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The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland
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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, namely the:

Choosing your charity's name

The Commission's Changing your charity's name guidance provides information and advice on choosing a name for your organisation. Charity trustees should be aware of this guidance when choosing the charity’s name to ensure that it:

  • is not the same as, or too like, another charity’s name
  • does not mislead members of the public
  • does not cause offence to members of the public.

The online register of charities will make information about your charity publicly available. There are many 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. It is therefore important, when applying to register, that you include the main name of your charity as well as any other names by which it's going to be known (also called 'working names').

Please also note that:

  • entering a name on the register of charities 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 all names used by unregistered organisations, 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 of charities does not confer legal rights to its use,  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 trademark or in some other way)
  • where a registered charity is commonly known by its working or abbreviated name, for example USPCA, we will not accept the same/similar working or main name if proposed by another charity
  • entering a name on the register of charities does not prevent us from subsequently directing that the name 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 and are for the public benefit. In other words, a charity cannot have some purposes which are charitable and others which are not.

The list of 12 charitable purposes in the Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 2008 set out broad areas of potentially charitable activity. These descriptions are not objects in their own right. The Commission has produced supporting documents to provide further information on the 12 charitable purposes, which are available in The public benefit requirement section of the website.

The  Commission cannot advise you on whether your objects are charitable. When you apply to register your organisation as a charity, we will use the information you provide to decide if the organistion's purposes 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'.

We will also compare the purposes you have identified with your description of how you plan to carry out your activities so it is important that you make this clear in your application.

We would encourage you to use the registration guidance and support tools available in the Registration support section of the website to support you when preparing for your registration application.

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. The Commission recommends it contains information about:

  • what the charity is set up to achieve (purposes)
  • how the charity goes about achieving its purposes (powers)
  • who is involved in the strategic oversight of the charity
  • what happens if changes to the administrative provisions or purposes need to be made
  • what happens if the charity wishes to wind up.  

It should also contain administrative provisions relating to:

  • governance of the charity
  • internal arrangements for meetings, voting and finance
  • membership to the charity (where applicable)
  • the appointment, retirement and removal of trustees
  • if and how trustees can benefit from the charity.  

There are a number of different types of governing document including a constitution for an association, a trust deed for a trust, a will for a will trust, articles of association for a company and rules for an Industrial and Provident Society.

It is important that you have a suitable governing document before you apply to register. To support charities in ensuring they have the right legal structure in place before they apply to register, the Commission has produced a series of model governing documents.

A model governing document is a template which your organisation can use and adapt to your needs by, for example, tailoring some clauses so they are specific to your organisation and adding your organisation’s purposes.

If you are setting up a new charity, or revising the governing document of an existing charity, you may find it helpful to refer to one of our model governing documents.