If you just want to get together with other homeschoolers and share information and encouragement, and maybe plan an occasional field trip, you can do this without starting a formal group. Use Facebook, bigtent, or Meetup to stay in touch and make plans.
This article is for those who are planning to grow a group past the small, informal, kitchen-table stage.
So what needs do you see in your local homeschool community? Do you want to provide:
- information and support for local homeschoolers?
- networking and fellowship opportunities?
- field trips and educational activities?
- structured classes?
- all of the above?
The purpose of the organization and the services you intend to offer will determine much of the structure of your group, as well as where and how often you will meet.
Every organization needs coordinators for each aspect of the group, and they will indeed need to coordinate so the group can function in an orderly and productive manner.
The most common ways to provide a leadership structure are to form a board of appointed officers, or a leadership team with elected officers. Even for groups who don't want to sound too 'official', there must be leadership of some kind in place - call them a committee or an advisory council, but don't try to go it alone.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each kind of organizational framework. The problems with a perpetual leader or board are burnout, tyranny, and stagnation, among other things, unless steps are taken at the outset (with bylaws and policies) to safeguard the group. If officers are elected each year, members must be willing to serve, and it can be very difficult to find volunteers.
I personally prefer yearly or biennial rotation or election of coordinators. This brings in new people with new ideas and fresh perspectives. When members are able to experience the reality of organizing and maintaining a group, they gain respect and appreciation for the time, energy, thought, and labor involved. If "in a multitude of counselors there is safety", then the experiences, knowledge, talents, and insights others can bring to the task will help the group to continue to be relevant to modern homeschoolers. It is also important that the members of a support group realize that 'support' needs to work both ways - be willing to give support as well as receive it.
Once you have assembled your coordinators, you can begin the task of writing a mission statement, bylaws, and policies. These do not need to be long or complicated documents, especially for a group that is just getting started. However, beginning with a clearly laid out foundation will save time and energy later.
A basic outline for bylaws:
- Purpose of the group and mission statement
- Officers and their duties
- How officers are chosen or elected
- Membership qualifications and dues
- Responsibilities of members
- Financial structure
- How the bylaws and other group documents can be amended if necessary
A group's policies will be more detailed and easier to alter with the changing needs of the group. Policies should include things like:
- A code of conduct
- Specifics about the functions and structure of the board or leadership team
- Activities and services the group plans to provide
If you are of a particular faith, you may want to adopt a Statement of Faith. This can be controversial, as some view this as being isolationist, arrogant, or judgmental. If having one is consistent with the purpose and mission of the group, then by all means - decide on what religious tenets your group members need to agree. I know some homeschooling parents who want a support group where they can freely discuss their faith and take certain things for granted without worrying about conflicts over religious beliefs. Others want an inclusive group, which sounds great - but this usually means that religious topics are verboten. Make the choice that best serves the needs and focus of the group.
Another important but intimidating part of forming a group is how to handle finances. If your group is small, this isn't complicated, and many times the group can function on a 'pay as you go' basis. If money does change hands for any reason, sound financial practices and transparency are essential. As the group grows, the board or leadership team will need to start a separate business account for the group, and designate someone as Treasurer who understands how to process payments, balance a checkbook and financial statements, and handle other kinds of paperwork, such as filing a 990N for non-profit groups.
If you need a location for regular meetings or classes, your group may need insurance. In our litigious society, where someone can poke themselves in the eye with a pencil and sue Ticonderoga for not having a warning label that reads "Do not use pointy end to scratch an itchy cornea", the sad reality is that a group needs to protect themselves and their members. Many locations will not allow groups to use their facilities without insurance. It's a question you will have to answer as your group membership increases.
Keep coming back to Susan Raber Online and The Every Day of Education Blog for more information about types of groups and how to organize activities.
For more must-read legal and financial information, check out Homeschool CPA Carol Topp's website - start here with articles about starting and running a homeschool support group.