Choosing a type of charity structure for

I spent a few hours reading about how to set up a registered charity. It is a long and complicated process. The step-by-step guidance on the gov website makes it look like seven easy steps, but actually even getting a charity set up takes a lot of work, and maintaining the administrative side is even more work. This type of legal structure wouldn’t work for Being this type of charity wouldn’t give it the agility and flexibility it’ll need to be cause-agnostic, iterate on purpose, experiment, and develop a workable model for a charity of the 21st century that inspires a paradigm shift across the sector in decades to come.

Luckily, there are other types of legal structures charities can use that carry less governance, administration, and operating effort.

There are four main types of charity structure to choose from:

  • charitable incorporated organisation (CIO)
  • charitable company (limited by guarantee)
  • unincorporated association
  • trust

The deciding differences between these four types are ‘wider membership’ and ‘corporate body’.

A charitable incorporated organisation has a corporate body, meaning the charity exists as a legal entity that can enter into contracts with individuals and organisations, and has wider membership, meaning more people have voting rights than just the trustees. It has to be registered with and report to the Charity Commission, have a constitution, and maintain a register of members. It seems the closest to the traditional charity legal structure, offers legal protection to its trustees and would mean that a wider group of people would be involved, which I think would be really good for encouraging diversity of thought.

A charitable company (limited by guarantee) has a corporate body but doesn’t have a wider membership. It is administered in a similar way to a commercial company (it has to provide financial returns to Companies House as well as reporting to the Charity Commission) but its assets can only be used to achieve its charitable purposes and it doesn’t have shareholders to distribute profits to. If intended to sell services as the primary means of achieving its charitable purpose than perhaps this would be the best structure.

A unincorporated association has no corporate body but has a wider membership. Having no corporate body means that the organisation can’t enter into contracts and so individual trustees would have to do that and be legally responsible. Requiring a wider membership requires particular governance of the organisation, but I think there are some interesting governance models other than the usual ‘one member, one vote’ model that usually gets low engagement.

A trust has no corporate body and no wider membership. It is made of a group of people, usually selected by the founder of the trust, and usually to perform quite a specific charitable role, such as giving grants.

So, which is the right type for I feel like that needs to be a decision all of the trustees make together (so I’d better get on and recruit them).

The future of charity and the charity of the future

I redesigned the home page and have written a few short blog posts asking questions that might affect the future of charity (as a concept and type of organisation) and the charity of the future (as an organisation that embodies a different approach to all the things charities do).

Some other things I’m thinking about:

  • Filling out the manifesto in a way that makes sense to other people.
  • A Theory Of Change for as a means of communicating the purpose behind the thought experiments.
  • What a Minimum Viable Charity might involve, and whether its actually possible (how much does it cost to start a charity, how many people would you need, etc.)
  • Who I can get involved, either in discussions, writing blog posts, or forming a charity.

All of the thinking I’ve found so far about the future of charities has been about how to tackle the problems facing charities today within the current paradigm. I can’t find anything that questions the entire charity paradigm, so either there is a place for or the reason no one is thinking about it is because it’s a silly thing to think about.

Cause-agnostic Charity

A charity that doesn’t start with or centre itself around a cause? How could that be? Is it even legally possible under Charity Commission regulations?

What would it do? Anything it wanted to make the world a better place. Think Jukesie’s Squads-as-a-service, able to point a diverse range of charitable skills and expertise at any issue, from fundraising to service delivery.

Perhaps it might mean throwing away the competitive market orientated notion of charities competing for scare resources where one of the checks a new charity has to do is to make sure another charity isn’t already doing what you want to do (not whether they are actually being effective), but this wouldn’t be a problem for a cause-agnostic charity.

Then, rather than the moral question of whether a charity should being trying to make itself unnecessary, and what the implications of that might be for the people that work for that charity, the question for all cause-agnostic charities is, what’s the biggest, worst, most urgent problem facing our world, society, community, town, village.

I started, a thought experiment on what charity might look like in the future. I don’t know exactly what it’s going to be or do, but I’m ok with that purpose emerging as we go along.

I set up the website, email list, and Twitter account. One of my ideas is to pose questions about how the future of things within a charity, such as governance, fundraising and marketing.