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Supporting Scotland's vibrant voluntary sector

Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations is the membership organisation for Scotland's charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises. Charity registered in Scotland SC003558. Registered office Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh EH3 6BB.

Before you start

There are lots of reasons why you might think about setting up a charity. You might be involved with a group working in your community, and be looking for the next step. Or you might have an idea about a way that you can help, and feel that setting up a charity is the best way to turn it into a reality.

We’re passionate about what the voluntary sector can achieve. And along with our community of members, we believe that charities, social enterprises and voluntary groups make Scotland a better place.

Our information will talk you through the steps you need to take to set up a charity. In this section, we'll cover the things you should think about before you make the decision that becoming a charity is the right path.

Is being a charity the right choice?

If it’s the right thing for your organisation, we’ll talk you through the steps to take to become a charity. But it isn’t your only option – there are other ways to run your organisation too. There are benefits of being a charity, but it can also be hard work and time-consuming.

Being a charity might be the right choice for you if you:

  • will have one, or more, clear charitable purposes
  • aim to meet a genuine need of a significant group of people
  • are aiming to fill a gap that isn't covered by another organisation
  • have experience, knowledge and understanding of the issue(s) you want to address
  • have the time and commitment to give to running a charity.

"We have proof our community needs us, we have proof that our community is willing to support us, we have evidence of business, charitable, educational and personal partnerships that have been built."

Rachael Esdale, Social Flock Perth

What’s your goal?

Do you have a clear idea of the purpose of your organisation? Do you know who you want to help and how, or what difference you think you can make?

You’ll need to be able to outline what your charity will do clearly, so it’s good to make sure you’ve thought it through.

Here are some key things to consider:

  • Who will your charity be helping? The people you support are often called your beneficiaries.
  • What will your charity do? You might offer services or activities.
  • Why is your charity needed? Think about what evidence there is that shows the value your charity will add.
  • Where will you provide your services/activities? You might want to cover a small community, an area, a country or even work internationally.
  • How will you provide your services? Will it be run by volunteers or include paid staff? It’s good to think about where any money you might need will come from.

Is anyone else already doing this work?

If there’s already an organisation doing similar work, it could be more productive to join up and work together. This can help make the voluntary sector more effective, and might save you the work of setting up a new charity.

Things you can’t do as a charity

If you do become a charity, there are some things you won’t be able to do. It’s worth checking that this doesn’t alter or affect your plans and goals:

  • You can’t benefit only individuals or members – a charity must benefit the public in some way.
  • You can’t fundraise for fundraising’s sake – funds you raise must be to help you meet your aims.
  • Although you can campaign on political policies, you can’t be a political party or have the aims of advancing a particular political party. OSCR have more information on campaigning on political issues.
  • You can’t allow your property to be used for non-charitable business.
  • You can’t allow Ministers to direct or otherwise control the charity’s activities.

What other options are there?

Registering as a charity isn't the right option for all organisations, you can choose to be a voluntary, or not for profit, organisation without charitable status. It’s a good idea to find out about all the different structures that are part of the voluntary sector.

Last modified on 20 December 2023
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