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 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.
 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 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. Do you need to seek formal approval from an organization, church, or company, that you are leading the group on behalf of?
 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?
 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?
 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 be meeting? Is a short driving distance for most of the participants? Is it disability accessible? Have you found a comfortable atmosphere where your goals will be met or could it intimidate some members? Is it well lit? If it’s in a large building, have you hung up signs and alerted the receptionist in case people need directions? Have you told them where to park and if any parking fees are involved?.
 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 a party, such as a picnic or time together with family members? How frequently?
 Guests. Can friends or family members or friends attend the group? If yes, are other group members comfortable with this arrangement? Is there a preference to have people attend any time or just on certain occasions?
 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. 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 others themselves.
 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? If not, ask around to find someone qualified. Tell them about your meetings and purpose. Many people have past journalism, writing, or public relations experience that can help.
 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 promotional pieces do you need and who will design them? Posters, flyers, business cards, and stickers, can all be helpful.
 Online communication. Would your group benefit from a “hub” on the interent, where they can exchange information and encouragement? You can just use an email group to encourage one another, or you can use a social network with many options such as 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.
 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?
 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?
 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?
 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.
 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.
 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.
 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?
 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!
 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.
 Transportation. Are there any challenges? Will anyone need a ride on occasion or for every meeting? How can this need be met?
 Communication. How will you cope with hurt feelings, members who are disrespectful, members who never share?
 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.
 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?
 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.
 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?