Identify the exact need or problem you want to address and why. Thoroughly research the need – what’s causing the problem, how serious is it and exactly what will solve it? Consider the key questions: what, who, where, when and how? And think about scale: local, national or global?
Find a unique solution that will solve the problem you want to address and that, if delivered through a new charity, will be more effective than other attempts – and attract investment.
Find out if charities, institutes, statutory bodies, local groups or global NGOs are already trying to solve this issue. If someone is already in your space, talk to them. Explore the options: could you add value through partnership or support? If your solution seems as simple as providing some personal or company funding, then make sure your funds will make a genuine difference and that setting up a charity is the best financial model. If you can’t see anyone addressing the need, then move ahead with your research.
3. Strategic Planning
Include details of your first year of activity. What are you actually going to do and when? What’s the big vision, and what small steps will achieve it? Do you want to launch publicly straight away? Before setting up Media Trust, we had strongly identified a need so we jumped straight into delivery. But we didn’t hold a formal launch for a year, until we were certain that we had a high profile, a plan for financing our activities and a strong board in place.
If you need to raise money, where will it come from, how will you raise it, and how much might you need to get off the ground? We started Media Trust with a donation of £40,000 from the ITV Telethon Trust – just enough to buy a small film production company.
Do your research by asking people in similar charities what works for them, or by talking to the Institute of Fundraising. Then decide whether you will ask for donations from individuals, charitable foundations or corporate funders. Find out how much they are likely to give and when. What will you need to invest to raise funds, and who will underpin that investment?
Are you going to be a trustee? In this unpaid role you’ll be accountable to the Charity Commission for ensuring the charity’s purpose is upheld, and, as a non-executive director to Companies House. Or will you be a paid employee – the chief executive, executive director or manager – responsible to your chair and board? Think carefully about this. Talk to others who have set up charities, both recently and in the past. The Small Charities Coalition would be a good place to start.
You need to communicate your message effectively to your target audience. This will help significantly in your future fundraising, planning, communications, and engagement of supporters, volunteers and staff. It will also help you think through what you really want to do.
You need to be visible to future donors, volunteers, partners and beneficiaries, so you’ll need a clear and compelling brand. Consider your charity’s strapline and descriptors, the “about us” section on your website, your logo, colours, use of media and your Twitter handle – all will be key.
Check out what works best for online search – make sure you know about search analytics, how to position your charity’s name as high up the search engine findings as possible. You may want your strapline to tell the story, and the name to be catchy or quirky, or you may want a name that says the obvious. Either way, you’ll need approval by the Charity Commission for your name – this section of their website is useful. They give the example of Comic Relief, one of the UK’s most successful charitable brands, whose formal registered charity name is Charity Projects.
You’ll need to fit in with one or more of the 13 charitable purposes, and much more. Check the Charity Commission website thoroughly.
Consider setting up a community interest company or social enterprise instead. Both will enable you to do good with far fewer restrictions. But be aware that quite a few charitable trusts prefer not to donate funds to these types of organisation because they are not perceived to have the purpose and the regulatory safeguards offered by charitable status. You’ll need an experienced and supportive lawyer to advise you on these final decisions and processes. A good place to start is LawWorks, the solicitors’ pro bono group.
9. Stay Positive
I’ve worked in the charity sector for three decades now and have been chief executive of Media Trust for nearly 20 years. It hasn’t always been easy, and you’ll certainly face obstacles along the way. But if you’re doing something you really believe in – and that makes a genuine difference – the rewards are worth it.