Charities Starting Trading

The current policy and funding environment means that more and more charities are undertaking significant trading activites. Often this presents wonderful opportunities, but it is not for everyone. It is essential that before starting or growing a trading activity charities undertake a thorough assessment of

  • their aims and priorities - is a more commercial focus really compatible with all asects of our mission?
  • what risks might arise - do we need to set up a separate trading company? - and
  • whether they actually have the capacity to plan and develop trading.

Geof Cox facilitates workshop sessions and leads seminars on these issues, and on the underlying organisational development strategy that may be needed. He also provides detailed training and assistance on the legalities and practicalities of setting up a subsidiary, what you can and can't do as a charity, transferring assets and activities, and so on.

Examples of trading subsidiaries we have helped establish:

  • The Olive Branch Trust
    A complex restructure involving the merger of 2 charities and development of a group with 3 subsidiary trading comunity interest companies.
  • Amble Development Trust
    Amble is one of the most successful developement trusts in the UK. Geof Cox originally set up their trading subsidiary company in 1999, then in 2006 converted this company into a Community Interest Company to act as an incubator and umbrella or 'holding' company for further trading subsidiaries.
Mark Powell, charismatic founder of IMBYMark Powell, charismatic founder of IMBY
  • IMBY
    A challenging inversion of 'Not In My Back Yard' - IMBY is a Yorkshire-based charity that has for some years led the way in social firm development. Geof is assisting with the restructure of the IMBY group, for example recently designing a share Community Interest Company for the linked social firm Temps2Work.
  • Bramley Elderley Action
    Also a share Community Interest Company - in this case to develop a network sales and distribution business for acquired disability aids.

An example programme for a workshop session can be seen here.


The following booklet also contains a useful overview:

A Guide to Charities Starting Social Firms
A step-by-step guide aimed principally at disability charities about to establish or 'float-off' a trading activity as a subsidiary or linked company. Many of the issues, however, are relevant to any charity developing a trading activity or subsidiary company. The guide focuses on the legal and technical aspects of the work and addresses such questions as:

  • can a trading activity be carried on as part of the charity, or should it be floated off, for instance in a subsidiary or linked company?
  • how is running a social enterprise different from running a charity?
  • what support can the charity offer - in cash or in kind - to a subsidiary or linked social enterprise?
  • can a charity transfer its own assets and staff to a social enterprise, and if so, how?

Download from Social Firms UK