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36-step checklist for starting a support group

Starting a support group shouldn’t be a chore that you take on and overwhelm you. But if you are not prepared, many obstacles can arise that can threaten the environment of your group. Follow this simple checklist to save yourself a lot of time and heartache down the road and enjoy your group instead.

[1] Purpose of your group. Sit down and work on a 1-2 sentence mission statement so you understand what your real goal is for the group.

[2] Description of the Group. What exactly is the problem people are dealing with and how do you try to help solve it through your support group?

[3] Personal reasons for leading the group. What makes you feel like you are called to lead this group? Is it something you have a personal passion for, and not something you are being pressured for? Head for the right reasons. If you do it for your personal glory, you will probably be disappointed.

[4] Approval. Do you need to get formal approval from an organization, church, or business on behalf of which you lead the group?

[5] Group life. What is the ideal duration of the group’s life? Not all groups have to last forever. You can choose to meet for an indefinite period of time and then have it grow and change as members express their needs. Or can you choose to ask people to commit for a certain period of time and then re-commit if they still want to meet up after the date?

[6] Frequency of meetings. How often do you want to meet? Weekly, biweekly, monthly? Consider the schedules of the participants. Would you rather have seventy percent show up once a month or thirty percent twice a month?

[7] Scheme of the group scheme. How will you fill the time? Do you want people to network with each other, work on a study or workbook, listen to community speakers, or a mix of all of these? What do you think your members will want?

[8] Rental. Where will you meet? Is it a short driving distance for most participants? Is it handicap accessible? Have you found a comfortable environment in which your goals will be accomplished or could you intimidate some members? Is it well lit? If you are in a large building, have you posted signs and alerted the receptionist in case people need directions? Have you told them where to park and if there are parking fees involved?

[9] Assistance. Will your assistance be open or closed? For example, can someone attend at any time, or are new members welcome only for a specified period of time? Is there a qualification to attend? For example, if it is a church sponsored disease support group, do participants have to attend church?

[10] Activities. Would the group like to have a party, such as a picnic or hang out with family members? How often?

[11] Guests Can friends or family or friends attend the group? If so, are other members of the group comfortable with this arrangement? Do you prefer people to attend at any time or only on certain occasions?

[12] Projects. Do people want to participate in outside activities for the well-being of others? For example, does your group want to give gift baskets to people who are homebound or host a Christmas party for children in a low-income neighborhood?

[13] Policies. Have you written some basic guidelines for the group? They should contain: a privacy statement, the expectation that everyone will be treated with respect, how to handle conflicts, that the group is not for commercial use, etc. If you are part of a disease support group, you may want to be specific about how you will handle discussions of alternative treatments and people’s desire to share their latest “cure.”

[14] Brochures What kinds of educational brochures or brochures will be available? Can attendees bring brochures and, if so, do they need to get prior approval from you or someone else?

[15] Sharing of personal information. Do group members want their address, phone and / or emails to be distributed to other members as a directory? Do you want it to remain private and give it to others?

[16] Promotion. What are your plans to let people know about your group? If your group is made up of an organization, what forms of advertising are acceptable? For example, a classified in the local newspaper? An ad in the calendar section of the newspaper? Flyers? Is there something that is not allowed that I need to know and do promotional pieces need approval?

[17] Exposure to the media. Can you write a press release? If not, ask to find someone qualified. Tell them about your meetings and their purpose. Many people have prior journalism, writing, or public relations experience that can help.

[18] Video or photo recordings. You may want to consider videotaping group meetings for people who can’t make it to see them, but you need to inform your attendees. They can choose to sit out of camera range or even not attend. Turn off the camera during sharing times. Even if you are not sure how the tape will be used, have the participants sign an authorization form. Also, don’t post the video online without telling those in the video that you plan to do so.

[19] What promotional pieces do you need and who will design them? Posters, flyers, business cards, and stickers can be helpful.

[20] Online communication. Would your group benefit from a “hub” on the Internet, where you can exchange information and encouragement? You can use an email group to cheer each other on, or you can use a social network with lots of options, like Ning.

[21] Online website. Would your group benefit from having a web page where you can post a calendar of events, links to resources, announcements, etc.? You can set up a website using free blog software in just a few minutes. A website can also be a great way to share information online with your group of other organizations. Using RSS feeds, links to online radio shows, and more can quickly provide your group with support that you may not be able to provide.

[22] Use of the telephone. Are people comfortable with you calling them to remind them of meetings, etc.? Is there a time of day that I shouldn’t call? Is it okay to leave a message? Do your family members normally send you messages?

[23] Get in touch with the leader. How do you want people to contact you for information? Phone, website, email, etc.? What is the fastest way to respond? How long will it normally take you to respond to people?

[24] Expenses. How do you plan to cover expenses for things like room rentals, snacks, photocopies, welcome kits, etc.? Are people comfortable with a donation jar or a membership fee like a $ 10 donation? Is there another way to raise funds without asking your members for money?

[25] Leader assistance. Who will help you? Who can help you set up, run errands, and make phone calls? Don’t plan to take on all the responsibilities yourself. You will need the help and you must give others the opportunity to participate at this level with the group.

[26] Welcome pack. Assemble a folder of information, such as your mission statement, guidelines, helpful brochures, and contact information for new members. You can find examples online of what to include in your package, and you can update them at any time with new resources.

[27] Find new participants. How can members of your group encourage others to attend? Think together how you can have more members if this is your wish.

[28] Appetizers. What kinds of snacks can people eat or not? What is your preference? Who will bring them? Is there a fund for this in case some participants are unable to provide them financially?

[29] Icebreaker. What are some of the ways that people can get to know each other without putting them on the spot? What do people find funny, but not intimidating? If your group is physically challenged, make sure the icebreakers don’t include games like catching someone to see how much they trust you.

[30] Finishing on time. Will you make it a priority to finish the meeting on time and then allow people free time to talk afterward? When do you need to vacate the room? Let attendees know what your expectations and limits are. If you are exhausted and need to get home at a certain time, when can you follow up with people? Informing them will prevent misunderstandings, such as people feeling hurt because you can’t stay and talk for hours after each meeting.

[31] Transport. Are there challenges? Will anyone need a ride from time to time or to every meeting? How can this need be met?

[32] Communication. How will you deal with hurt feelings, members that are disrespectful, members that never share?

[33] Humor. How will you add some fun to your group so that it is not a depressing or completely self-centered atmosphere? Let everyone know that it is understandable to some extent to vent, but you don’t want your group to simply be a place where people drop out and then leave.

[34] Application or commercial purposes. How will you handle people who want to attend the group, mainly so that people buy your products? Despite the policies you’ve put in place, people are likely to cross the line. What is our plan of action if you discover that a member solicits other members for commercial purposes?

[35] Assemble a box of essentials. Bring this box to all meetings. You should have name tags, pen, paper, brochures, new member folders, a sign-in sheet, snack napkins, tissues, and whatever else you can think of.

[36] Who can be your mentor? Who will you turn to when you need advice or help with a situation in your group? If your group is under an organization, church, etc. Is there someone who can help you solve your problem or give you encouragement?

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