Setting up and running a charity – guidance

How to write charitable purposes

How to decide what your charity’s purposes are and write them in the ‘objects’ clause of your governing document.

About charitable purposes

Your charity’s ‘purpose’ is what it is set up to achieve. A charitable purpose is one that:

Why purposes are important

Your charity’s purposes are important for:

  • the Charity Commission – to decide if your organisation is a charity
  • HM Revenue and Customs – to decide if it qualifies for tax relief
  • anyone joining, supporting or benefiting from your charity – so they can understand what it does, who it helps, where and how it works
  • your trustees – the purposes set out the limit of what your charity can do; your trustees must make decisions and run the charity in a way that is consistent with its purposes

How to write your charity’s purposes

Your charity’s purposes should make it clear:

  • what outcomes your charity is set up to achieve
  • how it will achieve these outcomes
  • who will benefit from these outcomes
  • where the benefits extend to

For example:

For the public benefit, the relief and assistance of people in need (what) in any part of the world (where) who are the victims of war or natural disaster or catastrophe (who) by supplying them with medical aid (how).

When writing your charity’s purposes, you need to:

  • understand that the words you use matter - you can’t say that your charity is set up to do anything that isn’t charitable
  • state clearly what your charity’s purpose is - if it’s not clear, the commission can’t be certain that it’s charitable
  • be precise - use plain, simple language and avoid vague or ambiguous wording
  • explain any terms that may not be generally understood or have more than one meaning
  • include all your charity’s purposes, if it has more than one

Step 1: what outcomes your charity is set up to achieve

State what outcomes your charity is set up to achieve, such as “the relief of poverty”. These must all be charitable.

Each of your charity’s purposes must fall within one or more of 13 descriptions of purposes listed in the Charities Act. These are broad headings under which all charitable purposes must fall.

You can use the wording of one or more of these descriptions to say what outcomes your charity is set up to achieve, such as “the prevention or relief of poverty for the public benefit”. But the wording of the descriptions alone may not make it clear what your charity’s purpose is. This is because several purposes can fall within each description.

You may need to provide more detail about who will benefit and how and where benefits extend to.

Examples of suitable wording

When writing your charity’s purpose, explain what it is set up to achieve using standard terms where possible:

  • “to advance…” or “the advancement of…”
  • “to promote…” or “the promotion of…”
  • “to provide…” or “the provision of…”
  • “to relieve…” or “the relief of…”

Use the words “For the public benefit, …” or “…for the public benefit” to confirm that a purpose is intended to be charitable. For example:

The relief of unemployment for the public benefit in [x place], including assistance to find employment

Mission and values

Your charity may have a mission statement which sets out its core values. You will only be able to use it as your charity’s stated purpose if it’s written sufficiently in line with this guidance.

Don’t include your charity’s motive or ethos in its purpose (‘in order to do good works’, for example) unless this means your purpose will be carried out in a specific way. For example, ‘in accordance with Christian principles’.

General charitable purposes

A grant-making charity can be set up with the sole purpose of ‘advancing general charitable purposes’ if the scope of its grant-making is across a range of charitable purposes. For example:

To advance such charitable purposes (according to the law of England and Wales) as the trustees see fit from time to time

Use a more precisely worded object if your grant-making will have a particular focus. For example, the purpose of a charity which supports a wide range of charitable purposes but has a focus on education might be:

To advance such charitable purposes (according to the law of England and Wales) as the trustees see fit from time to time in particular but not limited to advancing the education of young people for the public benefit by making grants and awards to students in full-time education

Step 2: how your charity will achieve those outcomes

List specific ways your charity will achieve the outcome (where relevant) – these must be capable of achieving the outcome you want. For example, providing grants as a way to prevent or relieve poverty:

…the prevention or relief of poverty for the public benefit [in particular] by providing grants

List the main ways in which your charity will achieve its purpose. Aim to strike a balance between clearly expressing what your charity will do to achieve its purpose without unnecessarily restricting what it can do. For example:

For the public benefit, the protection and preservation of the environment in particular but not exclusively by (a) the promotion of waste reduction, re-use reclamation, recycling, use of recycled products and the use of surplus (b) advancing the education of the public about all aspects of waste generation, waste management and waste recycling

Examples of suitable wording

If appropriate, be specific about how your charity will achieve its outcomes using “by x means”, for example:

  • “by providing information”
  • “by providing advice”
  • “by raising awareness”
  • “by carrying out research”
  • “by making grants”
  • “by providing accommodation”

Use the phrase “in particular by” to restrict your charity to carrying out its purpose in a particular way. It’s less restrictive to say “in particular but not exclusively by”. For example:

To advance amateur sport for the public benefit in particular but not exclusively by providing facilities for playing rugby, football and cricket

Distinguish between ‘what’ and ‘how’

Be clear about the difference between ‘what’ and ‘how’ when you write your purposes. For example, if advancing education is ‘what’ your charity is set up to achieve:

advancing education for the public benefit [what] by the provision of a school [how] for children aged 5 to 11 [who] living in x place [where]

But if education is a way you advance another charitable purpose, it’s ‘how’ not ‘what’:

advancing health for the public benefit [what] by educating [how] the public [who] about the health risks of smoking

Step 3: who the outcomes will benefit and where they extend to

Your charity’s purpose might not specify who can benefit or where the benefits extend to. If so, this is taken to mean that it will, potentially, benefit the public in general, anywhere in the world.

If your charity’s purpose will only benefit a defined group of people, this needs to be a sufficient section of the public.

Where relevant, include in your charity’s purpose any specific definitions of who can benefit, such as:

  • their age
  • where they live
  • their gender
  • any other defining characteristics

For example:

The prevention or relief of poverty of young people living in Greater London who are socially excluded, in particular by providing grants to provide them with an opportunity to build capacity by establishing and growing a business to relieve their needs and help them to integrate into society

Step 4: explain any particular terms used in the purpose

Include a definition of particular terms used in your charity’s purpose if those terms might not be generally understood or have more than one meaning. For example:

For the purpose of this clause, ‘socially excluded’ means…

Explain, or list, any other principles or values your purpose makes reference to. For example, where it says: “To advance education in accordance with x principles”

Where to write your purposes: the ‘objects’ clause

You usually write your charity’s purpose in the objects clause of its governing document (the legal document that creates the charity and says how it should be run).

Your charity’s purposes and its objects should be the same. The objects should accurately express all of your charity’s purposes.

Understand that for each separate purpose your charity has, you’ll need to demonstrate that:

  • it’s for the public benefit
  • the trustees will carry it out for the public benefit

Only list the purposes you need now as you can apply to the commission to change your objects at the time you are ready to change your charity’s work.

You may want to include a wide purpose to cover your charity’s work. For example:

To further such other purposes which may be charitable according to the law of England and Wales as the trustees see fit from time to time

If you include this wide purpose, you will need to tell the commission how you, as trustees:

  • will identify purposes you wish to carry out that are charitable according to the law of England and Wales
  • intend to carry out the purpose – for example, by providing details of your grant-making policy

You may be using an approved governing document, as a branch of a national charity or which has been issued by an umbrella body. If so, make sure you get the permission of the body that issued it if you want to change the objects clause.

A perfectly written objects clause doesn’t automatically mean your organisation is a charity. You have to demonstrate that your charity’s purposes are for the public benefit and that it satisfies all other requirements for registration as a charity.

Equally, a badly written objects clause may not stop your organisation from being registered if it is clear that your organisation has only charitable purposes. It can be registered as a charity if you change the objects to fully and accurately state those charitable purposes.

Example objects: when to use them

Use one of the commission’s example objects if it accurately expresses your charity’s purpose – don’t change it.

But don’t use one if it doesn’t fit what your charity is set up to achieve. This could restrict what your charity can do - as trustees, you have a duty to work within your charity’s stated purposes.

Powers and purposes: the difference

Your charity’s ‘purpose’ is what it is set up to achieve. Its ‘powers’ are what it can do to help achieve the purpose, such as raise funds, buy property or borrow money.

The difference is that the powers are about how the charity operates; the purpose is about what it delivers.

For example, your charity’s powers may say how your charity will raise funds; its purpose says how it will use the funds it raises.

In your governing document, list your charity’s powers separately from its purposes.

Link your powers to your purposes with the word ‘by’ after the purposes, or a linking sentence:

In furtherance of this object, but not further or otherwise, the trustees shall have the following powers:

Terms to avoid

  • don’t say “to promote the advancement of” – it’s repetitive and doesn’t add to the meaning of the purpose
  • don’t put what your charity will achieve after how it will do it (for example, “making grants as a means to relieve poverty”) – it won’t stop your purpose being charitable but it’s clearer what your charity’s purpose is if you put the ‘what’ before the ‘how’
  • don’t use vague or ambiguous wording, such as “to promote good causes”. Not all good causes are charitable causes
  • don’t confuse activities with purposes by saying “to further such charitable activities” – it’s your organisation’s purposes that must be charitable. Its activities are what it does to carry out its purposes
  • don’t say “to advance [something] in whatever ways that are charitable” or “such of the following purposes as are charitable in law” – this won’t make something charitable that isn’t
  • avoid describing your purposes as ‘worthy’, ‘deserving’, ‘benevolent’, ‘philanthropic’, ‘public’, ‘patriotic’, ‘utilitarian’, etc – these sorts of terms can also include things that aren’t charitable
  • don’t use the word ‘welfare’ unless it has a specific charitable context like ‘social welfare’ or ‘animal welfare’ – “advancing the welfare of x” on its own isn’t charitable
  • don’t use ‘social cohesion’ or ‘community cohesion’ as a charitable purpose – these can be a benefit of carrying out a charitable purpose but the terms are not precise enough to express a charitable purpose itself