The Blog

How to Start a Charity from Scratch- Nine Dos and Don'ts

The NUS/Student Hubs nomination is an incredible privilege and a mark of how SHH has been a great success in 2013. Schools, charities and media are starting to approach us and invite us to do the work we set out to do. Starting SHH was the hardest part. So I thought I would share some pointers that I wish I'd known two years ago - for students who are fundraising, planning a voluntary project, or starting a charity. Hope it helps!


-Recognise the benefits of volunteering: meeting people who share your cause, health (longevity, happiness); the grounding effect of diverting thinking away from your own life for an hour or two; employability (charity work is less competitive than an internship for JP Morgan, but chances are you will get a lot more autonomy and responsibility and experiment with roles in events, finance, press...)

-Volunteer yourself before you manage volunteers. My stepmum started taking me volunteering at children's centres and hospices from when I was 10 years old. You learn how you'd like to be treated as a volunteer and the types of personalities that make reliable and dynamic assets to a volunteer team- immensely valuable when you are putting volunteer teams together yourself.

-Ask the important questions: are there other organisations doing this? Whose public benefit am I serving? How will I measure the effect? Get other people to scrutinise your idea. I opted for an interrogation-style session with the Dean of a medical school. I broke out in a sweat but it helped refine our objectives until they were crystal clear.

-Try things. We tried a fancy dress Halloween themed Zumba class to promote activity- tip: there is no audience for this! But, a wild card boxing/cage-fighting tournament fundraiser was a huge success! If you allow yourself to be flexible and accept some 'failures' you begin to respond to the wants and needs of your target audience instead of your own musings in your business plan!

-Write business plan. Just because stocks and shares aren't at stake, doesn't mean you shouldn't take philanthropy as seriously as running a small business. The opposite is true: without economic incentives, deadlines etc you need to plan more carefully to ensure your objectives are fulfilled effectively to completion. I modelled our first business plan on the strategic plans of successful business and big charities- like Cancer Research and the BHF. Having a professionally bound copy gave confidence to donors and prospective trustees when I was making my first pitches.

-Have mixed skill management. Our trustee board includes: a cardiovascular surgeon, a lawyer, an ex-finance director, a teacher and me (the student). Everyone has their eye on a different part of our activities and objectives don't fall through the cracks.


-Be naïve and think because it's charity work that Hobbesian human nature is put on hold and everyone gets along all the time! Managing people is difficult, especially when there are no employment contracts involved. Surround yourself with positive people who bounce back. If you are going to grow your project it is worth spending time carefully matching volunteers to tasks which suit their strengths and (if they are students) future career choices.

-Ignore the emotional drain. Most days I'm filled with optimism about what we can achieve. Then there are days which I spend talking to families about the children they have lost to heart conditions and I think about the people I lost and focus on how unfair and unnatural deaths from Sudden Adult Death Syndrome seem. Compartmentalise and know you will have a lot more energy to give your cause.

-Do it alone. I would recommend speaking to someone who has worked as a charity trustee or started their own charity to guide you through the process. Our Treasurer, Ian started a diabetes charity 15 years ago- he has been an invaluable guide to me throughout. The Charity Commission of England & Wales produce clear 'how to' guides too.

If you would like to volunteer with Student Heart Health or you are setting up your own voluntary initiative or charity and would like to talk it over with me please do get in touch and send me an email at :

For daily heart health tips and to help raise awareness of the cause please like the Student Heart Health Facebook page, visit the website or follow them on twitter.