It’s a good idea to work out the aims of your group before your first public meeting, so that everyone is clear from the start about what the group is all about. If you present this at your first meeting make sure someone writes down what the meeting has agreed and check that everyone is happy with the wording.
Write a constitution
This stuff can be off-putting at first but don’t worry, we have model documents you can use that will make things very simple.
It is best to include your aims in a written constitution, and it’s worth inviting a few people to volunteer to work on this and bring a draft back to the group. Most funders will ask to see a copy of this document, so it is worth putting in the time to getting something on paper – you can always change it later.
If you are going to apply for grant funding, you will probably need a written constitution, to show funders that you are an organised group. Unless you are going to be a registered charity or a limited company, there are no legal rules about what your constitution should say.
Once you have written and agreed the constitution, however, it becomes the ‘governing document’ of your group, and it should set out clearly how you intend to run your group. A good constitution can help to resolve disputes and enable new members to participate fully in the running of the group.
A step-by-step guide to writing a constitution for a small community group.
A constitution is simply the aims and rules that your group will use. It’s a statement of what your group is going to do and how it is going to do it. It is important because:
Without this written understanding people can easily find themselves at cross purposes and the jobs won’t get done
It will serve as a reference, and help to resolve problems in times of controversy
Outsiders, especially potential funders, will want to see that your group is democratic and accountable. This involves having a clear procedure by which decisions are made.
This information sheet will help you to draw up a constitution for an unincorporated association such as a Residents’ Association or other volunteer run community group. It will work well for you if you want a simple, uncomplicated structure to guide your group. It is not suitable if you are employing workers, buying premises or dealing with large amounts of money. For more information about different legal structures, see our page on Not-for-profit organisations.
Plan your constitution
It is important to try and get a constitution that actually reflects the way in which you want to do things. There is no point in lumbering yourself with a lot of bureaucracy you don’t want, or writing down loads of things you don’t intend to do, simply because you think they are what people expect.
Constitutions usually cover the following areas. Discuss each of these with your group, and take notes. The decisions you make will help you write your constitution.
- Name of organisation
- Equal Opportunities
- Committee and officers
- AGM and other meetings
- Rules of procedure
- Changes to the constitution
Name of organisation
Do you want a name that reflects the area you are based in, what you are doing, or both? Does it need to be ‘catchy’ so people easily remember it? You will also need to think about a website name, you can check online to see if your name is already taken.
Your aims, sometimes called objectives or objects, are a statement of your long term goals: what you want to achieve and how you want to achieve it. This is probably the most important part of your constitution and needs to be very clear.
Discussing your aims and objectives will help you to make sure that everyone in the group agrees on the purpose of the group and what it will be doing. If your aims are clearly written, you can use them to let others know what your group is about.
Your aims should include information about the area you are working in, who will benefit from the activities of the group, and how they will benefit.
Do you have charitable aims?
If your aims are charitable, this will mean that your group is a charity (even if you have not registered with the Charity Commission). Charities have to comply with charity law. You can find out more about this in our sheet on Charity Registration.
If you are trying to set up a charity, make sure your constitution is acceptable to the Charity Commission by using the model constitution that is available on their website. Read our information on Finding a legal structure to suit your group for more help.
You need to decide who will be entitled to be a member of your group.
This could be:
- everyone who pays a membership fee; or
- everyone who lives in a certain area; or
- all users and volunteers at the project; or
- anyone who supports the aims of the group and participates in its activities
- Will there be a membership fee?
Whether you have a membership fee is entirely up to you. The advantages are that it makes it very clear who is a member (the people who have paid) and it raises a bit of money. The disadvantages are that it may put people off and that it can be fiddly to collect the money.
If you choose to have a fee, will it be weekly, monthly or yearly?
How much will it be? You could decide this each year at your AGM, but remember to put this in your constitution.
How can people join?
In some organisations people become members automatically when they move into an area, start volunteering or using the services that the group provides.
Alternatively, you could have a membership form that people fill in when they want to join. You need to decide who they must give this to, and if they become a member when they hand in the form, or if their membership has to be approved by a meeting of the committee or the group.
Even if you plan to have a very open membership it is a good idea to have a membership list. It is then clear who you mail about meetings, who can come, and who can vote.
Ceasing to be a member
When will somebody stop being a member? Will it be:
- When they move out of the area?
- When they stop volunteering or attending activities?
- When they have not paid any membership for a set period of time?
- When they have done something that goes against the aims of the group?
- Back to the list of headings
A full equal opportunities policy is usually a separate document to the constitution. However, you may want to include a statement of your commitment to equal opportunities in your constitution as well.
See our information sheet on writing an Equality and diversity policy.
Committee and officers
Will you have a committee?
Some groups have a committee which is elected once a year and is responsible for running the day to day affairs of the group. Other groups share or ‘rotate’ the jobs that need doing.
Running your group with an elected committee
If you choose to have a group of people to run your organisation they will usually be called the management committee.
It is up to you to decide how many committee members you will have and what officers you want.
The committee is usually made up of members of the group and elected once a year at the Annual General Meeting.
Some committees rotate the work between them. Other committees have specific officers who take specific roles. These are usually:
For more information on these roles, see our page on Roles of officers.
You can choose to have additional officers such as:
- Press Officer
- Membership secretary
Decide whether your officers will be appointed by the full membership at the Annual General Meeting or by the committee at its first meeting.
The committee may also invite other people to serve on the committee (known as co-opting). They may be members of the group but can come from outside, and are generally co-opted because they have particular skills or knowledge (such as fundraising or accountancy).
Running your group without a committee
Many small groups run very successfully without an elected committee. In this instance, the entire group is the ‘management committee’ and everyone is responsible for the group’s affairs.
You will still need to have members that take responsibility for long term tasks such as managing the money. It is useful to decide in advance of each meeting who will be the Chair or Facilitator and who will take minutes. When you make decisions (such as running a press campaign or organising a fundraising event) you will also need to decide who will be responsible for carrying them out.
AGM and other meetings
You will need to hold an Annual General Meeting (AGM) once a year. This is when you inform your group’s members about the work the group has done, share financial information, and approve your annual accounts.
Many groups use this as an opportunity to involve their members in a celebration of their achievements.
You will also elect your committee (if you have one) and can make changes to the constitution.
Your constitution should state:
- How members will be notified of the date, time and venue of the AGM.
- How many weeks’ notice?
- The maximum time there can be between AGMs. This is usually 15 months to allow some flexibility.
- How many days/weeks in advance members can submit items for discussion
- How people should nominate themselves for the committee
- What the quorum will be. The quorum is the minimum number of members that must attend the meeting for it to elect officers or make decisions on behalf of the group. This should be low enough that you will not struggle to meet it, but high enough that big decisions cannot be made by very few people.
There are some items it is standard to include on the agenda for your AGM. See our information sheet: AGM checklist for more information on organising an AGM.
How often will the committee meet? Do you want to specify a minimum number of meetings?
Who will be entitled to attend – just the committee or will it be open to all members?
Will there be a quorum for committee meetings?
These are meetings that all members can attend and take full part in. You need to decide whether you will have them, how often, who can call them, and what the quorum will be.
Special General Meetings
A Special General Meeting is used to discuss important matters that need to be put before the whole membership, such as an amendment to the constitution. They can usually be called by the committee or requested by members. Your constitution should state:
- How members will be notified of the date, time and venue of the meeting.
- How many weeks’ notice they must be given.
- What the quorum will be.
Rules of procedure for meetings
How will your meeting be organised, and how will you make decisions?
Will every meeting be facilitated by somebody? Will minutes always be taken?
Will you aim to reach a consensus, or hold a vote for each decision?
Consensus decision making means that you will discuss an idea and try to find a solution that is satisfactory to everybody present by working it through together.
If you want to make decisions by voting, it is common to state in the constitution that a simple majority is required, and that if there are an equal number of votes on each side, the chair will have an additional casting vote.
You could choose to have a combination of both, where you aim to make decisions by consensus but can have a vote if consensus cannot be reached.
You need to spell out how you will deal with any money.
You will probably want to state that:
- a bank account will be maintained on behalf of the group at a bank agreed by the committee
- there will be at least three signatories to the account (so that there are always two available to authorise payments)
- each transaction will require two signatures
- records of income and expenditure will be maintained by the Treasurer and a financial statement given at each meeting
- an annual statement of accounts will be presented to the Annual General Meeting
- all money raised by the Association will be spent solely on the objects laid out in the constitution
See our information sheets on Your group’s money, Role of the Treasurer, Financial Rules and Bank Accounts.
Changes to the Constitution
You may wish to make changes to your constitution at a later date. Decide:
- which meetings can decide to make changes to the constitution
- how much notice has to be given to members of the proposed changes
- if you will require a vote, and if it will have to be a simple majority or a 2/3 majority
At some stage you may decide you want to close the group down, and you need to have an agreed procedure by which this can happen.
You need to decide who is entitled to make this decision, how much notice is needed, and what would happen to any money and assets still held by the group.
Draft your constitution
Agree one or two people who will draft your constitution based on your discussion. Have a look at our sample constitution to get some idea of how these are usually written.
Take the constitution to a meeting for formal acceptance by the group. At least two members should sign and date it to confirm it has been agreed. This is useful if the status of the constitution is called into doubt at a future date.
Make copies of the constitution available to all members, including new members. File it somewhere where you’ll be able to find it next time you need to refer to it.
Don’t forget to use it when you want to know how to organise something in your group. For example, when the time comes to hold your next AGM, check your constitution so that you know what procedures your group has agreed to follow.
If, in future, you find your group wants to work in a way that is different to your constitution, you will need to make a change to the constitution.