Sunday, July 30, 2006

Starting An Organization For Your Interests

Starting your own organization can seem like a daunting task. With the right plan, however, you can get through it like a pro. Why would you start your own group?

Well, I am glad you asked. You could start your own group to provide a place for people who share a common interest or common goals to get together to make something happen. It also works well to meet new friends and to expand experiences.

The first step you need to take when you have decided to start a group is to decide what you want the focus of your group to be. It can be as broad or as narrow as you would like. For example, some people have general volunteerism groups or dog lover groups. Others may have hospital volunteer groups or Great Dane groups. Think about how wide you want the interests to be in your group. Keep in mind that the narrower a topic is the fewer people who will be interested, so be sure the narrow topic is enough to get interest.

Then you should start informally. Put up some flyers in the library or other public places to advertise an informal meeting. You can hold the meeting in your home if you would like, but a public place probably is a better idea. Have the meeting at a local YMCA or even at the library itself. Just be sure to check with the staff before you start advertising. Then have everyone join you for one hour or so. Explain what you thought the purpose of the group would be and get input from everyone who came by.

Try to take any criticism constructively. Perhaps others have a directional idea for the group that would be very good for the group to take. Remember that you are in the beginning stages now, so it is entirely possible to do as much changing around as you should. Also remember to bring something fun for everyone at the first meeting. I am not talking about an icebreaker here. I am talking about something that others will enjoy. You may want to consider light snacks, of course, but you should bring something related to the subject at hand. If you are starting a group for cat lovers, then bring a few magazines about cats or a couple of give-away gifts that are cat-related.

At the end of the first meeting, you should be able to gauge whether there is any interest in having another meeting. If there is, then you can determine when and where to meet. It is important at this stage to come up with a regular meeting time and place. That way people will know that the first Thursday of every month should be devoted to bird watching. You want people to be able to build your group into their schedule so that they can make it part of their routine.

You can be as formal or informal as you would like when it comes to your group. If you want to go formal, then you should elect officers at the third meeting or so. Give people time to know the others and to know who will be committed to the group. Then you can find the right people to represent the group.

Also set out some guidelines. While you may not have a formal charter, you should have a general idea of what constitutes a member and how the group is structured. While it may seem silly now, doing it will help prevent any problems that may occur from people misunderstanding how the group works. You can prevent future problems now by having guidelines already set out for the group.

Starting your own group can be a fun process, but you can find it time-consuming as well. If you start to get overwhelmed, take a step back and think about what it is that you want from the group. No group of which you are a part should make you feel disinterested or bad about yourself. If it does, then you need to re-evaluate the group. If you are successful, however, you will find that starting a group will make you feel part of a community of like-minded people.

By Julia Mercer

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