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Do-es and Don't-s of a Successful Charity Application

Over time, we gather from the Charity Commission trends in their decision-making whether including something or omitting something from your application will help or hinder. Here is a list of “Do-es” & “Don’t-s” you might want to consider with your application:


· Which charitable purposes your charity is for, and how they apply to the public benefit, must be spelled out to the decision-maker so they are not having to first make preliminary decisions about such fundamental points to your proposal. We find that the Charity Commission does tell us that they might be able to deduce charitable purposes from your aims but it should not be left to them to have to do so as this raises the risk they will go on to refuse the application. Charitable purposes should be clearly set out, and you should be sure the purposes of your charity are exclusively charitable with no other aims at all. If there are several charitable purposes it is even more vital that you disentangle these point by point to avoid any ambiguity. You do not want the decision-maker looking at the aims and deciding due to a misinterpretation on their part that what you are proposing does not qualify. If your purposes include furthering of human rights, be sure that you have clearly delineated which code of human rights this refers to and make sure they do not veer into areas that are not charitable such as political causes.

· Be clear and precise who the beneficiaries of your charity will be. They might be a class of persons whom you do not yet know personally but you should be sure how they will be identified, what methodology you will use, what criteria will be applied, including useage of terms with defined meanings, written policies in place for ascertaining who can and cannot benefit from your charity, and procedures for deciding on apportionment of your limited pot of funding. You have to be as clear about who cannot benefit from the charity as to who can. This also includes explanation as to how beneficiaries can be referred to your charity.

· Spell it out to the decision-maker not only which charitable purposes are being followed but how these are being followed, demonstrating exactly what it is your charity is planning to do as well as why it is for the public benefit. You should be aware that not everything that is merely “good” is charitable.

· Set out structure as to how your aims are to be achieved. It is no good merely stating that your charity will be providing education to a prospective class of beneficiaries without setting out how it is to be achieved in a structured way. The education itself will need to be structured for it to be charitable otherwise it will just be provision of raw information which is not sufficient.

· Always check Charity Commission guidance. Sometimes it is directly relevant e.g., if your charity is for the benefit of the public in attempting to preserve something of historical value there may be specific guidance on showing how you are doing so.

· If you mention an initiative e.g., “Community Archaeological Initiative” then provide details as to what it is. Break it down fully as to what it is that is going to be done, who the actors are, what the processes are, and what policies are in place.

· If you mention any other bodies with which the charity proposes to be working with then provide full details for that other body.

· Check if there are standards that need to be applied in your particular field e.g., welfare of animals might need to adhere to a professional standard.

· Might want to be able to say how it will be financially viable in start-up costs and overheads. Consider including a detailed business plan so as not to leave it open to the decision-maker to ask questions about whether there will be initial funds for the start-up and overheads and where the money will be coming from.


· Don’t use generic, stock, policies and constitutional documents without amending them to be completely tailored and specific to your charity.

· Don’t leave your potential class of beneficiaries undefined and without explaining what criteria are to be applied in determining who can benefit from the charity especially with limited resources and where supply is outstripped by demand. This applies both to determining who the beneficiaries can be as well as apportioning the funds between them.

· Don’t leave any terms undefined. If you have used a term as part of your proposal this should be accompanied with a succinct definition.

· Don’t ignore the need for written policies throughout your proposal. Assume that a written policy will be needed whenever the decision-maker is contemplating any diversity in your activity. If you need to have safeguarding policy in place then check that you have included detail as to how it will be implemented e.g., if your reach will go overseas also as that can be even more difficult.

· Don’t assume that the Charity Commission won’t make checks on the trustees using Companies House and other open source information. If there are any issues as to the trustees’ suitability for their role the Charity Commission will have found out and will have expected to see full information as to what checks and balances will be in place. This includes ensuring that a written policy is in place for your trustees’ prevention of conflict of interest.

· Don’t assume that the decision-maker won’t query you on trustees appearing to be related. If there is any indication (even with similar sounding- or spelled- surnames, the Charity Commission will want to know that the potential for conflict of interest has been contained).

· Don’t wait for your application to be successful to have a website ready to go live. You can include a URL for a draft website as part of the proposal so that the decision-maker can be reassured that it is sufficiently clear how prospective beneficiaries and members of the public are able to access your charity and to contact you as well as to read your policies and procedures for themselves.

· Likewise, don’t just wait to be successful to open a bank account for the charity. Especially if as part of your business plan you have stated that there are funds already available to the charity then the decision-maker will expect to see that these are being kept separately to the trustees’ personal funds or to other commercial funds i.e., they are kept in an account clearly designated for the charity only and for its charitable purposes.

· Don’t assume that the name of the charity is arbitrary and carries no weight. Choose the name of the charity carefully. If it is called “Hope for refugees” then it might be potentially misleading if the beneficiaries can be another class of persons such as ordinary migrants or victims of crime or orphans etc.

· Don’t leave reasons for any previous refusals unaddressed. Make sure any previous refusals have been fully addressed in any fresh application

Please contact us today. You can reach us by email at, at our Birmingham office by phone on 0044 (0) 121 368 0056, at our Leeds office by phone on 0044 (0) 113 868 0240, or through our website contact form accessible here: CONTACT | Third Sector Experts | Charity Experts


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