CICs: why we can’t usually support them

(and who can)

Originally posted May 27, 2021
If you’re reading this, it is likely you’ve followed a link from Birmingham Community Matters (BCM) saying ‘Sorry – this is not open to CICs: here’s why’ – or words to that effect.

BCM icon depicting a civic building

Community interest companies (CIC)

If you’re from a CIC (community interest company), we want to explain why – regrettably – we can’t support you with our everyday work. We will also signpost you to organisations with the knowledge and resources to meet your needs.

First of all – please know that we love CICs! They, and other social enterprises, do important work that benefits the community, generates income, creates and sustains jobs, and reinvests profits into further important work.

However, the CIC model is different to that of other community organisations. And that leads us to the first reason as to why we can’t always help CICs:

1. Our work has a ‘public benefit requirement’

BCM is a charity and, bound by Charity Commission rules, our work must have ‘only charitable purposes which must be for the public benefit’. While CICs also exist to further a social purpose, they are – in structure – limited companies with necessary commercial focus. Directors can be paid and are free to draw dividends from their CIC (albeit with limitations), and pay shareholders. So there is potential, within a CIC, for private benefit.

This is all fine, of course! But BCM must direct its resources towards groups that are solely for public benefit, with no commercial element.

2. Our volunteers’ experience is with voluntary and community groups

BCM is a peer-to-peer learning network. When people with a challenge or idea for their community group/project come to us for support, we match them with a Community Matters Helper who has lots of experience of doing similar. Our Helpers’ knowledge has been gleaned from running community and voluntary groups – rarely CICs. So we’re not the best-placed people to help you.

And that leads to our final reason . . .

3. Other organisations exist to support CICs – and they’re amazing

We would never step on the toes of the wonderful School for Social Entrepreneurs – the ‘Have I Got Social Enterprise News For You’ email newsletter is particularly brilliant) or, here in Brum, iSE, which provides start-up and development opportunities for social enterprises, community organisations and not-for-profits. (Watch ‘This Is Us’, a brief introductory video from iSE and see also the useful page: ‘What is Social Enterprise?’.)

So while BCM is here to boost Birmingham’s small and emerging community and voluntary groups, SSE and iSE have the information, capacity and knowledge to give you expert guidance for your CIC.

Wait – don’t go!

Birmingham is a big, vibrant, diverse, exciting city. Life here is best when we work together. Even if we can’t offer you all of our services and events, we still want to know about you, celebrate your successes, and send someone or something your way if we think you will both benefit.

As our BCM values state, we always want to be generous with our knowledge, connections and experience. Come and say hello on Twitter or Facebook so we can be mutually helpful – and definitely sign up to our newsletter because we often share opportunities and news that can help CICs too.