises etc.)
Any further resources it needs, and how it hopes to find them (e.g. by finding volunteers or raising money)
How soon it hopes to do things – Timetable.
Drawing up a plan will help you to decide on priorities. For example, it might show that you have the resources to start one youth club, but not both; or that you need more money before you recruit more volunteers. The plan will also mean that you can measure your achievements because you will be able to compare what you planned with what the organisation has actually done.
Everyone will have different ideas about what your organisation is doing and how to go about it. If you do not have a set of rules you might be surprised to find you are all pulling in different directions and trying to achieve different things. Getting a constitution gets everyone clear about what you intend to do. Lots of constitutions have been written before and to get one off the shelf rather than invent it all yourself works for most groups. It ensures that important bits are not left out and it is an opportunity for everything you need to think about to get discussed.
A constitution usually defines the governing body of an organisation as a Committee. You will at least need someone to Chair the meetings, someone to write down what happens at meetings a Secretary and someone who looks after the money, a Treasurer. You can add other Committee Members with or without specific roles and duties.
All those involved in an organisation are usually members. Since it is run for them it is they who usually ultimately say how it is all organised. At the first General Meeting you should adopt your constitution and elect the Committee Members and Officers. You will normally have at least one General Meeting (Annual General Meeting) a year to complete business, authorise what the committee does and elect members and officers for the Committee for the forthcoming year.
You will need to have a way of handling your groups money. For this reason it is useful to open a bank account. The account should be opened in the name of the group and should have 2 signatories for all cheques. It is often a good idea for groups to have 3 or 4 signatories on an account of whom any 2 can sign cheques to cover when committee members are on holiday or unable to sign cheques for the group.
There is more information available in the sub menus of this page also at www.members.community-matters.org.uk.
Your aims are the changes your are trying to achieve in the group or groups you work with. e.g. To improve the health and well-being of women in Anytown. Your Aims are often also described as your "Vision".
Your objectives are the activities you carry out to achieve your aims, the way you intend to achieve these changes. e.g. Provide a health advice line for women in Anytown; circulate information on health issues; campaign for women-only sessions at the local gym and swimming pool.
In your constitution they are often called Objects. You need to be sure you are working within your constitutional aims, otherwise you are breaking the law.
- Make sure your whole group is clear about what your aims and objectives are
- Clarify and prioritise your objectives
- Be clear about the resources you need to achieve them
- Identify which funding sources will support your aims and objectives. Some might:
- undermine your original aims
- gain you adverse publicity
- compromise your independence eg campaigning or new service development
- take time or funding away from other important activities
Do we need to be a Charity?
It is not necessary for your community group or voluntary organisation to register as a charity. You may not be eligible if you are not doing good works for those outside your membership or you are involved in political or controversial activity.
If your organisation is eligible, is based in England or Wales and has an income over £5,000 a year, you are obliged in law to register with the Charity Commission.
Some charities are excepted from registering. For full guidance on applying for Charitable Status visit the website.
Registered Charities do not have to pay some taxes.
Some Funders only give to Registered Charities.
Some people who might want to give you money will be reassured that you are a ‘bona fide’ organisation if you are a Registered Charity.
It can be a long, time consuming process to become a Registered Charity. It will involve extra work and rigour to maintain this status and you will need to submit annual accounts that meet the Charity Commission’s standards of auditing.
Some funders will make payments to non charities through a Registered Charity that is willing to oversee monies and meet the accounting needs of a small group that may not be equipped to deal with this themselves.
You can get help with this from your Local Support and Development Organisation (SDO) (ie Community Action Voluntary Action, Council for Voluntary Service). Community Matters (Yorkshire) might be able to help with this contact.
Further help can be gained from the Charity Commission at: In Scotland refer to Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) at www.oscr.org.uk.