Choosing your charity's name, purposes and governing document

This section gives a brief overview of the things you should have chosen before you start your application to register your charity.

Choosing your charity's name

The online register of charities will make information about your charity publicly available. There are lots of reasons why people might want to see this information, but often it's because they are thinking about giving money or time and want to check that your charity is genuine.

This means it's really important that the register has every name which your charity's known by. If people can't find your charity they may be less likely to give. You should make sure that we have the main name of your charity correct, as well as any other names by which it's going to be known locally (also called 'working names').

The name you choose can't contain any words that may cause offence. You should also check that there aren't any other charities with similar names by searching the Register of Charities. You should also try to make the name as unique and specific as possible, for example 'Ballytown Village Hall' rather than 'The Village Hall'.

Please note that:

  • entering a name on the register does not give the charity which uses it any rights to the name under general law
  • we cannot guarantee the use of a particular name, even if at the time of enquiry there appeared to us to be no objection to the use of that name - we may not know of all names used by unregistered charities, or of names which may be legally protected by another charitable or non-charitable body
  • we will not accept a working name where we are aware there is a dispute over it, or if we consider there is serious potential for dispute;
  • the fact that a working name appears on the Register does not confer legal rights to its use, and does not 'reserve' it, or guarantee sole use by the charity concerned. Nor is a name protected from legal action by an organisation which has already protected it (either as a trade mark or in some other way)
  • where a registered charity is commonly known by its working or abbreviated name (eg RSPCA), we will not accept the same/similar working or main name if proposed by another charity
  • entering a name on the register does not prevent us from subsequently directing that the name to be changed. We will not be responsible for any costs incurred directly or indirectly by the charity as a result of any subsequent direction to change a name
  • we cannot suggest names for charities.

Choosing your charity's purposes

To be a charity your organisation must have purposes ('aims' or 'objects') which are all exclusively charitable. In other words, a charity cannot have some purposes which are charitable and others which are not. The list of 'descriptions of purposes' in the Charities Act (NI) 2008 sets out broad areas of potentially charitable activity. These descriptions are not objects in their own right.

We cannot advise you on whether your objects are charitable. When you apply to register your organisation as a charity, we'll use the information you provide to decide if its aims are charitable and for the public benefit. The way you write the section of the application form which describes your purposes is therefore very important. This section is known as the 'objects clause'.

Incorrectly or badly worded objects clauses are by far the most significant cause of delay to (or rejection of) registration applications. This section will explain how you can avoid this by describing your charity's purposes correctly in the objects clause of your registration application.

We will also compare these objects with your description of how you plan to carry out "your activities" so it is also very important that you make this clear in your application.

Further information on setting up a charity and drafting governing document is available from the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA) website (External link).

Choosing your charity's governing document

A governing document is a legal document which represents the rule book for the way in which your charity will operate. We recommend it contains information about:

  • what the charity is set up to do (its aims, 'objects' or 'purposes');
  • how the charity will do those things (powers);
  • who will run it (charity trustees);
  • what happens if changes to the administrative provisions need to be made (amendment provision); and
  • what happens if the charity wishes to wind up (dissolution provision).

It should also contain the following administrative provisions:

  • how the charity trustees will run it; and
  • internal arrangements for meetings, voting, looking after money, etc.
  • You must have a suitable governing document before you apply to register. If you don't get it right at the start, you will soon run into problems.

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