step 1 - get startedstep 2 - make a planstep 3 - decide on membershipstep 4 - decide on charitable statusstep 5 - consider the risksstep 6 - decide on a structurestep 7 - write your constitutionstep 8 - next steps

Membership organisations are probably the most common type of organisation in the voluntary sector. They have a two-tier structure where the board is elected by, and accountable to, a wider body of ordinary members.

Many mainstream charities are membership organisations, eg SCVO and the National Trust. Various social clubs and sports clubs, most community-led charities, community development trusts, housing associations and credit unions also fall within this category.

Different roles

Members can attend the Annual General Meeting (AGM) and have the power to take certain fundamental decisions, such as making changes to the constitution and dissolving the organisation. They also elect board members. The board hold regular meetings between AGMs and control and supervise the activities of the organisation. They monitor the financial position of the organisation.

Don’t be put off setting up a membership organisation just because the steering group can’t identify people who would be interested in forming the wider membership. That concern is common. If you think there should be an election process at an AGM even if it is expected that attendance may be low, then a membership organisation is the right option.

Your members

Despite appearances it is the members who have ultimate control rather than the board, so it is important to carefully consider who can be eligible for membership. Here are some of the things you need to think about:

Legal structures for a membership organisation

The possible legal structures for a membership organisation would be:

With certain legal structures, members have more responsibilities than others (eg SCIO). This should be taken into account when deciding what type of legal structure would be best for the organisation.

If you decide not to be a membership organisation then the possible legal structures would be: