Starting a support group should not be a task that will overwhelm and overwhelm you. But if you are not prepared, many obstacles can arise that can threaten your group environment. Follow this simple checklist to save yourself a great deal of time and headache in the future and, instead, be able to enjoy your group.
 Purpose of your group. Sit down and work on a 1-2 sentence mission statement so you understand what your real goal is for the group.
 Group Description. What exactly is the problem that people are dealing with and how do you try to help solve it through your support group?
 Personal reasons for leading the group. What makes you feel called to lead this group? Is it something you feel a personal passion for and not something you feel pressured into? Lead it for the right reasons. If you’re doing it for personal glory, you’ll probably be disappointed.
 Approval. Do you need to seek formal approval from an organization, church, or business on behalf of which you are running the group?
 Group life. What is your ideal length of group life? Not all groups have to last forever. You can choose to meet for an indefinite period of time and then have it grow and change as members express their needs. Or you can choose to ask people to commit for a certain period of time and then re-engage if they still want to meet up after the date?
 Frequency of meetings. How often do you want to meet? Weekly, bimonthly, monthly? Consider the schedules of the participants. Would you prefer seventy percent to appear once a month or thirty percent twice a month?
 Scheme of the scheme of the group. How are you going to fill the time? Do you want people to interact with each other, work on a study or workbook, listen to speakers from the community, or a combination of all of these? What do you think your members will want?
 To lease. Where will they meet? Is it a short drive for most participants? Is it handicapped accessible? Have you found a comfortable environment where your goals will be met or could you intimidate some members? Is it well lit? If it’s in a large building, have you posted signs and alerted the receptionist in case people need directions? Have you told them where to park and if there are any parking fees involved?
 Expectation. Will your assistance be open or closed? For example, can anyone come at any time, or are new members only welcome for a certain period of time? Are there any requirements to attend? For example, if it is a church-sponsored illness support group, do the participants have to attend church?
 Activities. Would the group like to have a party, such as a picnic or spend time with family members? How often?
 guests. Can friends, family or friends attend the group? If so, are other group members comfortable with this arrangement? Is there a preference that people attend at any time or only on certain occasions?
 Projects. Do people want to engage in outside activities for the welfare of others? For example, does your group want to deliver gift baskets to people who are homebound or host a Christmas party for children in a low-income neighborhood?
 Policies. Have you written some basic guidelines for the group? They should contain: a privacy statement, the expectation that everyone will be treated with respect, how to handle conflict, that the group is not for commercial use, etc. If you are a disease support group, you may want to be specific about how you will handle discussions of alternative treatments and people’s willingness to share their latest “cure.”
 Brochures. What kind of brochures or educational will be available? Can attendees bring handouts and, if so, do they need to get your or someone else’s approval in advance?
 Exchange of personal information. Do members of the group want their address, phone and/or email distributed to other members as a directory so that it remains private and they give it to others themselves?
 Promotion. What are your plans to let people know about your group? If your group is made up of an organization, what forms of advertising are acceptable? For example, a classified in the local newspaper? An ad in the calendar section of the newspaper? Frills? Is there anything that is not allowed that I need to be aware of and do promotional pieces need approval?
 Media exposure. Can you write a press release? If not, ask around to find someone qualified. Tell them about your meetings and purpose. Many people have previous journalism, writing, or public relations experience that can help.
 Recording of videos or photos. You may want to consider videotaping group meetings so people who can’t attend can see them, but you should let attendees know. They may choose to sit out of camera range or not attend at all. Turn off the camera to share driving times. Even if you are not sure how the tape will be used, have the participants sign a release form. Also, don’t post the video online without telling those in the video that you plan to do so.
 What promotional pieces do you need and who will design them? Posters, flyers, business cards, and stickers can all be helpful.
 Online communications. Would your group benefit from an Internet “hub” where you can exchange information and encouragement? You can just use an email group to encourage each other, or you can use a social network with many options, like Ning.
 Online website. 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 website using free blog software in just a few minutes. A website can also be a great way to share information online with your group of other organizations. Using RSS feeds, links to online radio shows, and more can quickly give your group support that you may not be able to provide.
 Use of the phone. Are people comfortable with you calling to remind them of meetings, etc.? Is there a time of day you shouldn’t call? Is it okay to leave a message? Do your relatives usually give you messages?
 Contact the leader. How do you want people to contact you for information? Telephone, website, email, etc? What is the fastest way to respond? How long will it typically take you to respond to people?
 Bills. How do you plan to cover the costs of renting rooms, refreshments, photocopies, welcome folders, etc.? Are people comfortable with a donation jar or membership fee like a $10 donation? Is there another way to raise funds without asking your members for money?
 Leader support. Who will help you? Who can help you organize, run errands, and make phone calls? Don’t plan on taking on all the responsibilities yourself. You will need the help and you must give others the opportunity to participate at this level with the group.
 Welcome pack. Prepare a folder with information such as your mission statement, guidelines, helpful brochures, and contact information for new members. You can find examples online of what to put in your kit, and you can update them at any time with new resources.
 Search for new attendees. In what ways can members of your group encourage others to attend? Brainstorm how you can have more members if that is your wish.
 Snacks. What kind of snacks can people eat or not eat? What is your preference? Who will bring them? Is there a fund for this in case some participants cannot provide it financially?
 Icebreaker. What are some ways that people can get to know each other without putting them on the spot? What is it that people find fun, but not intimidating? If your group has physical issues, make sure icebreakers don’t involve games like catch someone to see how much they trust you.
 Finishing on time. Will you make it a priority to finish the meeting on time and then let people have free time to talk afterwards? When do you need to vacate the room? Let attendees know what your expectations and boundaries are. If you’re exhausted and need to get home by a certain time, when can you follow up with people? Letting them know will prevent misunderstandings, such as people feeling hurt that you can’t stay and talk for hours after each meeting.
 Transport. Are there any challenges? Will someone need a ride on occasion or for every meeting? How can this need be met?
 Communication. How will you deal with hurt feelings, members who are disrespectful, members who never share?
 Humor. How will you add some fun to your group so that it’s not a completely self-centered or depressing environment? Let everyone know that it’s understandable to vent to some degree, but you don’t want your group to be just a place where people throw up and then leave.
 solicitation or commercial purposes. How will you handle people wanting to attend the group, primarily to get people to buy your products? Despite the policies you have in place, people are likely to cross the line. What is our plan of action if we discover that a member is soliciting other members for commercial purposes?
 Put together a box of essential items. Bring this box to all meetings. You should have name tags, pen, paper, brochures, new member folders, a sign-in sheet, snack napkins, tissues, and anything else you can think of.
 Who can be your mentor? Who will you go to when you need advice or help with a situation in your group? If your group is under an organization, church, etc. Is there someone who can help you solve the problem or give you encouragement?