Making purposes impactfulOriginally published: March 2017 | Last reviewed: March 2017
In the UK, charities are required to have a governing document that sets out specific charitable purposes.
Essentially, your charitable purposes explain what it is your charity has been set up to achieve. Having clear charitable purposes in your governing document helps explain the purpose of your charity to donors, trustees and beneficiaries. Legally, you must run your charity in a way that's consistent with and supports these — and only these — purposes.
Why are charitable purposes important?
Charitable purposes explain to anyone supporting, donating to or using your services what it is that you do, who you help, and how and where you work.
Charitable purposes must be for the benefit of the public and fall within one or more of a specific set of descriptions outlined in the Charities Act. The descriptions vary somewhat depending on location: England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The Charity Commission, the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator and the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland look at an organisation's charitable purposes to decide whether or not to grant charitable status. HMRC will use your charitable purposes to determine whether your organisation qualifies for tax relief.
Lastly, your charitable purposes set out the limit of what you can do — meaning your trustees must make decisions and run your charity in a way that's consistent with your purposes.
How should charitable purposes be structured?
When it comes to writing charitable purposes, answer these four questions:
- What will be the outcomes of your charity's work?
- Where will these outcomes happen?
- How will you achieve these outcomes?
- Who will benefit from these outcomes?
Think of your charitable purposes as the who, what, where and when of what you do. Be clear and succinct, avoiding jargon and complicated words. Anyone should be able to read your charitable purposes and understand what it is that you wish to achieve — without needing a dictionary or other explanation. If you must use technical terms, be sure to explain what they mean.
Most importantly, clearly state your charitable purposes so that your regulator can determine whether your organisation is indeed charitable.
Include only current charitable purposes or purposes that you'll carry out in the near future. Other purposes can be added at a later date, if needed. Non-charitable purposes aren't allowed.
Where should charitable purposes be placed within the governing document?
Your charitable purposes should be written in the objects clause of your governing document. Note that for each purpose, you'll need to be clear in explaining that the purpose is for the public benefit and that the trustees will carry out the purpose for the public benefit.
The Charity Commission: How to write charitable purposes (2014)
Resource Centre: Charity registration
Office of the Scottish Regulator: Governing documents and meetings (2016)
Office of the Scottish Regulator: Glossary of terms (2016)
The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland: Model governing documents
The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland: The public benefit requirement