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Top tips for setting up and running a community organisation

community_mattersOn 26 November 2014, we held a live discussion on our forum with Sarah Bishton, one of Community Matters’ advice team.

Community Matters is the national membership and support organisation for the community sector. Their Advice Line provides guidance on all aspects of managing a community organisation or charity – visit their website to find out more.

It was a great, lively discussion and Sarah shared loads of information to help community groups set up and run correctly. In fact, there’s too much great stuff for one blog post, so here is our first instalment of Sarah’s stellar advice. Catch up on the whole discussion in the forum.

1. Think carefully about which structure is right for your group

A large majority of the calls we take on our Advice Line are about which type of organisation would suit best. We ask groups about their activities, what they’re set up to achieve and if they’re doing any sort of trading activity – we then take them through the pros and cons of potential organisational structures.

We provide a range of advice and guidance in this area. As an example take a look at one of our guidance notes ‘Setting up a Community Organisation’ which goes through things that groups should consider at the start.

2. Even small groups should be constituted

In my experience, the main driver for most groups who become formally constituted is that grant givers and funding bodies will only consider applications from constituted groups as part of their basic eligibility criteria.

I also think being constituted means that other organisations (for example your local authority) can have confidence in the work that you do as it shows that your organisation is sustainable and set up correctly

3. Find the guidance that’s right for you

The best advice is – really do your research on the advantages and disadvantages of the structures you’re considering, often the guidance in this area can be quite onerous and overcomplicated. But our guidance at Community Matters and advice in this area uses plain, practical language.

Take a look at Community Matters’ Online Guidance and Advice page.

4. Find out if you can join forces with other groups

The most common stumbling block is that community groups don’t have wider support or any knowledge as to what’s involved in setting up an organisation. In some cases, we suggest that they do a mapping exercise of what’s already in existence in their area in terms of voluntary and community groups. Why re-invent the wheel if you can join forces with something already in existence, without the burden of management and administration responsibilities?

5. Don’t go alone – legal help is out there

Red tape and legal issues are usually dependent on the individual circumstances involved. Community groups can struggle with legal issues: lease negotiation, occupation and management of buildings, employment law and contract law to name a few example areas. Community Matters offers free legal advice to its members on matters such as lease checks Membership starts from just £10 a year, which is much lower than the cost of this advice elsewhere.

Keep an eye out for the second part of this blog in the coming weeks, with information on how to manage your building, your people and your finances. Visit the Community Matters website to find out how the Advice Line could benefit your organisation.

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