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.
 Group's purpose. Spend a few minutes writing a 1-2 sentence mission statement to help you clarify your goals.
 Group description. What exactly is the problem people are dealing with and how do you intend to try to help fix it through your support group?
 Personal motives. Take some time to ask yourself "Why do I feel I am the one to lead this group?" Make sure you really want to do it, and are not just saying yes to someone because you'll feel guilty saying now, nor because you are seeking personal glory.
 Approval. Does your group need to receive formal approval from a higher source? If you are under an organization or company, for example, have you received their approval?
 Group's life expectancy. What do you see as the life of your group? Do you hope it will meet indefinitely until the need fades away, growing and changing as members define it? Or would you rather ask that people commit to the group for a certain amount of time, like four months, and then recommit if they still want to attend?
 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?
 Group outline. How will the time at your meeting be filled? Do you wish to have time allotted for people to share, pray, or network? Do you plan to go through a study or will you have speakers from your community come to share their expertise? What is your preference and your attendees?
 Location. Where will your group meet? Will it be a short driving distance for most people? Is it accessible for people with disabilities? Is the atmosphere comfortable or will members feel intimidated? It the lighting good? If it's in a large building, like a hospital, will there be signs to make sure people don't get lost? Will a receptionist know when and where your group meets? Do they know where to park and will there be a fee for parking?
 Attendance. Is it open or closed? Is anyone welcome at any time? Are new members welcome during a certain time period? Is membership from another organization required to qualify? For example, if it's an illness support group in 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 people wish to be involved in outside activities for the well-being of others? For example, does your group want to deliver gift baskets to people who are home-bound or provide a Christmas party for children in a low-income neighborhood?
 Policies. Write up some basic guidelines for the group and ask other group leaders what they would suggest you include. Some basics are a statement of privacy, the assumption that everyone will be treated with respect, how conflicts will be handled, explanations about how the group will never be a forum for commercial use, etc. If you are the leader of a support group for those with illness, you may benefit from letting people know from the start how conversations about alternative treatment will be handled. Many times people want to share their most recent "cure."
 Handouts. What brochures or other educational pieces will you have available? Can anyone bring handouts? Do they need approved in advance?
 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. You may wish to consider videotaping group meetings for people who are not able to attend to watch, but you must inform your attendees. They may choose to sit out of the camera range or even not attend. Turn the camera off druing sharing times. Even if you aren't sure how the tape will be used, have participants sign a release form. Also, do not post the video online without telling those in the video you plan to do so.
 What kinds of promotional pieces do you need to help promote the group and who can design them? Things like posters, flyers, business cards, and stickers, can all be very useful in spreading the word about your group. Ask if anyone does design or digital scrapbooking for help and ideas.
 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. Could your group reap the benefits of having a web site where you can to post a calendar of events, resource links, announcements, and more? You can design a simple blog for all of this information in a few hours for free. If you set up a web site you can easily share information you find online with your attendees from other resources or organizations. Through links, RSS feeds, online radio programs and more, your group can have a wealth of support that you cannot provide on your own.
If you lead a support group or are considering it, don't miss Lisa Copen's new book, http://StartAnIllnessSupportGroup.com for your ministry needs. Over 300 pages with step-by-step instructions on how to write a vision statement, promotion and attendance and much more!
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