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Shortly before Christmas, and timed to coincide with the release of the new Star Wars based movie, the Charity Commission released their decision on the application of “The Temple of the Jedi Order” (TOTJO) to become a CIO.

The application was rejected because “the Commission is not satisfied that TOTJO is established for exclusively charitable purposes”. TOTJO was trying to register as a religious advancement charity, one of the charitable categories available.

At first glance this may appear to be a quirky case that makes headlines because of the subject matter but has little relevance to the real world of charities. Dig a little deeper however and you find a wealth of information that is applicable not just to new prospective charities but to existing charities looking at new ventures as well.

Any charity needs to address the points outlined in the commission decision whenever it is considering a new activity as everything that a charity undertakes must be within its charitable objects and be for the public benefit.

These considerations are:

  • Is the activity going to be beneficial to the community? However well meaning something is, if there are no discernible benefits then it cannot be charitable. Having just beliefs on their own is not considered to be sufficient to establish a charitable activity.
  • Do the benefits of the activity strike a balance against any detriment or harm that may result.
  • Does the activity benefit the public or a section of the public – charities are not permitted to operate in a closed environment only benefiting specific individuals and must reach out beyond their membership.
  • Are benefits available regardless of an individual’s economic circumstances. A charity may not carry out activities in such a way as to exclude the poor.
  • Are any personal benefits accruing to members incidental to the overall activities of the charity.