Choose the governing document that’s right for you

What is a governing document?

It is a set of rules for the way you run your charity. The rules include the purposes and powers of your charity, and other arrangements like how many trustees you will have, how they are appointed or elected, how to give notice of meetings, how to call a general meeting (e.g. AGM), and how to wind-up (close) the charity.

Another name for a ‘governing document’ is ‘constitution’.

We strongly recommend that you use one of the Charity Commission’s own model governing documents because, if you complete one of those correctly, it is likely to get you registered more quickly and easily.

The Charity Commission has several model documents which represent the different charitable structures we looked at in Step 2.


If you are:


A small interest group, such as a club or society, that benefits only its members, you don’t need to register as a charity Write your own constitution (set of rules).  There are many examples online. Look at this one for a club.


A small charity with an annual income under £5,000 that doesn’t own a building or employ people and does not intend to register with the Charity Commission Model Constitution for a Small Charity

Note: you can’t use this one to register as a charity, but you can use it while you are waiting to register

A small charity with trustees plus a wider membership; an income of £5,000 + a year; unlikely to employ staff; does not own property and doesn’t intend to enter into contracts Model Constitution for an Unincorporated Charity

An unincorporated structure for a membership organisation

A trust is likely to be appropriate where the charity: will NOT have a wider membership; and is unlikely to employ staff Model Trust Deed for a Charitable Trust

An unincorporated structure, run solely by its trustees

If you want to set up a charity that may employ staff, sign contracts, or rent or own its own premises

  • AND if you want the charity to be run entirely by trustees
  • OR if you want to have a wider membership to hold the trustees to account
One of the following Model Constitutions for a CIO. These are both Incorporated structures.


CIO Foundation Model


CIO Association Model


If you want to set up a charitable company limited by guarantee – a corporate body which can be set up with or without a wider membership. This is NOT the same as a commercial company and can only apply its assets to carry out charitable purposes. Model Memorandum and Model Articles of Association for a Charitable Company



The governing documents are long, especially the incorporated (CIO) documents, and the language is difficult. But reading it all carefully, together with the notes in the margin, will help you to understand the rules which will govern your charity. It might be helpful to print the whole thing off and go through each section with a highlighter so you can see where you’re up to if you need to take a tea break.

Also, make sure you don’t miss a) the bits you absolutely have to fill in and b) other parts where you must choose between options.

Model governing documents can be downloaded from the Charity Commission in PDF and Word form. You can edit in a Word document or print out and amend by hand. Just remember that you must upload the final version as a PDF document when you register.

Further resources to help you write your governing document