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Starting a support group doesn't have to be an overwhelming job. Just follow along with this detailed checklist and you will have covered many administrative hurdles way before they come up in your group. It will save you much time and heartache in the future.
35 Things to Do to Start Your Own Support Group
by Lisa Copen
Beginning a support group shouldn't be a task you take on that overwhelms you. But if you aren't prepared, many obstacles can come up that can threaten the environment of your group. Follow along with this simple checklist so you will save a great deal of time and heartache in the future, and instead be able to enjoy your group.
 Purpose of the group. Write a mission statement of 1-2 sentences so you are clear on the goal of your group.
 Group description. What is the problem people are facing and how will the support group help fix it or offer encouragement?
 Personal reasons for leading the group. What is it that makes you feel that you are called to lead this group? Is it something you feel a personal passion for, and not something your being pressured into? Lead it for the right reasons. If you are doing it for personal glory you will likely be disappointed.
 Approval requirements. Do you need to get formal approval from a higher source before starting your group, such as a health organization? If so, have you received it?
 Life of the group. How long do you wish the group to last? Do you want it to meet indefinitely and grow and change as members desire? Or would you prefer to ask people to commit for a period of time, like four months, and then recommit if they still want to meet?
 Frequency of meetings. How often do you plan to meet? Weekly, bi-monthly, or monthly? Ask the participants what their schedules are like and how often they could or would attend. For example, would you prefer to have seventy percent come to the meeting once per month or thirty percent twice per month?
 Outline of the group outline. How will you fill the time? Do you want people to network with one another, work their way through a study or workbook, listen to speakers from the community, or a mixture of all of this? What do you believe your members will desire?
 Location. Where will you meet? Is it within a short driving distance for most people? Is it handicapped accessible? Is it comfortable for the atmosphere you desire? Will it intimidate members? Is it well lit? If it's in a large building, be sure to hang up signs and alert the receptionist about your group. Do they know where to park and are there parking fees?
 Attendance. Will your attendance be open or closed? For example, can anyone come at any time, or are new members welcome only during a certain time period? Are there any qualifications to attend? Such as, if it's an illness support group sponsored by a church, do participants have to attend the church?
 Activities. Would the group like to have special times together outside of the group? Would people want to have a picnic or get together with family of the group members? How frequently would you have these outings?
 Guests. Can family members or friends come to the meetings? If the answer is yes, is this okay with other members? Is all right on occasion only, or on a regular basis?
 Projects. Do the attendees of you group want to be involved in activities outside of the support group meeting that help others? For example, would your group be open to delivering care packages for people who are home-bound, or would they want to have a Christmas party for children who have chronically ill parents?
 Policies. Have you written up some basic guidelines for the group? They should contain: a privacy statement, the expectation that everyone will be treated respect, how to handle conflicts, that the group is not for commercial use, etc. If you are an illness support group, you may want to be specific about how you will handle alternative treatment discussions and people's desire to share their most recent "cure."
 Handouts. What kinds of educational or brochures will be available? Can attendees bring handouts, and if so, do they need to get advance approval from your or someone else?
 Exchange of personal information. Do group members want their address, phone and/or emails distributed to other members as a directory to do they want it to remain private and give it out to people on a need to know basis?
 Promotion. What are your plans for letting people know about your group? If your group is formed under an organization, what forms of advertising are acceptable? For example, a classified in the local paper? An announcement in the calendar section of the paper? Flyers? Is there anything not allowed that you should be aware of and do the promotional pieces need approval?
 Media exposure. Can you write a press release, or find someone who can, about your meetings and purpose? Are there people in your group who would be willing to be interviewed by journalists?
 Videotaping or photos. It can be helpful to videotape the group meetings for people who are not able to attend so they can hear guest speakers, etc. Inform your attendees so they can choose to sit in view or out of view of the camera. Know when conversation is personal and the camera needs to be turned off. If you aren't sure how you will use the tape, have participants sign a release form. Don't post it online without permission from those who are on the tape. Are attendees comfortable having photos for the media, for example, if a journalist wants a photo of the group for a local story.
 What promotional pieces do you need and who will design them? Posters, flyers, business cards, and stickers, can all be helpful.
 Online communication. Does your group wish to have a "hub" online to exchange information or encourage one another? Do they want something simple, like just email exchanges, or a social network setting available through a source like Ning?
 Online web site. Would your group benefit from having a web page where you can post a calendar of events, resource links, announcements, etc.? You can set up a web site using free blog software in just a few minutes. A web site can be a great way to share online information with your group from other organizations too. Using RSS feeds, links to online radio programs and more can quickly give your group support that you may not be able to provide.
Don't miss out on the remaining <a target="_blank" href="http://tinyurl.com/c45hjj">22-35 vital steps</a> visit Lisa Copen's chronic illness and pain support social network for leaders of support groups. Be prepared for the hurdles. Read Lisa's book, 'So You Want to Start a Chronic Illness Pain Ministry: 10 Essentials to Make it Work" at <a target="_blank" href="http://tinyurl.com/dnlwjx">Comfort Zone Books</a> or Amazon.com.