In February 2017 Thanet Creative Writers will be transitioning to a charity. For most people, this change means business as usual but there are some features of us being a charity that might make a big difference.
In this (rather long) article I will try to break down exactly what it means to be a charity, what you can get out of us being a charity and how to get the most out of this change.
Charities are important
Charities are an important part of our country. They exist for the public good. In fact, it is impossible to be a charity if you cannot prove that you exist for the public good.
What is a charity?
A charity is an organisation that operates for the benefit of others. Specifically, a charity must be:
- Not be for profit
- Have exclusively charitable purposes
- Operate for the public benefit
Thanet Creative Writers (TCW) runs for the benefit of writers in Thanet and not, in any way, to make a profit. Our hope is to make Thanet (and by extension, the world) a better place by encouraging people to embrace this satisfying and worthwhile pastime. If some of our writers can go on to make a living from their work then this is even better.
Integrity and Credibility
It is generally seen as easier to raise funds from the public at large for a charity rather than a small independent group. This due to the positive image of integrity and credibility charitable status presents.
Help and guidance is available to charities from the Charity Commission. This, in itself, should provide the public with reassurance and help to show that we are sincere in our desire to further the interest of Thanet’s writers.
Furthermore, the model of charity that we have chosen, with elected trustees and open accounting, should help to foster transparency and show that we are an honest and reputable collective.
If course, just being a charity does not automatically mean any of that yet it is the right foundation to build an honest and open community for the betterment of writers in Thanet.
Charities are defined by their Governing Document. This is a technical and legal statement that says what the charity is, what it will do, and the bylaws under which it will operate. The website charityexpert.net has a more detailed explanation.
The Governing Document provides a clear set of rules that describes how the organisation will behave. Thanet Creative Writers has, so far, run on the rules of discussion and common sense. That is fine for a small group but as we grow so our structure needs to grow with us.
The attempt by a few members to take over and control the group, last year, demonstrates that without some set of guidelines eventually there will be chaos and anarchy. While a bit of personal chaos can be good for the creative mind, generally it is preferable to have a degree of order within a community organisation. If for no other reason than so that we all know where we stand with each other.
Our Governing Document is a fairly standard one. It describes what we want to do and how we will go about doing it. It describes how we will elect our trustees and what we will do if there is a disagreement. I see this as an important safety net to have in place before we try and start any further ambitious projects.
I see it as a personal failure that I saw the danger and did not push soon enough or hard enough for us to establish ourselves in a more formal setting. Our Governing Document has been crafted to rectify this shortcoming while being as light, informal, and flexible as possible.
Currently, any expenses that Thanet Creative Writers’ projects might incur have to be paid for by whoever is running things. That hardly seems fair nor is it particularly scalable.
Certain sources of funding, particularly grants, are open only to organisations with charitable status.This includes “Gift Aid relief” on donations from individuals. This is of direct benefit to the writers and events that we support as we will be able to access or provide funding to help get things paid for.
Additionally, we may be exempt from VAT in some cases. This should make some things less expensive by a significant amount. That’s good because it means that we can do more for you with less money.
Being a Charity Member
Charity members get to vote in our elections and may stand for trustee rolls. Members also get the most benefit from our charitable activities in terms of support.
You do not need to be a member to come to our events. That said, we feel it would be a great idea to think about being a member.
Benefits of membership include:
- Priority registration to events with limited places
- The right to vote in our elections
- Access to all our events even those not open to the public
- The right to have any relevant event you might run listed as an official TCW event
- Access to any local discounts that we might negotiate
On that last point, discounts, this is an aspiration for us at present but should we realise this goal it would be for members only.
To become a member you need only make a donation of at least one whole pound each year. As members have a lot of power over the charity, full membership (where all the benefits are) has a short vetting process. You need to either be at the signing of the Governing Document on the 2nd of February, added by a trustee later, or sponsored by an existing member. While we are small and it is possible to know all members by name, that vetting process is likely to take a few seconds at most.
The benefits and requirements of membership are explained on the Thanet Creative writers: charity project page.
Being a Trustee
A charity cannot run without trustees. The trustees are elected each AGM and serve to carry out the business end of the charities aims and objectives. To become a trustee you must first become a member.
Being a trustee can be a hugely rewarding experience, especially when you see the difference that the charity is making. Also, and this never hurts, having spent time as a trustee looks great on your CV especially if you were able to help achieve something notable during your time as a trustee.
It should go without saying, but a trustee cannot be paid for the role. That may be a touch simplistic as there are conditions under which trustees can be paid for professional services but the charities commission will require a full and detailed explanation and justification. Sufficed to say, trusteeship is voluntary.
Projects we already run
We already run a number of small projects. The most prominent are:
- The Thanet creative writers Facebook Group
- Thanet Creative Writers: Tea and Chat events
- This website
There are a lot more Thanet Creative Writers projects if you would like to read about them.
What being a charity means to our current projects
If you enjoy coming to Thanet Creative Writers: Tea and Chat or other events that we run then I have some good news. The change to charity means no change at all for you in terms of the events themselves. Tea and chat will continue as it always has.
However, it does mean that there may be money available in the future to run bigger and better events. It also means that if there is a problem there will be appointed and recognised people operating inside a fair and impartial framework that you can go to who will take care of the problem and help you get back to doing what you love – writing.
It also means that if you want to create something new then there is a framework within which we will be happy to help you make that something. It should be safe to invest time or money into a project know that there are safeguards in place which will keep things on track.
Finally, it also means that no new project should overwhelm existing ones. Should TCW launch a website, conference, or even a festival, then your current meetings and groups will not be overrun with talk of projects that you might not be interested in right now.
In short, becoming a charity means doing things the right way from the start.
Projects and event we would like to set up
Our members have a lot of idea of things that they would like for us to be doing. We have spoken over the years of setting up a literary festival, of running writers’ social events, of setting up a weekly poetry event for new poets, and of running training and presentation evenings. In addition to that, we would like to produce an anthology publication to showcase the best work of those that come to our events.
If we cannot do all that we would, at least, like to inspire others to do some of these things.
While we are doing that we would also love to support the many different writer oriented events and groups that exist in Thanet. We would like to help others who have innovative ideas for new events and groups to realise those ideas.
Becoming a charity, with the funding that this would allow us to access and the yearly donations of our members should allow us to make some of these dreams a reality.
Booking Specialist Speakers
How awesome would it be if we could get top writers like Niel Gaiman, J. K. Rowling, or Steven King to come and speak to us budding writers for an hour or two?
Who do you think they would be more willing to come and talk to – some local writers’ group or a legitimate charity with the funds to cover their expenses?
When I founded Thanet Creative Writers my only thought was that it would be cool to hang out with other writers. Things have grown since then and this change to a charity is in many ways simply a natural part of that growth. Thanet Creative Writers long ago stopped being about me and became about us instead. We are writers and we want to help other writers.
Things like dyslexia, dyspraxia, youth, age, career (or lack thereof) should not be things that stand between you and enjoying writing. If we can help remove those barriers, then this is a good thing that we want to do.
If you would like to be part of establishing Thanet Creative Writers as a charity then please come along to our launch.