Many of my friends here in the United Kingdom keep asking me: “how can we set up charities to help our communities back home in Africa?”

Good! This idea to help in relieving your communities experiencing some problems is an honorable one. Very powerful and unique.

Charitable organisations are inspiring ways of giving back to communities. They help to correct some inequalities and/or support disadvantaged groups overcome needs.

They spend their lifetime committed to providing services that benefit the public in very many ways.

In all countries of the world service-providing [different from grant-giving] charities start as community groups, non-profit organisations or voluntary associations.

They become charities only when they regularise their existence by registering with the charity regulatory body of their countries of origin and are issued with a charity registration number.

Securing a charity number goes with a lot of privileges and advantages.

Are you one of those people thinking of setting up a charitable organisation, community group, voluntary association or a charity?

Let me show you the process:

  • From the time of conceiving the idea
  • To the setting up of the charitable organisation or association
  • What you should do to make your organisation legal, and
  • Then, registering the organisation as a charity

What then is a charitable organisation or association?

Any association or group formed with charitable aims and objectives is called a charitable organisation. This type of organisation is also referred to as voluntary association, non-profit organisation or community group.

Organisations are charitable in the sense that they are formed specifically to use their resources in supporting the public to resolve their needs. They have no profit motive or plan of benefiting financially from the help and support they give.

These organisations have charitable objects like relieving poverty, promoting health, advancing education, providing advice and information, etc. Their objects are aimed at resolving identified problems or need among specific populations.

No one person can form a charitable organisation. It’s a community issue. However, it is usually one person that identifies the problem, thinks of a solution and nurtures the idea of forming a charity to help people in need.

That person will strongly believe that, his or her ideas when implemented can alleviate or resolve the problem and bring about desired change or relief to the community experiencing the disadvantage.

The individual will then discuss the problem and its solution with others around him or her with the suggestion that they form an association to help those in need!

If the people consulted also believed that the problem actually exists and feel passionate about doing something to relieve the need, then they will agree, come together and form a charitable organisation for that purpose.

The group will set itself up to use specific means, methods or activities and services to resolve or alleviate the need.

I want to illustrate the process of establishing charitable organisations with three examples.

Example 1

I live in an area called Tenably, an inner-city suburb of Mandy City. This area has lots of temporary accommodation which are occupied by refugees, asylum seekers and homeless families and people.

These families, many with children are put in the reception centres, hostels and temporary accommodations by local councils.

I’ve observed that these families live in very deplorable conditions. Their homes are cramped, overcrowded and inadequate. The young ones are exposed to risks of drug and alcohol abuse, indiscipline and peer pressure.

I see this as a social problem and would like to help. But I can’t do it alone.

These families need services, activities and support for themselves and their children to experience good quality life. Parents can’t find school places to enroll their children because they have no permanent addresses. There are no play facilities for the children. Families struggle to access mainstream and community activities including GP services.

Interestingly, there is no charitable association or organisation in the area to help these families and people overcome their disadvantage.

I hold my strong opinion that society should help. The social cost to society will be very high if nothing is done to help these families and children.

It breaks my heart! I am worried.

In a situation like this, I’ll discuss the idea of helping these families with advice, information and practical support with my friends, colleagues or family members. I’ll suggest to them that we set up a charitable organisation to help homeless families and children in Mandy City.

If my friends or family accept my idea and agree with me, then I’ll call a meeting for us to discuss the setting up an association to help homeless families. We’ll give our charitable organisation a unique name.

Example 2

You come from a rural community in Ghana, Zimbabwe or Nigeria, Africa. You and others you know from your area now live in the UK, Europe or USA. Anytime you travel back home to Africa, you can see and feel the high level of poverty engulfing your people.

Children are not in school because their parents could not afford it. School buildings are crumbling, the only health centre in town lacks basic facilities. Many families find it difficult to feed themselves.

On your rounds in town, you notice groups of young people gathered near drinking spots. They have no employable skills. No doubt, unemployment is very high in the community. Your village is gradually dying out.

This is the problem you’ve identified in your community. You thought hard about what you could do to relieve the community of hardship and poverty. “If we could engage young and older people in our community to deliberate on issues affecting them” you heard yourself talking aloud, “we can come up with ideas and solutions to reduce poverty levels in many homes”.

Again, you can’t do this alone. Back in the UK from your holidays, you could discuss your observations, problems identified and your ideal perceived solutions with friends, colleagues and people who you believe will share your concern.

And if they do, you’ll promote the idea of establishing an organisation with the charitable object of helping to relieve poverty for families in your community back home in Africa. You’ll form a charitable organisation and give it a unique name.

Example 3

I’ve observed that young boys and girls aged about 8 to 16, who live in my area idle about after school hours and at weekends. They hang around a particular spot on the pathway to the local market and indulge in activities that intimidate passersby.

This is a problem I have identified. I talked to a few of the young people who confided in me: “We don’t have any place to go to after school. We like hanging out and playing with our friends”.

One way I think I can help to reduce this negative attitude among the young people is to engage them in constructive activities after school and at weekends. I’ll think of forming a youth club with colleagues in the area to help the young people.

I’ll discuss this problem and my idea of forming an organisation to support young people with my friends and colleagues. If they agree with me and share my views, then, we’ll come together to form the charitable organisation for that purpose – to serve young people.

Again, we’ll give the organisation a unique name to show that we support young people. The organisation will not have any profit motive or wish to gain financially from activities it will be providing to its clients.

This is how charitable associations, non-profit organisations and community groups are started. From humble beginnings, they flourish and later register with a regulatory body to become charities.

After you’ve agreed and formed the charitable organisation, there are few steps you should take to formalise the group and make it legal.

It’s advisable that before you start a charitable organisation, you should find out if there is any other organisation in your area which is providing the same type of support you want to give.

If there is any, it’s better to join hands with them and not duplicate what is already taking place in your area.

It’s good to set up the charitable organisation properly. This how you do it.

First, one of you in the group or a hired expert should develop a set of rules and regulations that will govern the way you operate as a charitable organisation. This written document produced which we call constitution should include your charitable objects.

Interestingly, there are other types of governing documents that newly established charitable organisations can adopt. The charitable structure that your group selects to model on, will determine which governing document you’ll develop.

When the constitution document is ready, those of you who agree to form the charitable organisation will come together and adopt it.

At this meeting, you will elect a number of you, at least 3, to serve as the first trustees or management committee members for the organisation. I recommend that, to reflect the community nature of your charitable organisation, you should elect at least 5 to 9 people in your group to serve as trustees at each time.

The trustees will agree to meet regularly [at least 4 times in the year] to discuss the strategic direction of the charitable organisation. They will elect an executive board, with a chair person, treasurer and secretary from among them.

The group will spend quality time to discuss and come up with a plan on where and how they will generate income to support the charitable activities they will be providing to their user group.

Thirdly, the group should take a copy of their constitution and a special resolution they have adopted to a bank of their choice and ask that they open a charity account. This account should be in the name of the charitable organisation.

At least two people [three (3) is a preferred number] from the executive board should be selected as signatories to the new charity account. The signatories should neither be related in any way nor live at the same address.

Finally, the organisation should secure the services of a development officer to write relevant policies and procedures, including health and safety, equal opportunities and others for the organisation.

Depending on the type of people your group is set up to support, volunteers working with older and younger people are mandated to undergo the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check before they can work with such groups.

Newly elected trustees should also be DBS checked. The Local Council for Voluntary Services (CVS) in your area can help you with the checks.

When you have completed all these processes, know that you have established a legitimate charitable organisation to support an identified disadvantaged population experiencing some need.

After some time of operating as a charitable organisation, community group or voluntary association you can apply to the charity regulatory body of your country to be registered as a charity.

This should happen when your activities are well established and you are able to generate an annual income of £5K or more in the preceding financial or project year.