I've been a CTC member for several decades, but I must confess that this had somewhat passed me by until I saw this thread. I find myself undecided, and rather thinking that many contributors here are making "in-crowd" references that I do not fully understand.
Various national membership organisations to which I belong are charities, without being the obvious Oxfam-type bodies that you first think of when that term is used. (I work for another.) They include, for example, the Scout Association
and the Institute of Physics
. As I understand it, and IANAL, the definition of charities is wider under UK than under, say, US law, and some UK ones would be not-for-profit organisations in the USA. However, we have to work with the law as it is here.
For me the IoP is an interesting comparison, in so far as part of its explicit charitable purpose is to promote physics, in such a way as to draw in the next (and current) generation to the activity, to the benefit of society. One of the reasons that I joined the CTC is that it does the same, and this is very much to my indirect benefit anyway; with more cyclists, we have more of a voice, and it's no accident that we are getting more noticed these days. Therefore I do not see the need to fulfill charitable objectives as an obstacle.
Most membership-based charities offer services to members, so that's not a problem either. You can't get financial advantage out of charity membership, so you can't get services that exceed your subscription in value, but magazines are commonplace, and the National Trust gives free entry to buildings, for example. I believe that the relationship between subscriptions and services may affect whether Gift Aid is allowed, but again IANAL.
I do not understand the references to doing government work under contract. If this is about supporting attempts to get "bums on seats", it seems to me to be rather obvious that an organisation committed to doing so would pick up health and environmental arguments to use alongside the long-standing ones of enjoyment and convenience. It would be mad to miss the opportunity. Is this the objection?
I don't really understand about restrictions on campaigning either. It didn't stop the Scouts on the water charges
issue. I can't see the CTC taking a stance on who should form the next government, but on road safety issues what's the problem?
I would like to know more about how the charitable trust came about and why it owns the buildings (I missed all that too somehow). I'm not greatly attracted by the argument that says "We've gone this far and so we need to finish the job", when I don't understand why we went that far.
So, I set out and read the CASS report on the CTC site
. It didn't help much, because it was mostly about structures. To be honest, I'd need a draft constitution before I could think about those, and I don't understand the current one. However, the table in Annex 1 seems to do both advantages and disadvantages very well, contrary to statements in this thread. Basically, it seems to say that, if you want to go in for campaigning, you're better as a charity, and if you just want to be an organisation for the members, maybe not.
As for members' control, I'm ambivalent on that. I hope that others here won't mind my saying this, but I know all too well that you can't please 60,000 people all at once. From the other side, it's difficult to feel that you have any kind of control when you are one voice among so many. However, a very large committee can
, in my experience of the organisations of which I am a member, be slow and unfocussed. So somehow the central decision-making has to be by a group small enough to be effective, but accountable enough to be controlled. And at best I'll get to make only 0.000017 of any decisions (that's one sixty thousandth...).