Is your charitable status fit for purpose? Step 3 Getting the constitution right.

Is your charitable status fit for purpose?
Step 3 Getting the constitution right.

It would be wonderful if we could all get along with a simple set of House Rules but when setting up a charity – regardless of its type - the constitution is really important and needs a lot of time, consideration and prayer.

The starting point for most churches could be an existing document borrowed from another church but unless the two organisations are extremely similar it is better to start with a template or ‘model’ constitution that guides the user through the different options on key issues.
In England and Wales the Charity Commission produces a number of model documents for a range of situations. For would-be CIOs there are models reflecting two main structures:

 The association model is the one that is most suited to churches that Rural Ministries commonly deals with.

When developing the constitution some key issues for many churches will include:

  • Who can be a member? Do they have to have been baptised (and if so how?) or is subscribing to a Statement of Faith sufficient?

  • Who can be a trustee? Do they need to have been in membership for a number of years and are there any additional requirements?

  • How and by whom are members and trustees appointed?

  • Who can vote and on what? Can trustees elect their own chair?

  • Is postal voting allowed and in what situations? What about electronic voting?

  • How long are trustees appointed for and is there a maximum number of terms they can stand?

  • Is there as separate Spiritual Leadership and if so what is their relationship to the trustees? Who will be on it and how are they appointed.

  • If moving to a CIO then what happens to the existing charity (if there is one)? It can be closed and all assets transferred to the CIO but it may be an idea to leave the old one running for a few years – in name at least – to allow for any gifts or legacies that may still come in. 

For an existing charity then as you use a model constitution you can often refer to the existing constitution  - however remember that many rules in old constitution may no longer be considered good practice or reflect the church’s practice and theology.

If you are setting up your church as a charity for the first time then as you go through the model constitution it is best to speak to other churches and get their views on what has and has not worked for them.
In either case it is easy to focus on the day to day running of the organisation but it is equally important to consider extraordinary events. For example when a trustee or other individual may need to be removed from their position, or ultimately what happens if the church needs to close?
Because the Charity Commission deals with such a wide range of charities the models are very broad and a more refined model document may be preferred.

Rural Ministries already has a model constitution suitable for conventional unincorporated charities and we are currently developing our own model CIO constitution designed specifically for the types of churches that we deal with on a day to day basis. This is likely to be available in the next couple of months – we'll let you know when it is ready. 

Nick Jones