Written Constitution

Word law highlighted with a blue marker

What is a constitution?
In basic terms, a constitution is simply a set of written rules or an agreement governing the aims of your organisation, how it will be run and how the members will work together.

Many voluntary groups with small funds and few staff (known as unincorporated associations i.e. not a registered company) adopt a written constitution as an agreement where people are working to mutually agreed aims.  When a group first forms, it is not a legal entity, but merely a gathering of individuals brought together to share an activity or interest.  As this is the case, the moment your group starts to progress and begins to deal with finances or property, or tries to raise money in the form of grants or loans, a formal  statement documenting decision-making processes, responsibilities and rules for all taking part within the group’s activities is  essential.  This will also prevent individual members being exposed to potential risk if, for example, your group runs into financial problems or ceases to exist, by spreading the risk between members.

A voluntary organisation may decide not to adopt a constitution and remain as an informal group.  However, in most instances, it is not just an important device to ensure the effective running of your group; it is a requirement.  Those who have attempted to apply for funding will be only too familiar with the need for a constitution.  Most sources of funding can only be accessed by groups with a bank account, and banks will only allow groups to open an account with a constitution! It is also a “must have” if your group wants to register as a charity with the Charity Commission, or if you wish to undertake services within the community.  Not only this, a written constitution will lay the foundations for the structure of your group and will allow it to develop within a concrete framework, ensuring that it stays on track and continues to successfully achieve its aims.  Put simply, a constitution is of paramount importance because:
– Without a written understanding, people may become confused and things may not get done
– It will act as a point of reference and help resolve any problems or controversy that may arise
– It reassures the public and funding bodies that your group is properly run and that money is effectively managed
– It illustrates that your group is democratic and accountable, with clear methods by which decisions are made

How to produce a constitution
The elements of a constitution are complex and there are so many resources to help in developing such documents free of charge,  such as from a local council for voluntary sector (CVS).  Therefore your group does not need to battle through this task.   The Charities Commission have produced a number of sample constitutions that may be adopted for your organisation.