Charity & Community
As one of the leading charity firms in the country, advising charities, social enterprises and not-for-profit organisations lies at the heart of our practice.
Our reputation is founded on years of experience acting for some of the biggest operational and grant-making charities in the UK, as well as the promoters of new charities, philanthropists and corporates looking to establish charitable foundations.
We build deep and lasting relationships with our clients, which enable us to identify and anticipate the issues that matter most to them. We pride ourselves on providing an expert, timely and cost-effective service, and make sure we are always approachable, accessible and responsive.
Our charity practice encompasses the full range of legal matters which charities and not-for-profits encounter, from day-to-day to "once in a lifetime" events. We provide guidance on diverse operational issues, including how to manage charity property, endowments and investments; the best way to license and exploit assets and rights, charitable trading and tax, grant-making and social investment and fundraising. We also work with individual and corporate philanthropists wishing to establish new charities or structure their charitable giving in other ways.
With many charities’ operations and fundraising spanning international borders, we frequently provide support in relation to cross-border and international charity work.
We have extensive experience of forming new charities, including those with more novel purposes or complex structures, and of restructuring existing charities where their current arrangements are no longer fit for purpose. We have steered many of our clients through periods of significant change and have advised them on key strategic decisions such as merger, de-merger and partnering. If a crisis strikes, we are a safe pair of hands and our clients trust us to see them through even the most testing of circumstances.
Our lawyers are highly regarded within the sector, and we are regularly invited to sit on government advisory panels and sector working parties which formulate and review policy and legislation. In addition, we maintain strong working relationships with the Charity Commission and other regulators. With this perspective we are perfectly placed to advise you on how the changing legal and regulatory outlook may influence your future activities.
Our clients benefit from the experience not just of our recognised charity law experts, but also from their colleagues in every area of our practice. When the work demands it, we are able to draw together a team of experts from across the firm, providing you with a complete package of legal support, whether you need specialist advice in any area from intellectual property to employment. We present complex legal solutions in an accessible and practical manner, giving you sound legal and commercial advice tailored to your particular needs.
The charity sector is enormously diverse: from organisations established many centuries ago, to promoters of new charities furthering novel and innovative purposes. Whether ancient or modern, all charities need a constitution and an organisational structure which works for them and enables them to deliver their objectives effectively.
We have many years' experience setting up new charities and social enterprises and advising trusts, companies, charitable incorporated organisations (CIOs), Royal Charter bodies and others on a range of constitutional matters, from interpreting and amending existing constitutions, to adopting wholly new governing documents – or a wholly new legal structure.
We can assist with all aspects of establishing a new charity or undertaking a constitutional review of your existing charity, including working with you to identify where your constitution may be holding you back, and managing relationships with stakeholders and regulators if change is needed.
We are widely regarded as a market leader for our expertise on charitable structuring and re-structuring, particularly where this involves charities with extensive group arrangements and more complex constitutions, and we regularly advise on charity mergers, de-mergers, joint ventures, spin-outs and managing relationships with charitable and non-charitable partners.
The governance associated with significant structural change is often critical to the effective and sensitive delivery of a project, and we have a deep understanding of the operational side of any major reorganisation. We work closely with trustees and senior staff to identify the most practical and cost-effective solution for your charity.
Every charity needs to consider from time to time whether its internal governance is fit for purpose or whether there are aspects which could benefit from modernisation or more fundamental change.
Charities are now encouraged to undertake regular governance reviews, an area in which we are well-placed to assist – whether in a supporting role or with a more active remit, depending on your needs. In addition to identifying legal and regulatory issues, we can help you to communicate the outcomes of any review to your board and staff and to implement any changes that are approved.
We are on hand to assist when you need to engage with regulators to obtain support and guidance, and we take care to maintain strong working relationships with the Charity Commission, Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs, the Information Commissioner's Office, the Privy Council Office and the Fundraising Regulator. Where dealings with regulators become confrontational, we provide robust support.
Governance disputes can and do arise, and when this happens it is important to ensure that they are dealt with sensitively and as quickly as possible. Many trustees have little or no experience of the difficult issues they may face as trustees (such as handling difficult meetings, elections and disputes, where relationships or arrangements break down). We have a great deal of experience helping in these situations, and of working to tight deadlines, often at short notice to help you bring matters to a swift and satisfactory conclusion.
Our charity and non-profit clients regularly come to us for advice on the full spectrum of their operational activities: from routine grant-making and trading, to major capital projects, sponsorships, transformative financing and cross-border matters.
Our lawyers are well-versed in the full range of operational issues – such as establishing and administering grant programmes, grant-funding non-charities and working with overseas partners, the tax implications of charitable and non-charitable trading and the use of trading subsidiaries.
If you require guidance on how best to manage and dispose of property assets (whether owned or leased, heritage or new-build), or on endowment funds or other investments, our specialist advisors can guide you through the relevant legal and regulatory considerations and support you in your decision-making. We can also advise on the commercial exploitation of other assets, such as your intellectual property and brand.
We regularly advise charities considering social investment, or to expand the scope of their existing activities in this area and develop more innovative funding models.
Securing funding is a crucial part of many charities' work. We are recognised leaders in the area of transformative finance and regularly assist charities wishing to secure substantial funding to support their objectives, as well as advising on major donor and sponsor relationships. We have a comprehensive understanding of the landscape in relation to general fundraising, including sponsored events, legacy campaigns, lotteries and managing relationships with professional fundraisers and commercial participators – as well as the increased focus on fundraising regulation and governance.
Sadly, charities are not immune from events and incidents which can challenge their governance and jeopardise their ability to pursue their goals in an effective way.
Regulatory interventions, disputes within a charity or with third parties, serious safeguarding or data security incidents, corporate insolvency and attendant reputational damage can place enormous strain on an organisation and severely test its governance. Recent years have seen the media take an increasingly hostile approach to the sector, and the risk of reputational damage is now one that few charities can afford to ignore.
When a crisis arises, we act quickly to provide support, guidance and reassurance to trustees and senior staff at a time when they are likely to feel particularly under pressure or exposed.
It is here that our lawyers really come into their own. They bring to bear their extensive experience of assisting charities in difficulties to provide measured, sensitive and timely advice on how, crucially, to handle the issue at hand, and how to work with regulators to secure the best possible outcome for the charity. Where disputes escalate unavoidably, our experienced team of litigators are familiar with the particular concerns that charities have in such situations.
Once an immediate crisis has been resolved, we are always happy to work with clients (whether as required by regulators or otherwise) to review their governance and, where appropriate, identify any steps which might be taken to mitigate the risk of similar incidents happening again.
We have many years of experience in working with private and corporate philanthropists who wish to fund or establish their own foundations, charities and social enterprises.
If you are interested in setting up your own philanthropic vehicle or foundation, we can work with you to achieve your goal, from the initial set up, through to advice on governance and cross-border tax, as well as project monitoring and the making of social investments. We can also advise you on the alternatives to a free-standing foundation, should you prefer to structure your philanthropy through a donor-advised fund or other giving vehicle – whether in the UK or internationally. If, over time, it becomes desirable to relocate your foundation to another jurisdiction, we can advise you on whether and how this might be achieved. We have a good working knowledge of the not-for-profit environment in other jurisdictions, together with a strong network of professional contacts around the world.
In addition to working with individuals and families, we have considerable experience of establishing corporate foundations for companies and advising corporates that wish to undertake philanthropic activity alongside their commercial interests. We can advise you on how best to structure the relationship between your company and your foundation, in order to ensure that the foundation is able to operate sufficiently independently while remaining aligned to the objectives of its parent. We can also assist with managing the relationship between the two as the foundation matures – including handling any disagreements which may arise.