Community groups come in all shapes and sizes and can operate for a wide variety of purposes, such as: setting up a group to produce a community newspaper; a mother and toddler group; sports for children; creative writing; or the creation of a community business.
Very often a community group can be operating for a number of years very informally without a constitution. However, there may come a point at which the group needs to formalise itself.
Formalising a group can show others that your group is serious in its ambitions, helps with fundraising and provides a structure that helps to plan for the future. The Charity Commission has lots of information on its pages that you may find useful. Find them at The Charity Commission - GOV.UK.
Step 1: Start with an idea
Community groups often start as the vision of an individual person or a small group of people who identify a need and have an idea of how that need might be addressed. For example: 'Our young people would benefit from a youth club', or 'There are elderly people who need support in our community'.
Answering a few questions at this stage will help to further shape the idea, and better define what you might be able to do. Try these questions to start with: What do we want to do? Where do we want to do it? Who do we want to do it with? Is anyone already doing what we want to do? Could we work in partnership with another organisation? Do we have the time, energy and commitment to do the work ourselves?
Step 2: Check out whether anyone is already doing this
Once you have put some consideration into how your group might work, you need to research and find out if there are any existing groups that do similar kinds of work in your given area. If there are already groups doing the same work, you could get involved with their work.
Step 3: Select a legal structure to suit your group
All formalised community groups need to adopt a legal structure, and there are a number of structures to choose from depending on the plans you have for your group. Below are four examples of the types of structure which your organisation may want to consider, along with a sentence which explains each one:
Unincorporated association - Quick and cheap to set up and are ideal for small groups with a small membership, short term goals and low incomes Charitable Trust - Trusts are generally set up to manage money or property for a clearly defined purpose. Trusts are essentially non-democratic organisations as there is generally no membership structure. Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) - The CIO is a new legal form which can provide some of the benefits of being a company but without some of the burdens. There are two different types of CIO: Foundation CIOs - This model is ideal if the CIO is to be run by a small group of individuals (the charity trustees) who will be responsible for making the key decisions Association CIOs - which has a wider membership than the Foundation CIO, including members who are not trustees. Charitable Company - A Charitable Company is Limited Company with charitable aims. It is a membership organisation (a list of members is part of the Company Register) and accountable to the community.
The first of these can be very quick and cheap to set up. The Charity Commission the registration process takes 6 - 8 weeks, and establishing a Charitable Company can be much more time-consuming and expensive.
Committee responsibilities include:
Sets the aims and objectives and plans for the future Holds regular meetings where members can express their ideas and opinions Ensures the best interests of the people being supported are always at the forefront of any decision made Has enough resources, including volunteers and funding, to carry out all the work Is well managed and organised.
The committee should meet at least as often as is stated in the constitution. This would normally be often enough so that the committee knows exactly what is going on within the organisation, but not so often that nothing happens except meetings! If your constitution states that your organisation has a membership (this is usual for voluntary organisations), then your committee members usually come from amongst the membership. Your constitution should state how committee members are voted onto the committee and for how long they serve.
Groups normally have three key roles:
The Chairperson - who leads meetings and is the public face of the group The Secretary - who organises and takes minutes of meetings The Treasurer - who keeps and reports to the committee on the accounts.
Usually the minimum number of committee members required is three and maximum is twelve but there are no hard and fast rules. Some model constitution templates may stipulate numbers of committee members so look carefully to ensure it meets your groups needs before you adopt it.
Opening a bank account
In order to receive funding for your group you will need to open a bank account. Having a bank account is the best and safest way to look after the group’s money. The account should be opened in the name of the group and you will need at least two members of the group to act as signatories. Therefore, it might be a good idea to have more than two people who can sign cheques so that there is always someone available. Most banks and building societies offer special accounts for small voluntary and community organisations. They also usually offer free banking as long as your account is in credit.