A Checklist of 36 Steps to Starting an Effective Support Group

by Lisa Copen Leading a support group can seem like an overwhelming task, but follow along with this simple checklist to cover all of the administrative tasks, and it will run much smoother down the road. [1] Purpose of your group. Sit down and work on a mission statement of 1-2 sentences so you understand what your actual goal is for the group. [2] 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? [3] 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. [4] Approval. Do you need to seek formal approval from an organization, church, or company, that you are leading the group on behalf of? [5] Life of the group. What is your ideal length of the group's life? Not every group has to last forever. You may choose to meet for an indefinite amount of time, and then have it grow and change as members express their needs. Or, you may choose to ask people to commit for a certain period of time, and then recommit if they still want to meet after the date? [6] Frequency of meetings. How often do you want to meet? Weekly, bi-monthly, monthly? Consider the schedules of the participants. Would you rather have seventy percent show up once per month or thirty percent twice per month? [7] 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? [8] 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? [9] 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? [10] Activities. Will the group be having parties, picnics, or time with family members? About how frequently? [11] 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? [12] Projects. Would your group like to help plan activities that can help others? For example, would you group want to put together gift baskets for people who are homebound or provide a holiday party for children of parents who are going through a difficult time? [13] 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." [14] Handouts. What brochures or other educational pieces will you have available? Can anyone bring handouts? Do they need approved in advance? [15] 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 others themselves. [16] Promotion. How do you plan to promote your group? If it's formed under the umbrella of another organization, what kind of approval do you need to advertise or use their name? Understand the specifics about what is acceptable or not. For example, are classified ads in the local paper, or an announcement in the paper in the calendar section okay? Is it okay to post the flyers around town. Make sure you know exactly what promotional pieces need advanced approval. [17] Media exposure. Can you write a press release? If not, be sure to find someone who can help! Explain the logistics about your group meetings, as well as the purpose for the group. If there are certain group members who may be willing to be interviewed by a journalists at some point in the future, keep that in mind. [18] 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. [19] 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. [20] Online communication. Would your group like to have a "hub" on the internet to exchange information and encourage one another between group meetings. Would they prefer something simple like just exchanging emails, or are they comfortable using a social network group like Ning? [21] Online web site. It's easy to set up a simple web site using free blog software online. This can be a great place to post your groups' calendar of events, links of resources, announcements, etc. You can also share online information with your group from other organizations and web sites as well. Use RSS feeds, links to online radio programs, and more. This can quickly give your group the support that they may need that you may not be able to provide on our own. [22] Phone use. Are people comfortable with you calling them to remind them of meetings, etc. Is there a time of day you should not call? Is it okay to leave a message? Do their family members typically give them messages? [23] Contacting the leader. How do you want people to contact you to receive information? Phone, web page, email, etc? What’s the fastest way for you to respond? How long will it typically take you to respond to people? [24] Expenses. How do you plan to cover expenses for things like room rental, snacks, photocopies, welcome folders, etc. Are people comfortable with a donation jar or a membership fee such as a $10 donation? Is there another way to raise funds without asking your members for the money? [25] Assistance for the leader. Who will be helping you? Who can assist you in setting up, running errands, and making phone calls? Don’t plan on taking on all of the responsibilities yourself. You will need the help and should give others the opportunity to be involved in this level with the group. [26] Welcome packet. Put together a folder of information, such as your mission statement, guidelines, helpful handouts, and contact information for new members. You can find examples online about what to put in a your packet and you can update them any time with fresh resources.

[27] Finding new participants. What ways can your group members encourage others to attend. Brainstorm together how you can have more members if this is your desire. [28] Snacks. What kinds of snacks can people eat or not eat? What is their preference? Who will bring them? Is there a fund for this in case some participants are unable to financially provide them? [29] Ice-breakers. What are some ways people can get to know one another without putting them on the spot? What do people consider fun, but not intimidating? If your group is physically challenged, make sure the ice-breakers don’t involve games like catching someone to see how much they trust you! [30] Ending on time. Will you make it a priority to end the meeting on time and then allow people free time to talk afterwards? When do you need to vacate the room? Let the attendees know what your expectations and limits are. If you are exhausted and need to get home by a certain time, when can you follow up with people? Letting them know will prevent misunderstandings, like people getting their feelings hurt because you aren’t able to stay and talk for hours after each meeting. [31] Transportation. Are there any challenges? Will anyone need a ride on occasion or for every meeting? How can this need be met? [32] Communication. How will you cope with hurt feelings, members who are disrespectful, members who never share? [33] Humor. How will you add some fun to your group so it’s not a depressing atmosphere or completely self-centered? Let everyone know that venting to a certain degree is understandable, but you don’t want your group to just be a place people dump and then leave. [34] Solicitation or commercial purposes. How will you handle people who want to attend the group, mainly to get individuals to buy their products? Despite policies you may have set, it’s likely that people will cross the line. What is our plan of action if you discover a member soliciting other members for commercial purposes? [35] Put together a box of essentials. Take this box to every meeting. It should have name tags, pen, paper, handouts, new member folders, a sign in sheet, napkins for snacks, tissue and whatever else you can think of. [36] Who can mentor you? Who will you go to when you need advice or assistance with a situation in your group? If your group is under an organization, church, etc. is there someone who can help you problem solve or provide encouragement? Lisa Copen is the founder of Rest Ministries which has over 300 HopeKeepes groups around the USA and beyond. Read about more ways to start your illness ministry with her book So You Want to Start a Chronic Illness/Pain Ministry: 10 Essentials to Make it

Work, available at the Comfort Zone Bookstore.