We say it elsewhere: all organisations are different, and the voluntary and community sector is very diverse. We can’t say do this, that and the other and you will be sorted. Hopefully the following will raise the pertinent issues, and point you to the appropriate next steps. Also find out if you have a local CVS (Council of Voluntary Service/Voluntary and Community Action group) or similar – see Local Contacts page.
- Are you clear about what the proposed organisation is going to do?
- Have you checked whether there is somebody already doing this? Are they doing it so differently to how you would want? Would it be better to get involved to a) see if there are good reasons behind this or b) try to persuade them to change their ways?
- Or is there an organisation which could perhaps develop or add to its work? Setting up and running any organisation takes time and effort that might be better put into the frontline activity.
- There are many ways of constituting an organisation (establishing a body with formal rules). See our Registration page on charities and limited companies. Consider the various questions posed.
- Think ahead. It is quite technically and legally complex to change status later on. In the early stages it may make sense to stay as informal as possible, but if things start taking off look into registration issues sooner rather than later, to redue the problems.
- Take legal advice if you can. This may be available via your local Council of Voluntary Service (CVS), an appropriate umbrella/support body or a law centre. If you can afford to pay, you can try a charity law specialist (see the Legal Services page). However, we have been closely involved with a charity which was was previously very badly advised on constitutional matters by such – they may overcomplicate things.
- You may technically be required to register as a charity, e.g. if your activities are of a charitable nature and your annual turnover is above £1000 (England & Wales only – figure, correct 2004, needs updating). However, many don’t and there aren’t significant penalties at present. Funders may also require charity registration.
- How soon are you likely to hit the need for an annual audit of the accounts? (Check Charity Commission site re charities.)
- When might you start employing staff, or will the organisation always be volunteer run? When might it end up paying rent on or owning premises? Both of these indicate a need to get limited liability.
- Take a look at other Management, Admin and Finance pages on VolResource to get a flavour of what issues might need to be thought through in the early stages, and what to come back to later. We have tried to give practical advice relevant to the smaller organisation, and indicate what only concerns larger ones, but there is still a lot here. The start-up period can get bogged down – try to strike a balance so that initial enthusiasm for your cause doesn’t evaporate. A pragmatic, staged, approach is probably best.
- What expertise do you amongst those already involved, and what do you need to ‘buy in’ somehow? For example, accountancy, management, admin, the particular activity you are undertaking. There may be legal requirements here, depending on your type of activity and type of constitution chosen.
- What resources are you going to need? Money, premises, equipment, materials.
- What ways can you get your new organisation noticed where it matters, whether to gain recognition and resources or to influence?
- For yourselves, but also bounce ideas off others who aren’t so involved. They may see things that you are too close or absorbed to spot. Considered criticism, even when it seems unconstructive, can help separate potential reality from fantasy but can be hard to come by.
- Don’t get confused by the jargon used, especially as different parts of the sector can have different spins on the same word. See our Glossary.
At some point, you just need to get on with it!