If you’re passionate about a cause and you think it needs some support, how do you lend a hand? You could donate money, but you may be looking for something more hands-on. Why not start or join a group?
It could mean organising an event to combat global warming or campaigning your local council to make your neighbourhood a safer place. There are a whole lot of situations where a group of people can make a real difference.
Before you start
There are some key questions to ask at the very start.
1. What’s the purpose or aim of your group?
In other words, can you pinpoint why you’re starting this group and what you hope will happen as a result?
2. Are there any similar groups?
If there are already groups in your community who are tackling the same issue, it could be more effective to join forces with them than to start a group of your own. This way you can work together, rather than splitting money, time and allegiances. Even if you don’t merge, it is useful to develop a good relationship as you can share tips and potentially resources.
3. Where will you start?
What are the projects or campaigns you are interested in starting first? You can use these ideas to advertise your group and recruit new members.
4. Are there any rules and processes if you want to start a group in your school or university?
There may be a particular way to go about starting a group in a school or university. You may need to register your group, apply for funds, find a staff member to represent your group or follow a set of guidelines. Find out what the rules are first.
5. What sorts of resources will you need?
People power is the most important resource any group needs. But you’ll also need to think about the types of things your group will need to function effectively. For example, meeting space, funding, computers and other resources.
Getting people involved
How are you going to recruit people to your cause? You’ll need a plan of action, but you don’t need to do it all alone. Find a small group of people that are committed to your cause and get the word out any way you know how. Visit our Recruit people to your cause section for more advice.
Organising your structure
Once you’ve got your people together, you need to think about how you can structure your group. One of the best ways to organise a group is by levels of involvement.
Key organisers and core group members
Generally, the people who have been around from the start and have lots of enthusiasm take on the major roles. In the case of a school, a teacher or another member of staff may be involved as a key leader. These people will usually be heavily involved in the main projects of the group, such as organising meetings, events, volunteers and campaigns.
Executive and coordinating roles
These people will generally be the leaders and representatives of the group. Instead of giving people fancy titles, think collectively of what your group really needs and only create positions for these jobs. For example, you may want someone to:
- Chair meetings
- Take minutes
- Keep track of any money raised
You can always create more positions if they’re needed along the way.
These people will participate in the general discussion and attend meetings. They may want to move into coordinating or organising roles later down the track, or get really involved in a specific project.
These people may not be actively involved in the group, but will help you get your message out there. For example, they might sign petitions, send emails, attend events or donate money.
Small decisions may simply be made by the core members or key organisers in the group. Bigger decisions may be raised at a meeting or put out to a democratic vote made by all members. It’s a good idea to let people who represent different points of view present to the group, before everyone decides on the outcome. If group opinion is equally divided, think about your back-up plan. For example, let the president or one of the core members of the group make the final decision.
Keeping up the enthusiasm
It’s often tricky to keep a group inspired and excited about your cause. There are a number of things to avoid or watch.
Check if you’re overloading someone, if someone is given too much work in a short period of time, they can burn out and may leave the group. Make sure you regularly check that you’re not loading the same people up with all the work, all the time. Reassure them that they can discuss any issues or concerns at a group meeting or in private with core group member.
Include, don’t exclude
You can shut people out if:
- Some members are not asked to participate or contribute
- Established members don’t actively include new members
- Someone’s opinion is regularly dismissed or ignored
It may be unintentional, but if you make new members feel excluded, they can quickly decide to leave the group. The leaders of the group must make an effort to include the new members in meetings and offer them active roles on projects.
For more information on including people in meetings, visit our page on How to run a meeting in this section.
Avoid slipping into a repetitive routine
It’s important to keep a project or group stable through routine, but it can get boring. Shake things up by:
- Having some projects that are fun and creative, for example social events
- Using different people to chair meetings or act in leadership roles
- Asking for suggestions from general members about how to improve the group
Appreciate efforts and celebrate achievements
Don’t go quiet after you’ve finished a project or campaigning for or against an issue. It’s important to take some time to talk about what people thought about how the group handled the project.
At the same time, take the chance to publicly recognise everyone’s efforts and say ‘thank-you’ for all the hard work.
Joining a group
If you’re a passionate person and you want to find other people like you, what do you do? There are some simple ways to find a group of like-minded souls.
Most organisations will have a website with information about their membership, contacts and related links to other groups with similar interests.
Donating your time not only helps an organisation or cause, it will also give you the chance to make contact with people who may be involved in other groups related to an issue that you care about. Visit our Volunteer section for more information.
Contact your local council
They should be able to put you in contact with a number of local groups that need assistance
One of the easiest ways to find out what organisations are out there is to ask your friends and family. There’s a good chance that someone will be able to put you in touch with the right people.
Keep an eye on the media
If a group is promoting itself (and its cause) you may find them in the newspapers, television or radio. Also look for posters and flyers advertising events or publicising an issue, often they have contact details that will put you in touch with a key member of the group.