About us

About Purposely 

Purposely is a free tool to put purpose at the heart of a business. Businesses with a purpose beyond profit are committed to fulfilling a social, economic or environmental goal. There are more than 1.2 million of them in the UK. Purposely is a digital tool to embed your purpose in a company’s governing articles. And it’s free to use.

Purposely has been developed following upon the recommendations of the 2016 Mission-Led Business Review that recommended that government should raise awareness of the existing legal flexibility to embed purpose within a conventional limited company and establish clear ways for entrepreneurs to take advantage of it.

Purposely is designed for founders who have already decided that the Company Limited by Shares legal structure is right for them. There are other legal structures that automatically include purpose, including the Community Interest Company and various charitable structures.

Purposely was designed and created by UnLtd, the Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs, in partnership with law firm Bates Wells Braithwaite (BWB), and with strategic support from the Department of Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS).

We are grateful to the following for their input as members of the project Sounding Board:

Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Companies House

National Enterprise Network

Thomson Reuters Foundation

Grant Thornton

Message House

FAQs

All companies have a purpose. Under company law, the standard purpose of a standard limited company is to benefit the shareholders of the company. This is usually achieved by selling goods or services with a view to generating a profit. At the same time, the law requires directors to have regard to wider stakeholder considerations, such as the interests of employees, customers, suppliers, the community at large and the environment.
There are many reasons to identify and articulate a clear business purpose, including to:
  • set a direction of travel and clear expectations for all parties
  • enable alignment of interests between directors, shareholders, employees and others
  • enable deeper connection and collaboration on the part of key stakeholders
  • support the business to live out its values and encourage the right behaviours
Careful thought needs to be given to how purpose is communicated and articulated, if the purpose is to be effective legally and to communicate the right message to the relevant stakeholders. Many business leaders think that a purpose which positively describes the good it does for society puts it at a competitive advantage in the market for talent, investment and customers
Yes. All companies have a purpose. Under company law, the default purpose of a limited company is to benefit the shareholders of the company, while having regard to wider stakeholder considerations. Increasingly, many companies feel that this description of the purpose of a company places too narrow an emphasis on profit and fails to fully capture their true purpose. These companies are being set up and run with the aim of doing more than simply generating a profit for shareholders. Fortunately, company law allows a company to specify purposes other than benefit to shareholders.

Some companies have a specific purpose that relates to their commercial goals. For example, a company might aim to be the most innovative company in its sector, or the best place to work. This purpose might be so fundamental to the company that it makes sense for it to be identified formally, alongside shareholder benefit.

Beyond this, some companies want to have a positive impact on the society and the environment, while also generating profits for shareholders. They might focus on a specific social or environmental impact, for example promoting healthy eating. Or they might aim to benefit society more generally. In either case, this social impact would be core to the purpose of the company.

Some companies go even further and decide to put people or planet before profit to shareholders. For some, this means prioritising a specific social or environmental purpose. For example, a company’s primary purpose might be to create employment opportunities for people with disabilities, or to promote clean energy solutions. This doesn’t mean that they can’t distribute profits to shareholders at all, but they do so only in order to achieve their stated purpose, which must come first in any decision-making.
There are three key things to consider when defining purpose:
  1. Does the company have a purpose other than generating profit for shareholders?
  2. Is this purpose specific or more general?
  3. How important is this purpose in comparison with generating profits for shareholders?
Company articles are the legal terms which govern the way a company is run. They set out what the shareholders expect of the company and of the directors. If a business has a stated purpose but this is not reflected in the articles of the company, there is a risk that the directors will feel that they do not have real authority to advance the stated purpose. Instead, the directors may feel that their real obligation is to advance the shareholders’ interests first and foremost. By reflecting the purpose of the company in the articles, there is an opportunity to make it very clear that the company has an agreed purpose which shapes the expectations placed upon the directors. It effectively redefines success for the company, and means that directors must take decisions in line with the purpose.
The amended articles place the agreed purpose in what is known as the objects clause in the articles. The agreed purpose of the company shapes the duties and responsibilities of the directors, along with any responsible business principles which the company agrees to uphold. These principles are a way of setting out what standard of behaviour is expected of the company and those working for it. The directors are obliged to report on the impact the company has had in pursuit of its purpose. In some of the versions of the articles, the purpose of the company leads in turn to changes in the relative prioritisation of the interests of shareholders and other stakeholders. And some versions include restrictions on how the directors of the company may decide to distribute profits or what to do with assets if the company is would up. In summary, the articles support the directors and others to get behind an agreed purpose.
Purposely has adapted the standard articles that are used by the vast majority of UK companies – the standard company limited by shares – and created amended versions to suit the needs of a range of purposeful businesses. There are other forms of company that founders may wish to consider when they are incorporating their business, such as the community interest company or the company limited by guarantee. Purposely does not try to help founders to decide which company form is right for them. For information on these other options, see http://socialinnovation.trust.org/,https://www.gov.uk/set-up-business, https://www.gov.uk/set-up-a-social-enterprise.
 

For a detailed guide on the Purposely articles and how they differ from the default model articles,please read this guide.

If you are serious about your company’s purpose, you likely want to ensure that the investors you are working with share your commitment to the company’s purpose. Incorporating your purpose will help you achieve this as it will make it clear to investors what they are buying into and that the purpose will not change as the business grows and evolves.
Embedding purpose in the articles redefines what success means for the business and therefore reshapes directors’ duties, so that directors are obliged to make decisions in line with the purpose. As with any company, the company may have a claim against directors who breach their duties. However, while embedding purpose redefines and reshapes the existing duties of directors to promote the success of the company, it does not create any new rights for the company or for third parties and so does not create new forms of liability for directors.

For the avoidance of any doubt, the Model Articles include language to make it clear that stakeholders are not granted rights of recourse against directors in respect of the carrying out of their responsibilities.

In some of the versions of the articles, the purpose of the company applies restrictions on how the directors of the company decide to apply profits or surpluses after winding-up.

This does not affect the fundamental principle (codified in s170 of the Companies Act 2006) that the duties of directors are owed to the company (and generally not to anyone else) and so the only person with a right of recourse is the company itself or in limited circumstances a member on behalf of the company.
Company articles can be changed. By default, amending company articles can only be done with the agreement of 75% of all shareholders. It is also possible to raise this bar (a so-called ‘super-majority’) if so desired, or use other legal mechanisms to make it harder to change specific clauses such as the objects clause. In practice, changing the purpose should be done with the involvement of all company stakeholders, which means it is a serious step. You would also need to consider the reputational implications of changing the company’s purpose.

To find out more on how this can be done visit https://www.gov.uk/make-changes-to-your-limited-company.
Only Model 4 limits the returns to shareholders so you can choose any of the other models depending on your other purpose preferences. Find out which model suits you by using the tool.
B Corps is a certification process with rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. Companies limited by shares can become B Corps if they undertake the certification process, which includes amending the company Articles to commit to an overall positive impact on the society and environment. If you are planning to seek B Corp certification, you should choose models 2, 3 or 4 as the amendments in these satisfy the B Corps legal test, which means that you would be eligible as long as you achieve a high enough score in the B Impact Assessment. Read more about B Corps.
Unlike traditional, commercial investment, social investment has an expectation of a social as well as a financial return. UnLtd’s experience suggests that organisations are able to raise investment regardless of the legal structure they choose.

Some companies limited by shares can struggle to attract social investment due to a perception that social impact may not be at the core of the business. Committing your organisation to a purpose may help convince investors, but such decisions are often made on a case-by-case basis so it is hard to generalise.
By definition, social enterprises should:
  • Have a clear social and/or environmental mission set out in their governing documents
  • Reinvest the majority of their profits
  • Generate the majority of their income through trade
  • Be majority controlled in the interests of the social mission
  • Be autonomous of the state
  • Be accountable and transparent
In Purposely, the Model 4 articles meet these criteria. Model 3 is similar to a social enterprise in that it has a primary social purpose, but it lacks a legal commitment to reinvest the majority of the profits. Social enterprises can also opt for other legal structures such as the Community Interest Company. Please see more info on CICs here: https://getlegal.bwbllp.com/community-interest-company
The amended articles have been drafted by law firm Bates Wells Braithwaite. You are free to change the wording of the amended articles, but any changes may have legal implications, so we suggest you seek legal advice.
First we recommend you read through the FAQs as they give some background on purpose and the different factors you might consider when choosing the right articles. If you are still unsure then have a look at the following resources
The amended articles have been drafted by law firm Bates Wells Braithwaite but this tool does not constitute legal advice. You may wish to seek legal advice before adopting any of the amended articles. This is particularly important if you plan to change the wording of the amended articles, or if you have any questions about their legal implications.
We recommend you use the tool first, but if you would like to see the detail of all the model articles, you can download them directly here:
Purposely includes a set of principles for you to consider that have been developed by a Blueprint for a Better Business. You are free to tailor these, or use a different set of principles altogether. There are a number of different approaches to developing responsible business principles, including the following.

The Institute of Business Ethics The Institute of Business Ethics has developed a very simple Nine Step Model for developing and implementing a code of ethics or responsible business principles, which emphasises the importance of the process of developing the principles, as well as the content of the principles. The Institute has also developed a more detailed handbook, called Codes of Business Ethics: A Guide.

A Blueprint for Better Business A Blueprint for Better Business has set out five simple Principles for a purpose driven business. These principles are for companies which seek to operate true to a purpose that serves society, respects the dignity of people and, as a result, generates a fair return for responsible investors. The principles are supported by an accompanying Framework which inform the principles.

Business in the Community Business in the Community published a set of Marketplace Responsibility Principles, as a guide for implementing responsible business practices in medium to large companies. The principles are designed to provide companies with a structure to identify corporate responsibility issues within the main marketplace relationships and to provide a framework for assessing performance.

Big Society Capital Big Society Capital expects businesses which it invests into to adopt certain Responsible Business Principles and to require their investees in turn to adhere to the same principles. The principles are designed to be easy to observe and cover basic expectations about responsible business conduct with respect to employees, customers and the environment. The principles also set out certain proscribed forms of activity which investees of Big Society Capital should not be carrying out.

United Nations The UN has developed The Ten Principles of the UN Global Compact, which are derived from principles set out in the UN Declaration on Human Rights and other major international treaties. The principles are set out at a high level of generality and are then elaborated upon in more detail.
The UN has also developed the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which are specifically designed to aid multinational companies to support international human rights norms.

Other Examples There are many other examples of statements of responsible principles which have been developed by individual companies to suit their specific circumstances and needs, such as those of Unilever or Telefonica to give just two examples of those produced by large companies.

Glossary

  • Asset lock: This means that assets must be retained within the company, and are not to benefit the company members, directors, employees or other persons. A company may only transfer assets at their market value, unless it is transferring them to another asset locked body or for the benefit of the community it was set up to serve. Assets of the company must also be transferred to another asset locked body on winding up, which ensures that the assets remain for the benefit of the community.
  • Companies Act 2006: The main piece of legislation dealing with company law matters.
  • Company: A company incorporated with Companies House.
  • Company limited by shares: A company which issues shares to shareholders
  • Director: A member of the board of a company who is collectively responsible with the other directors for the administration and management of the company.
  • Dividends: A distribution of a company’s post-tax profits made to its shareholders
  • Impact report: A report which sets out the impact a company has had on society and the environment over the previous financial year of the company.
  • Members: In a company limited by shares, the members are the shareholders in a company.
  • Objects Clause: This is the clause which sets out the purpose or purposes of a company.
  • Primary Social Object: This is a social purpose of a company, where it is the primary purpose.
  • Private company limited by shares: This is a form of company limited by shares which is not able to freely issue shares or other securities to the public at large.<
  • Public company limited by shares: This is a form of company limited by shares which is able to issue shares or other securities to the public and which is subject to specific obligations.
  • Responsible Business Principles: A set of responsible business principles or a code of ethics which a company has agreed it will observe in its business practice.
  • Secondary Object: This is a purpose of the company, which is secondary in importance.
  • Shareholders: The owners of shares in the company.
  • Stakeholders: a stakeholder is anyone with an interest in a business. Stakeholders are individuals, groups or organisations that are affected by the activity of the business, such as owners/shareholders, other investors, suppliers, customers/clients, employees, local community.
  • Stakeholder Consideration: The different considerations and interests which directors need to bear in mind when making decisions, other than the interests of shareholders.
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