A strong constitution (from Bristol Rovers matchday programme)

Having a robust constitution doesnt just mean having a strong stomach. All football fans need that from time to time. For Wimbledon fans it means far more, as Dons Trust Secretary David Hall explains.

As supporters of other clubs like Hull, Cardiff and Leeds do battle with their owners over various issues ranging from the name of their club to the colour of their kit, it’s worth reminding ourselves why we’ve done things the way we have – and why we as fans cannot be “played with” in the same way. Fans sometimes ask why it is that we have the Dons Trust as well as AFC Wimbledon. Those who have been carried along with the Trust from its inception will probably have at least a nodding acquaintance with our constitution, but for the benefit of others, let’s look beyond the “legalese” to see why it’s so important.

The Dons Trust – or to use its formal name, the Wimbledon Football Club Supporters’ Society Limited – was originally conceived back in 2001/02 during the dark days at Selhurst. With the inspiration of our founders and the help of Supporters Direct and others, its organisational structure was quickly adapted to meet the needs of owning a football club when AFC Wimbledon started in 2002.

The Dons Trust is a not-for-profit organisation. It owns AFC Wimbledon and is the guardian of all the principles and aims by which the club operates. It was set up as an Industrial & Provident Society (IPS), an organisational format peculiar to the UK and Ireland. IPS bodies are governed by a particular form of constitution referred to as “Rules”, and their structure is designed to ensure that individual members get an opportunity to influence key decisions. Unlike some other football clubs, we could not change the club’s name without our members’ consent!

As of 2013, the Dons Trust is registered with a special new Mutuals Division of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). Over the years there have been various amendments to the constitution, painstakingly put together by my predecessors with the help of Dons Trust Board members and others. Every change agreed by the members has to be ratified by the registrar – now the FCA.

Some fans will recall that several key changes to our constitution were agreed at two General Meetings last year. These changes were to enable us to issue Community Shares to raise funds for the new stadium – a new form of fundraising not originally available when we acquired our current ground. These changes are currently with the FCA and are expected to be approved in the near future. The new updated constitution will be posted on the Dons Trust website as soon as we are notified, along with any new explanatory notes.

Because of the various changes that have been made to it over the years, the whole constitution is about ready for a thorough review. Other fans-owned clubs have adopted new organisational models, and we should not be so conceited as to think that ours is the best. Where appropriate, we want to build on good practice which other fans-owned clubs have recently adopted while maintaining those parts we consider sacrosanct.

The full constitution is around 23 pages long and has 121 different rules. There is also a separate but very important Restricted Actions Schedule, which prevents some actions from taking place without significant membership approval.

As you can imagine, just getting to grips with the existing constitution takes a while, so the review exercise will not be quick. The intention is to set up a working group to tackle the task. Anyone willing to help with the review is welcome to contact me, at secretary@thedonstrust.org.

It’s highly unlikely that any proposals will involve changing to a red kit – but even if they did, you can rest assured that this is the sort of change that you, the members, would ultimately have to approve. After all, the Dons Trust, together with its constitution, is ultimately there to serve you. 

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