FOLIO is committed to sharing what we’ve learned (and continue to learn) about supporting libraries, being a charity and helping build community spirit. This page documents some of the resources we find very useful, and includes some thoughts that might help if you are considering setting up a community group or charity.

Finding support as a Friends Of a library group
You can search the Charity Commission website for registered charities who are have the words “Friends of” and “Library” – this brings up lots of groups, many of which have websites and contact details. The ones we’ve contacted for support and inspiration have been very generous. – a tremendously useful website with a weekly digest you can sign up to, full of library developments in the UK – a registered charity set up to support friends and users of libraries is especially useful for groups who are running libraries, rather than supporting libraries where there are still paid librarians.

Finding funding
Our most often used source of funding bodies:
“Funding Central provides unique access to thousands of grants, contracts and loan finance opportunities from local, national and international funding sources, all in one place, through one search.”
You’ll need to set up a subscription, but this is free for small organisations (ie those with an annual income under £100,000)
Once subscribed you can receive a very useful weekly e-bulletin with lots of funding opportunities.
Sandwell Council of Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is “a charitable organisation based in Sandwell which supports Sandwell’s Voluntary and Community Sector, comprised of voluntary-run community groups, charities, not-for-profit businesses, faith communities and social enterprises.” Although SCVO has a Sandwell focus, it may well still be useful for other groups, especially in the West Midlands.

Ask your local council if they have a community support / community development officer who can help third sector organisations develop. Birmingham City Council does have such officers and if you’d like us to make an introduction, please get in touch.

Birmingham Voluntary Service Council is “the primary infrastructure support organisation for Birmingham’s charities and community groups”

Becoming a charity
FOLIO’s reasoning for going for charitable status was informed by these considerations:

  • With a view to long term planning we wanted to be able to apply for large grants ( 6 figure sums) and generally this size of grant is only available to groups with registered charity status
  • Registered charity status gives authenticity, helps garner trust from outside, sense of gravitas. Given our situation – new, politically sensitive – we had to show we meant business, and getting charitable status was one way of doing that.

  • Other things that also suited us about getting registered charity status:

  • potential to gather gift aid on donations from private individuals
  • reduction in business rates available to charities
  • it wasn’t a reason for going for charitable status, but it was definitely a benefit of it: the process really made us think about who we are as an organisation and what we want to do

  • Not every Friends of Group will wish to become a charity. Things that need to be considered about going for charity status:

  • potential administrative burden
  • trustees cannot be paid
  • being a charity can restrict what you do

  • FOLIO’s experience

    June 2017 we wrote our first constitution – drawing heavily on the constitutions of Friends of library groups as available on the Charity Commission website. We had to delimit our purpose – what we wanted to achieve – the reason it exists. This core purpose is described in the constitution as “charitable objects”. has some advice on how to write charitable objects. At this point we weren’t a charity, but simply a constituted community group.

    July 2018 we first attempted to register for charitable status, as a CIO (charitable incorporated organisation). There are other forms of charity structure – and you’ll need to consider which is right for you (some advice here

    In September 2018 the Commission got back to us with objections to our application – there was some misunderstanding about what we wanted to do (particularly complicated by the fact that we were setting up a café at the same time), but crucially they felt our objects were “not exclusively charitable as drafted”.

    October 2018, following a couple of pro bono consultations with specialist charity lawyers we resubmitted our application to become a charity, addressing the concerns raised by the commission, and clarifying our relationship to the café.

    At the start of November 2018 the Commission got back to us and were still not quite satisfied with our application, still having concerns that our objects were not exclusively charitable, this despite our objects having been approved by the specialist charity lawyers. Helpfully, however, this time the commission suggested wording they would be happy with for our objects. We accepted their proposed word, and resubmitted our application accordingly.
    27 November 2018 – we finally got charitable status!

    What was hard about this process:
    Some of what we originally wanted to do, we had to reconsider (or find different ways to do) because a charity must have exclusively charitable purposes eg art gallery, archives, café ie everything a charity does has to be charitable in the LEGAL sense (which is much tighter than one might think – just because and action benefits the community it isn’t necessarily charitable in the legal sense). Also we found that the commission wanted things to be very tight – nothing imprecise (eg “arts”). We also got lots of conflicting advice – we had advice from a BCC officer, a charity lawyer and still we weren’t making progress.

    We think this is for two reasons

  • Since the problems with the charity Kids Company, the commission have really tightened up on their procedures making it much hard to become a charity
  • FOLIO’s circumstances (being linked to a statutory body, and the the fact that we were setting up a business at the same time) made it complicated.
  • More generally you might find these links useful:

    Sharing what we’ve learned

    Leave a Reply