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A charity's governing document: What it should include

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Use this page to understand what a charity’s governing document is and what it should include.

What's a charity's governing document?

Your governing document sets out your charitable purposes and how they should be managed and run.

A charity’s ‘purposes’ are what it's set up to achieve. Your charitable purposes should:

  • fall within one or more of 13 descriptions of purposes listed in the Charities Act
  • be for the public benefit (the ‘public benefit requirement’).

Charities are legally required to follow what is set out in their governing document. This includes making sure that:

  • the charity's activities remain within the charitable purposes
  • any new activities are allowed within the charity’s purposes
  • the charity follows rules around how the board of trustees are appointed and managed
  • trustees have a good knowledge and understanding of their governing document.

Find out more about charitable purposes.

What your governing document should include

Your governing document should include all the information you need to run your charity, such as:

  • what the charity is set up to do (known as its 'purposes')
  • what the charity can do to carry out its purposes such as borrowing money (known as its 'powers')
  • who will run the organisation (the trustees, directors, the board or management committee) and who can be a member
  • how meetings will be held and trustees appointed
  • rules about paying trustees, investments and holding land
  • whether trustees can change the governing document including its charitable purposes
  • what happens if the charity wishes or needs to close.

Governing documents for different charity legal structures

The name of your governing document and the titles of the trustees are different depending on the legal structure of your charity.

For example, the legal structure of an unincorporated association has a constitution (governing document) and management committee members (title of the trustees).

For each charity legal structure, the table below links to the governing document template on the Charity Commission’s website.

Further guidance and advice



Last reviewed: 03 June 2021

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This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 03 June 2021

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