Towards a new definition of charity: getting your board on board

Towards a new definition of charity: getting your board on board

By Achates Philanthropy


Caroline McCormick explores definitions of charity and gives her top tips to help boards see arts and culture as a worthy cause.


  • An organisation set up to provide help and raise money for those in need.
  • The body of organisations viewed collectively as the object of fundraising donations.
  • The voluntary giving of help, typically in the form of money, to those in need.

When you read the Oxford English Dictionary's definition of 'charity' it's not hard to understand why few in the UK perceive the arts in such a way. The concept of 'need' can be a particular barrier; it denotes things essential to survival such as food and water, healthcare and education.

Boards of arts organisations commonly struggle with the idea of the organisation as a charity. This can have wide-ranging implications, including a reluctance to engage in fundraising and to lead the way by making a gift themselves.

The definition of a charitable body is more helpful in addressing these issues.

Charitable body:

  • an organisation that is recognised in the law as having exclusively charitable purposes. It must not be run for profit, and any income it receives must be spent on helping it to achieve its charitable purposes.

The definition also opens up the need for Trustees to understand their role and legal responsibilities. These have evolved considerably in recent years and I would say far less than half the boards I encounter really do understand the responsibilities they have signed up to.

There is an undoubted need for an enhanced approach to the recruitment, appointment and induction of Trustees across the cultural sector.

If this sounds remarkably like the board of a charity you're working with, what can you do about it?

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Resource type: Research | Published: 2016