First steps for new groups

5th April 2017, 12:59am | By Steve |

When you are thinking about setting up a new group, it can be easy to get bogged down worrying about paperwork and formalities. Equally, it can cause problems later if you don’t put a few basic things in place to make sure your group is set up in a way that will work best for you.

This section provides advice about getting people involved in your group, deciding the purpose of your group, and agreeing a set of rules or principles that will govern your group. It provides practical information about things you may need to do, such as open a bank account and allocate roles in the group.

It also includes information about the different legal structures that a community group or organisation can use, the pros and cons of each of these, and how to set up different types of organisation.

Let us give you a hand!

Why set up a new group?

There are many different reasons why you may want to set up a group. These are just a few:

  • You may have seen an idea in our ‘Project Bank’ that you would like to start up where you live
  • You might feel strongly about a particular problem or issue and want to get more people together to do something about it
  • You may have had a good idea and need some more people to help make it happen
  • You may want to meet up with other people who have had similar experiences to yours, so that you can offer each other friendship, support and advice
  • You may want to give an existing group a recognised structure in order to attract funding
  • You might have noticed that adults or children in your community would benefit from a particular type of activity and want to make this available to them.

If you really care about something, the idea of starting a group to do something about it can be both exciting and daunting. Use this section to help you think through the first steps and start to get things moving.

Forming your group

Just as there are many different reasons to form a group, there are many different types of group you could set up. It’s worth thinking about what kind of group you imagine it will be, as this may affect the order in which you do things.

For example, if you need to respond quickly to something that is happening locally, the first thing you’ll need to do is get as many people as possible together, so that they can all contribute their ideas and energy. On the other hand, if you are planning to set up a charitable trust to run arts projects in the community, you will want to give some thought to the aims and structure of the group before you invite others to join you, so that you can be clear about what you are asking them to do.

Though you may do these things in a different order depending on the type of group you are setting up, most new groups will need to:

  • Hold an initial meeting
  • Agree the aims of the group
  • Write up a constitution
  • Open a bank account
  • Decide who will do what

Hold an initial meeting

Below are a few ideas for making your first meeting attractive and interesting. You may also find it useful to look at our information on Organising a Public Meeting.

Publicise it well

The design of your publicity material is important. Think about who you are hoping to attract to the meeting, and make sure your poster or leaflet will catch their eye and give them a reason to come along. Make sure the date, time and place of the meeting are clearly shown on the leaflet, and that it’s very clear what the meeting is about.

If your meeting is going to be a large one, with as many people involved as possible, you will need to do as much publicity as you can. You could use:

  • flyers through letterboxes
  • posters in shop windows or on community noticeboards
  • leaflets in places where the people you want to reach are likely to go
  • a letter or advert in a community newsletter
  • a piece in the local paper
  • an announcement on the local radio
  • an event on Facebook
  • Twitter
  • online event listings services

If your group is going to be quite small, for example a residents’ association for a single block of flats or street, it is worth investing the time to call on people to invite them to the meeting personally. Even if they don’t come, this will give you useful information about whether they think the group is a good idea and what they want it to do.

You can design and print your publicity at the Resource Centre. We have an information sheet on writing a News release and some useful addresses for local media contacts. We also have some good books on publicity in our reference library – see the Books tab in our Publicity and Communications section for more details.

Offer an incentive

Not many people enjoy meetings, and for some it is a big effort to arrange childcare or transport, so it’s a good idea to offer an extra attraction. This could simply be free refreshments, or perhaps a video or speaker about something to do with the group’s aims or activity.

The venue and facilities

Some questions to ask yourself before booking a venue

  • Is it accessible to everyone?
  • Are there steps or other barriers you should warn people about on the publicity leaflet?
  • Will you need to put up signs to direct people as they arrive?
  • Should you have a sign in sheet to collect names and email addresses?
  • Would it make things easier if you had a PA system or hearing loop?
  • Will you need to organise a crèche or offer help with childcare costs?
  • Might you need a sign language interpreter?
  • If you have a speaker, will they need a digital projector and microphone system?

The agenda

The amount of preparation you do before the meeting will depend on the type of group it is, but it’s always good to have some idea of what needs to be covered in the meeting.

A typical agenda for an initial meeting would include:

  • Welcome and introductions
  • Aims of the group
  • Name of the group
  • Plans and ideas (and who will carry them out)
  • Who will do what (responsibilities in general)
  • Finances
  • Date and time of the next meeting

We also have an information sheet on Agendas, to give you more detailed help with this.

If you have called the meeting, people will be expecting you to act as chair. If it’s going to be a large meeting and you are not confident in this role, you could ask someone else to chair the meeting – perhaps a local councillor, teacher, religious leader or well-known community figure. But be careful that your choice of chair is not going to cause controversy in the meeting.

Our information on Chairing meetings provides some useful tips.

Involve everyone in the discussion

While it’s important to appear well-organised, you also want to let people know that their contribution is needed and valuable, so make sure you don’t close off discussion too quickly. The people who have come along to the meeting are the future members of the group, and you need to make sure the atmosphere of this meeting is as welcoming and open as possible.

Take notes

The notes of your meeting don’t have to be very detailed, but they should include a clear note of any decisions made, and in particular who has agreed to take on which jobs. It’s not easy to chair a meeting and take minutes at the same time, so ask for a volunteer to take notes before the meeting or at the start of the meeting.

We have an information sheet on Taking Minutes, with some useful pointers.

Gather names and addresses

Make sure you take contact details from everyone who wants to be kept in touch with the group – prepare a sheet in advance which you can pass round the meeting or have on a table at the door.

Set a date for the next meeting

Allow some time to discuss this in the meeting, so that you can decide how often you want the group to meet, whether daytime or evening meetings are best suited to the members of your group, whether you need to offer childcare or transport to enable people to attend meetings, and so on.

It’s not always possible to agree a meeting date that everyone can make, but it’s important to make sure you aren’t always excluding the same people just because you haven’t thought about their needs.

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