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How to choose the right charitable purposes for your organisation

08 Dec 2022

The charity test, which determines if your organisation can become a charity in Scotland, is made up of two main elements:

  1. an organisation has to show that it has only charitable purposes, and
  2. that it provides public benefit in achieving those purposes.

Choosing the right charitable purposes for your organisation is vital to make sure you achieve charitable status. But do you know what charitable purposes actually are and how you choose the ones which are relevant for your organisation?

To help start your charity off on the right path, read our top tips on choosing the right charitable purposes to make sure your application for charitable status is approved quickly.

What are charitable purposes?

Your charity’s purposes are set out in your governing document. The purposes say what your organisation has been set up to achieve, and should reflect broad aims rather than day-to-day activities. It’s really important that OSCR (and the public) can understand which charitable purposes are applicable to your organisation when reading your governing document.

There are sixteen charitable purposes set out in Scottish charity legislation, and each purpose your charity has must fit within at least one of these.

You cannot have anything in your purposes that is not a charitable purpose, or which does not advance a charitable purpose. In other words, the purposes in the governing document must be exclusively charitable.

Which charitable purposes are applicable to my organisation?

All sixteen purposes have specific meanings under the legislation. That’s why we’ve published our Meeting the Charity Test, to explain what each of the purposes means and what types of activities an organisation must carry out to advance these purposes.

For example, some applicants might think that ‘the advancement of health’ applies to their organisation as the activities they propose to run are good for improving participants’ wellbeing as they get people “out and about”. However, our guidance states that to be charitable, advancing health generally means:

  • helping people to maintain or improve their health
  • preventing or curing ill-health and disease
  • providing formal or informal counselling or support
  • providing medical equipment and facilities
  • undertaking medical research
  • providing relief to those suffering from illness.

So in order to identify as a charity whose purposes include the advancement of health, your organisation must undertake specific activities designed to improve health, and which are clearly capable of achieving this. The fact that people’s wellbeing may also benefit from “getting out and about” when taking part in activities does not necessarily meet this requirement.

Similar principles apply to another one of the charitable purposes, ‘the promotion of equality and diversity’. Some applicants might decide this purpose is applicable because they are “open to everyone” or they “don’t discriminate”. However, as set out in the Meeting the Charity Test guidance, charities with this purpose must have the promotion of equality and diversity in society as the primary focus of their activities rather than a secondary aim. So, for example, having an equal opportunities policy does not advance this purpose, but activities which raise awareness of discrimination against LGBT people does.

Hopefully these examples show why it’s really important to carefully read our guidance on what each of the purposes means before you decide if it is applicable to your organisation. This will help you choose charitable purposes which are directly relevant to your organisation, helping your application for charitable status to be approved quickly.

How should I write my charitable purposes?

Including charitable purposes within your governing document is a requirement for all organisations looking to be added to the Scottish Charity Register. You can actually use the charitable purposes from the legislation word for word, as long as the specific purposes you select are applicable to your work.

You may, however, want to include something a little more bespoke which describes your work more accurately – or even a mix of both the official wording and your own.

An example of this might be adapting ‘The advancement of health’ from the legislation into: ‘To advance the health of under 16s living in Fife by providing healthy eating and fitness sessions in schools’.

How many charitable purposes should my organisation have?

An organisation with one charitable purpose is no less charitable than an organisation with all sixteen. Adding more charitable purposes to your application does not make your organisation more charitable or more likely to be approved for charitable status – in fact, it may just hold up your application as we will require more information and your application will be under more scrutiny.

The number of purposes an organisation has is not part of our consideration process when we assess applications. Instead, we look to see that each charitable purpose is relevant to your organisation, your proposed activities will advance this purpose, and you plan to provide public benefit by meeting this charitable purpose.

If you choose charitable purposes which are not applicable, we’ll ask you to remove them which will hold up the application process. If an applicant refuses to remove a purpose which we tell them is not applicable, it’s ultimately up to OSCR to decide which charitable purposes are appropriate and whether your organisation can be added to the charity register.

So remember, it’s important that you choose the right charitable purposes for your organisation if you want to achieve charitable status and to reduce the time it takes to be approved by OSCR. Be specific about the purposes you choose for your organisation, and remember that sometimes it can be better to focus on a smaller number of relevant purposes than to attempt to choose a larger number which are less relevant to your work.

Good luck with your application!

Find out more by taking a look at these helpful resources: