Last time we saw how there can be an argument for having a separate charity for carrying out some ministries, particularly the social action ministries, but that this is not always necessary. Nevertheless, where it is advisable eg for fund raising purposes, safeguards should be in place to keep the ministry closely integrated with the other activities of the church.
With this model the ways in which a ministry is viewed from within the church and from outside differ. From within, the people need to see all the ministries of the church in the same light, an expression of kingdom life in the community. They do not need to understand, or even be aware of, separate charities under which different aspects of the church function. From the outside (the ‘world’) the picture may be of one or more charities, each with its own objectives, that focus on the areas of need being met; the outside world’s awareness of the church may be minimal or non-existent.
In many charities the trustees form the management team who make many of the day-to-day decisions. However, in the church, as we have seen, responsibility for the church’s management rests with the elders. Does this also apply to social action ministries? The answer must, of course, be ‘yes’ as they are an integral part of the church community and outreach.
It is essential for the elders to carry the spiritual oversight of and fully embrace all the church’s ministries including social action. But they may not have the expertise or time to give detailed input. Similarly the trustees must fulfil their responsibly of ‘guarding’ the charity. But, with the structure I have suggested, they too probably do not have the expertise or time to take on the traditional role of charity management in a detailed way. Often a specific ‘social action’ ministry will require specialist knowledge and skills.
So, in order to support the ministry there may be the need for specialists to be involved. For instance, in one ministry we had to reach trafficked women in the sex industry we needed the expertise of the police. To achieve this we wrote the legal document in a way that appropriate authority could be delegated by the trustees to a sub-committee or working party. They could then make decisions within defined boundaries.
In another ministry in which we were involved related to unplanned pregnancies we worked closely with other churches in the city while maintaining the legal and spiritual responsibility ie our church ‘held the reins’ but had wider support. In this case we created a Support Group of people from across the city who could bring the ‘added value’ of professional expertise to the ministry. But this was on an advisory not an executive basis.
Some legal requirements
In the charitable structures we have been discussing different bodies have decision-making or advisory powers. Regardless of which category these bodies fall into each has legal standing, whether elders, trustees, sub-committees or support groups. As such they are accountable to and through the trustees within the terms of the trust. Accordingly it is essential that minutes are kept and ‘signed off’ for all meetings of any of these bodies. Charities are in the public domain and, in event of a problem arising, a full trail of the decision-making process must be available.
The same is true of financial audits. The size of the charities’ finances determines the level of audit required but in all cases the finances must be well maintained and transparent.
In this short six-part series it has been impossible to cover all aspects of charities, their legal structure, the financial management etc. But the key message is that charities should not be set up in haste and should have a clear and accountable relationship with the life of the church; integrated as far as possible, not separate. Charities have longevity, and due care must be taken to ensure that they will serve your needs both now and well into the future. Be sure to use those who are knowledgeable when writing the legal instrument, such as a solicitor with charity expertise or a body like Stewardship. Also refer to the excellent resources available through the Charity Commission website. May you know God’s favour as you seek to advance the Kingdom of God!
In our considerations thus far I have primarily been considering charities under which a church operates. But are these suitable for specialist ministries such as Social Action?
Is another charity necessary?
Because ministry to those who are poor or in need is almost the definition of ‘charity’ many such ministries feel that a separate charity is desirable/necessary. I always counsel caution about taking this stance. The objectives in a church’s charitable instrument almost inevitably allow for ministry to anyone in the community, perhaps with particular emphasis on those who are poor. So why create a separate charity and impose on yourself the additional load associated with it; meetings, separate accounts etc? One reason for falling into this potential trap comes through terminology.
Project or Ministry?
Often works with people who are poor or in need are called ‘projects’. In defining such works in this way you are adopting terminology that tends to separate the activity from other activities in the church which are called ‘ministries’. Why use the word ‘project’? It can carry associations in people’s minds that tend to be task-orientated rather than people-orientated such as ‘timeline’, ‘project management’, ‘monitoring and evaluation’ etc. All of these may be good (indeed, they can really bring helpful order to a ministry) but are not the normal terminology of other church-based ministries such as children’s work, evangelism, worship. So why not consider the social action ministries in the same light as other ministries and operate under the same charitable instrument? A separate charity may not be necessary.
So, is a separate charity ever needed?
Yes! When fund-raising, in particular, it can be really helpful to have a separate charity. Donors often resist the thought that their grant may be used for ‘proselytising’. Also, if they see the whole budget of the church they may well question why you need their money. By having a separate charity, the accounts reflect the costs of only that ministry without them being hidden within a bigger audit.
Words of caution
However, creating a separate charity carries some challenges. This ‘social’ ministry is a ministry of the church and as such comes under the oversight of the elders. But if a separate charity exists there is the ability for the charity to take on life of its own and become separated from the church. At first no-one can conceive of this happening as everyone is enthusiastic about the ministry. But with time things can change. I know of instances where the visionary leader – often a very passionate and somewhat tunnel-visioned person in the context of social action – has fallen out with the elders and taken the charity out from under the umbrella of the church. In one case the church even had to start a new ministry to meet the same need, and former colleagues became ‘competitors’.
To safeguard against this I recommend that any such charity has the same trustees as the church’s charity, or at least a high degree of overlap. This then ensures that, within the church, the ministry is handled in the same way as all of the other ministries. But it still allows those outside the church to view the ministry as self-standing. The downside of this is that, since the trustees are the same, the charities are seen as linked and the accounts have to be ‘consolidated’ ie combined at the time of audit. However, this does not have to be the only way in which the accounts are presented, which would militate against one of the reasons that two charities exist. It is permissible for the accounts of the individual charities to be presented separately for fund raising purposes.
Does a separate charity from the church’s charity require trustees to become more involved and thus overloaded? We shall discuss this in the final part of this series.
As already stated, in creating a new charity there are three very important features to consider.
1. What are the objectives of the charity?
2. What is the geographical sphere in which the charity will operate?
3. Who should be the trustees?
We dealt with the appointment of trustees in the last posting.
What are the objectives of the charity?
In the answer to this question lies the very essence for which the charity is being created. It is important to get this right as it is not easy to make changes at a later stage.
Sometimes I have read charitable instruments which have a long list of objectives. The reason seems wholly commendable; the visionary who is launching the charity wants to preserve the purity of his or her vision. However, in such precision lies a potential pitfall and significant problems for any successors. Almost inevitably, as society changes and the charity is successful and grows, there is the desire to widen the remit of the charitable activities. Close definition at the start can then limit the extent to which expansion is possible, much to the frustration of the current trustees. So my advice is to keep the objectives as wide and general as possible to allow subsequent generations to operate in new ways under the same legal instrument.
Further, the Charity Commission ask how the charity is going to achieve every single point of the objectives in the governing document– and so aspirational or out-dated objectives can be a complete ball and chain.
Also bear in mind the readership of the objectives. If you are creating a ‘social’ charity (I will address this in more detail later) beware how prominent you make the Christian aspect of the work. If, for instance, one of your objectives refers in some way to the spread of the gospel you may well limit your ability to raise funds from secular bodies. Assuming the primary purpose is to meet need with a high standard of excellence and uplift the poor in some way it is important that those objectives are dominant.
In CCK we had significant problems with fund raising at one stage because the ‘social charity’ under which we were operating had as one of its objectives the sharing of the Christian faith. While it is important not to hide that yours is a Christian ministry this knowledge can be included elsewhere using such wording as the ministry being carried out ‘according to Christian values…’.
A similar argument applies if you are required to specify the geographical scope of the charity. For instance, if a church defines its sphere of influence purely in terms of the local community, and then wishes to plant another church elsewhere in the same nation or overseas, there may be a problem in allocating funds to that purpose. But if wording is used such as ‘normally in (city) but also elsewhere as appropriate to fulfilling the objectives of the trust’ this leaves open the opportunity to minister more widely, if desired. As with all matters, however, legal advice should be sought.
Next time we shall consider the place of associated charities for particular purposes such as social action.
Good, spirit led administration is a vital ministry in any church that wishes to grow. If well focussed this gift allows the leadership to give themselves to fulfilling their God given role as they release many of the practical matters necessary to achieving a vision to those who are gifted and called.
Equipping, Fellowship and Prayer
The annual Spirit-led Administration Workshop has now become well-established in the Newfrontiers calendar. It provides a valuable opportunity to bring together those who serve the local church and wider spheres for a day of fellowship, equipping, sharing experience, networking, praying and enjoying being with like-minded people. It is for people who are in any way involved in administration. It is also for elders as it gives insights into how they can best be served and released into their areas of gifting.
The day will include main sessions to bring vision and encouragement, and also focussed workshops on topics of particular interest. Thus, people will leave the day ready to face the next challenges!
Prayer and Prophetic encouragement
Of particular value is the opportunity for prayer and personal ministry which is intentionally built in to the programme. Those who serve the church administratively often find themselves in relative isolation – these days help address that situation.
Book in here to get the ‘early bird’ fee level. Pass on these details to your friends and colleagues! Don’t miss out!
Last time we saw the importance of having a good relationship between the elders of the church and the trustees of the charity under which it operates. When considering registering a charity – a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) is probably now the preferred option – there are three very important features to consider.
1. What are the objectives of the charity?
2. What is the geographical sphere in which the charity will operate?
3. Who should be the trustees? Since we have been thinking about the trustee/elder dynamic I shall first address the third point.
Who should be a Trustee?
In some ways it might be thought that, in an ideal world, the trustees and elders should be the same people to avoid the ‘double-headed monster’ syndrome we discussed last time. For a small church this may well be possible. Legally, provided that any trustees (or family relation) paid by the church are in the minority on the trustee body, such an overlap can take place. (This does make the assumption that the legal instrument for the charity has been written in a way that does not preclude this.) However, for any discussions concerning finances that affect the trustees (eg setting salaries) they must absent themselves.
In a small church there may be no elder (or relation) paid by the church (strictly speaking they would be employed by the charity) so the congruity of the two bodies can take place. Organisationally this can be convenient and allow decisions to be made quickly.
However, as a church grows there can be real benefits in the two bodies being distinct, though some common membership is very helpful in facilitating communication between the two bodies. There are four reasons for this.
- This distinctiveness brings the added value of extra skill sets to help the elders.
- The trustees may be able to take some of the load of implementation if, for instance, they can handle some specialist area such as contract negotiation on a building project.
- Trustees can be added ‘ears and eyes’. They are often in touch with the church members in ways that the elders can never achieve, despite the elders’ desire to do so. Having a lower profile than the elders, trustees may find it easier to sense the temperature of church opinion as members may be less ‘guarded’ in their presence.
- Following on from 3, trustees are also the first test of a good eldership decision – if the trustees don’t ‘buy it’ then the rest of the church almost certainly won’t either.
When considering specific people who could become trustees there are three criteria to consider: 1. Spiritual maturity, 2. Skills, 3. Team dynamics. (Potential trustees should be proposed by the elders who will be aware of their spiritual maturity etc).
Although trusteeship is a functional role it carries significant responsibility. If a trustee is more disposed to being rule-based than Spirit-led he or she can hinder rather than help the progress of the church by pressing the interpretation of charitable law and procedures too far (not that I am advocating breaking the law!). On occasion I have met churches where the trustee body has tried to take too great an authority, such as treating the elders as ‘hirelings’. This at best is unhelpful and at worst can lead to a breakdown in trust and relationship.
Our trustees at CCK took the role very seriously and prayerfully. It is important for trustees to be able to operate in their own faith, not just to be there to bring their skill set.
Professional skills should be considered to complement those of the elders and other trustees. Typically it is helpful to have people who are professionally trained in such disciplines as the law, finance, building matters, human resources, and so on. I was greatly privileged to have some highly qualified colleagues who offered their expertise graciously and willingly; a joy to serve with.
Trustees work as a team so there needs to be the easy give-and-take of a team while not submerging anyone who may be less extrovert. It is for the chair to determine the dynamics of a team meeting and ensure that all members contribute to the discussion without any one member dominating the meeting. In another blog I have given guidelines on chairing meetings where I have addressed this issue more fully,
In the next posting I will consider the Objectives and the Geographical Sphere of Operation.
A further word on finance
Following the last posting someone has kindly suggested that these two links are helpful on the subjects of Trading and VAT. Thank you David!
A preliminary observation
Since posting part 1 of this series I met with a staff member of a denominational church. That meeting reminded me that denominations often have their own legal frameworks, structures and terminology. The experience I have is based on independent, non-denominational churches and as such may vary in some respects from churches within denominations. So, I must reiterate that it is important that this series is taken as only my personal observations; appropriate legal advice should be sought when creating a new charity.
Although a church does not have to be a charity this is increasingly the norm, especially if the church wishes to enjoy the tax benefits afforded to charities such as the recovery of tax through Gift Aid (in the UK) on donations that have been made out of taxed income. But charitable status potentially produces a conflict:
1. Trustees are responsible for the governance of a charity
2. Elders (the term I shall use from now on for the spiritual leadership) are responsible before God for the leadership of the church
The result? A two-headed monster! So, who makes decisions?
There is a helpful paper (Guide to churches on spiritual leadership and trustees) available from the Stewardship website which very helpfully addresses this issue, the double-headed leadership of elders and trustees. Further, in the UK, the potential conflict between these two leadership bodies is recognised and understood by the Charity Commission. So any potential conflict should not exist provided that both bodies, particularly the trustees, are spiritually mature and do not try to push their remit too far.
For myself I chaired the trustees (in fact, directors – we had a charitable company structure) of Church of Christ the King in Brighton, UK, for 30 years and enjoyed a positive and mutually supportive relationship with the body of elders, of which I was a member for some of this time. Initially, when the church was quite small, the trustees did little but lend support to the elders in their decisions, ensuring that they fell within the charitable objectives of the charity. As the church grew there was an increasing need for specialists to be appointed as trustees who could bring ‘added value’ to elders’ decision-making with professional expertise in the law, building matters, finance and so on. They could thus complement the gifting represented in the eldership.
The role of trustees
I saw the primary role of trustees in the church context as having two main elements:
1. To be guardians of the objectives of the trust
2. To ensure responsible stewardship of the finances by carefully monitoring how these are administered and audited
This was obviously not their total role; for instance, trustees are also expected to explain themselves and the church policies/actions to the outside world if necessary, although this was rarely needed in the context in which I worked. So trustees were chosen as men and women who were comfortable for the elders to make decisions related to the direction and fulfilment of the church’s commission. But they were far more than ‘rubber stampers’. They actively monitored, commented on, adjusted and offered support to these decisions from the perspective of seeing that the charity aspects were run effectively. As faithful and faith-filled people committed to the work of the church they always operated to a high standard of excellence.
Risk v Faith – do they conflict?
What happened when elders made a ‘risky’ decision which required finances that, in the natural, were not readily available? Our responsibility as trustees was to look at the finances and the risks associated with the decision and ensure that the elders fully understood what these were. Once we were sure these were clearly understood we could then, as members of the church, throw our support and faith (and personal finances!) behind the leadership of the elders and join them in seeking God for his provision. We had many exciting times in prayer and, surprise surprise, God never let us down!
Next time we shall look at greater depth into the appointment of trustees.
Footnote re Tax
Several times in this posting I have mentioned finance. It is beyond the remit of this series to explore the intricacies of finance, particularly tax, in any more detail. However, I have found that many people live under the misapprehension that charities are VAT-exempt. This is not true. A charity is fully liable to pay VAT on its purchases and indeed fulfil all the relevant tax requirements of the law. It is particularly important to seek professional advice if, as a charity, you may be trading; there are some very specific requirements and constraints on trading as a charity.
In the UK most churches have charitable status. Several also have associated charities, often to help facilitate a ministry to those who are poor or in need. Most other nations have a comparable charitable structure, although inevitably they differ in the detail.
For well over 30 years I have worked within a charitable environment on the staffs of both the Newfrontiers family of churches and Church of Christ the King (Brighton), and at different times I have been a trustee of these and other charities, in some cases as chair.
Recently I have been contacted by several people for advice and opinion about setting up charities, how elders and trustees should relate, and so on. So I felt the time seemed opportune to share my thoughts and experience.
I am neither a lawyer nor an accountant, so I must state clearly that this short series of blogs will be an expression of a personal view and experience. Appropriate professional advice should be sought by anyone setting up a charity. There is also much good resource material on the websites of the Charity Commission (for England and Wales), OSCR (for Scotland) and Stewardship, an independent Christian charity which helps people manage their giving and also provides a service to advise and set up charities etc.
What is a charity?
The Oxford English Dictionary defines a charity as ‘An organisation set up to provide help and raise money for those in need’. This definition carries the three key elements pertinent to most charities:
Goal: To improve the lives of those in need
Purpose: Actively to provide help
Primary resource: Finance.
So, the following summarises the generally recognised characteristics of a charity:
- Must be for Public Benefit
- A vehicle to improve or enrich the life or lives of people, often those who may in some way be at a disadvantage.
- A vehicle for handling funds, but not for profit
The driver for setting up a charity is usually the requirement for finance, although the required governance associated with it also provides a good structure for running a ministry or project, provided the activity does not become clogged with administrative requirements. Indeed, a charity helps the church to take on an appropriately ‘professional’ stance in the way it handles such issues as policies on complaints, conflicts of interest, investment and risk management and, of course, child protection.
Clearly the outworking of charitable activity may be practiced in a multiplicity of ways related to: Health, Education, Religion, Poverty Relief, Crisis Intervention (both personal and corporate), the Arts etc. The remit is wide.
Trusts, Companies and Incorporated Organisations
For hundreds of years charities were set up as Charitable Trusts. In the city where I now live there is a charity that has been operating since 1174. Accountable to the Charity Commission the legal ‘instruments’ under which a charity functions give the trustees of a trust a high level of responsibility and liability, their personal wealth and assets being subject to meeting any liability the charity may not be able to meet out of its own resources.
Over recent years the Charitable Company has become more favoured. This has more of a company structure than a trust, for instance in the way it appoints directors, and is financially accountable to Companies House in the UK, while remaining accountable to the Charity Commission for its activities. One benefit is the limited liability it carries for the trustees (technically they are directors).
Very recently a new structure, the Charitable Incorporated Organisation, has been introduced by the Charity Commission. This combines many of the benefits of both the trust and company while removing the dual accountability of a Charitable Company both to Companies House and to the Charity Commission. It also streamlines many of the procedures and processes associated with the other two structures. There is a very helpful paper (Charitable Incorporated Organisations for church charities) that has been produced by Stewardship which describes the CIO. This is probably now the favoured type of charity, although still relatively untried and untested.
Next time I shall begin to look at the role of trustees/directors (in future I shall use ‘trustee’ to denote this function) including the relationship in a church between the spiritual leadership and the trustees.
In recent months I have written frequently about West Africa with particular reference to the effects of ebola. I have just viewed this TED talk on the subject of beating ebola, something that a few months ago when I started writing seemed an out of reach dream. Well it does seem to be happening and, rather than write more about the subject I urge you to watch this talk. Click on the picture.
Last time I reported on some of the challenges faced by our churches in Guinea and Sierra Leone caused by ebola. Now we shall look at Liberia.
Jonathan Nathan, from Monrovia, wrote recently to John Hammond (Bedford) who has coordinated the appeal, to report back on the use of the funds sent so far. It reveals some of the difficulties being faced there.
‘The churches in Liberia remain thankful to you all for coming to our aid when we really needed your help.
‘The first funds you sent (£2500) came at the time free movement was restricted. Hospitals and clinics were all closed and common curable diseases were killing people as a result of the closure of health centres. About 80% of our church members are young people who make their living by petty trading in the market, and so finding food and safe drinking water was difficult. Many of them could not afford to buy food because there were sharp price increases of food and anti-ebola materials.
‘We have been able to give:
- Food: $1500 for Rice, Cooking oil and eggs.
- Anti-Ebola materials: $1000 for Chloride, antiseptic soap, some buckets with taps for washing of hands.
- Medication and Awareness: $800.00 for essential drugs to provide emergency treatment for our people including Malaria treatments by our trained medical team. This is a mobile team organised by the church that had given themselves to do this. We also had a ‘Jesus is alive, Ebola is dead’ awareness team whose work was to carry on Ebola awareness in the various communities. This team has been very helpful in educating our people about Ebola prevention.
‘Another good achievement is the increase of people who come to out meetings because we always had something to share with them. Many have testified of the goodness of God for caring for them.
A smile at Christmas
‘The next £2000 was also very timely; many families who did know how they would eat and smile this Christmas were amazed and overwhelmed as we distributed food items. Traditionally, families buy their children clothes at Christmas; we distributed rice and used clothing to three churches and their communities. Over 400 people have benefited greatly from the money you sent us.
‘From the recent fund we were able to help a dozen students in our church who provided for us three truck loads of sand for our school building project to begin early next year. The guys were able to mine the sand from a river near our three plots of land and transported it on their heads to the church site. This would have cost us $1200 if we had a paid truck owner to bring it for us.
‘We have given some financial aid to one of our leaders who is a Ebola survivor. He spent one month and three days in the treatment centre leaving behind his wife and 6 children for us to care for. We have relocated him with his family at the newly planted church, (Fendell) where he is doing very well.
Plans for 2015
- Start our school building project on the church land
- Start the church school 2015 with three volunteers teachers in our temporary meeting tent. This will help our people who are not prepared for the heavy school fees after Ebola and a fallen economy
- Push forward with our church registration that was stopped for funds and evaluation
- Begin a small micro-finance project to help get potential petty traders back on their feet after Ebola
‘Ebola will end but we must move on after the storm is gone. Please pray with us to see our dream come true.’
John Hammond has been a faithful friend to the churches in West Africa for many years. For more details of how to give please contact him direct. Click here
First, may I wish you a happy New Year! I trust that the Christmas season has been one of joy for you as we have celebrated Jesus’ birth.
Sadly, I am starting the New Year on a sobering topic – Ebola. Twelve months ago most of you reading this blog would not have heard of ebola, so named from the river in Zaire near where it was first identified in 1976. Then the outbreak was short-lived. Now, the widespread reporting of the current outbreak has put both it and the three nations of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, in all of which there are Newfrontiers churches, into the public’s awareness. So what is happening?
Ebola had just been identified in the forest area of Guinea, near teh Liberian border and 400 miles from the capital, Conakry, when I arrived in Conakry last April. There was a great air of vulnerability and some understandable fear. After I preached on the Sunday we prayed for one member of the church who had even then lost 18 relations. But a very weak public health programme and the cultural norms in Guinea, as in the other two nations (with much physical contact when greeting people, the traditions of conducting funerals etc) combine to make containment of such a disease very difficult to achieve.
Nicolas Thebault made reference to the situation in Guinea in the report I published on November 6th: ‘The hospital treating victims in Conakry will soon have no more room for patients. We are hearing of outbreaks of the virus in parts of the city where some of our members live. Everyone is washing his hands with bleach all the time. As a result there are no more gastro problems! With the closing of the borders the economic situation becomes worse. Businessmen whom we know and who have been here for 30 years say they have never known an economic crisis last as long as this one. A minister from Sierra Leone has compared the current situation with a trade embargo across the region’.
It has not been possible to reopen the church school, Jubilee International School, since September, although it is hoped to do so shortly.
Momoh Sesay, lead elder of Grace Christian Church in Freetown, wrote recently to John Hammond (Bedford) who coordinated the appeal:
‘We are grateful to all those who have contributed to send us help at this difficult time in the history of our beloved nation. You came to our aid at the right time. Thanks be to God who has touched the compassionate hearts of the leadership of Newfrontiers to be a blessing to us.
‘In spite of the stay-home holidays this year every family in our churches had at least enough food. But we regret to announce that we have lost four members of the same family to Ebola. Please continue to pray for us.
‘With the money we received from you, we were able to buy food stuff and Medicare items such as rice, Dettol, soap, cheese balls for children and tokens to some people. We were also able to help a number of poor and underprivileged people in our community and provided relief items for quarantined homes of our members. Hand was also extended to widows and children.
‘We are still appealing for continued support at this time as we would like to bless our members and poor and underprivileged people in and even outside our church community. Please prayer that this menace is taken away from our nation’.
John Hammond, is based in Bedford UK and has been a faithful friend to the Newfrontiers churches in West Africa for many years. For more details of how to give please contact him direct: johnhammond36
Next time I shall report on the situation in Liberia.