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The purpose of the work group is to set up the organisation. Ideally the work group should consist of between five and seven people. This ensures enough people to share the work load while keeping decision-making quick and less formal. Be sure the work group includes people affected by the issue. Their experience and connections can be invaluable in building the organisation so that it addresses their needs. If no one from this group volunteers to be involved, or if you need more people, invite someone personally. Studies show that this is a powerful way to involve people. 

1.3.1      A Project Approach to Setting up the Organisation

Setting up the organisation is a project that is completed at the first General Meeting, at which the legal entity will be formed and a management committee (or Board) elected to carry out the work of the organisation. To reach this point you will need to:

  • Draw up a draft constitution
  • Build community support
  • Raise funds to cover incorporation costs
  • Identify and, if possible, establish sources of finance for the new organisation
  • Plan and conduct the first General Meeting
  • Work together effectively
  • Wind up the work group 

These tasks are usually removed from the tasks involved in achieving the purpose of your organisation - empowerment, lobbying, and/or service delivery. Because people are usually motivated by the purpose, there can sometimes be a mismatch between the skills available in the work group and the skills required for setting up the organisation. For this reason one of the first tasks of the work group is to ensure it has the skills needed to complete the project.

1.3.2      Conducting a Skills Audit

A skills audit is a structured analysis of the range of skills required for the project and the skills available in the group. It is also a good way for a new group of people to get to know each other. Once the organisation is established the skills audit will also be a valuable tool in managing your volunteers, so be sure to keep a record of this process for future reference.  The first step in the audit is to identify the skills you need. Certainly previous experience in setting up an organisation or business will be valuable, as will accounting and legal expertise, but these professional skills can be sourced outside the group as they are needed. The skills that are needed for this project may be practical skills that can be developed in any walk of life, such as: * Reading and writing ability

  • Ability to take minutes
  • Ability to use a computer
  • Attention to detail
  • Organising ability
  • Time management ability
  • Research ability
  • Ability to motivate people
  • Ability to work well in a team
  • Ability to carry out instructions with minimal supervision
  • Ability to accept responsibility
  • Willingness to try new things
  • Willingness to admit mistakes
  • Preparedness to be flexible
  • Determination to see the organisation established

 
This list reflects the skills needed to work effectively in a self-managed team. You could use it as a check-list but it is important to develop your own list since every group will operate differently. In identifying the skills you need, you are also identifying how you will work together to complete the project. Be mindful of cultural and social issues in drafting your list. For example, one group might consider gender or cultural sensitivity an important group skill while another may include consensus decision-making.

 
Task-specific skills are those that relate to the tasks to be done, such as:

  • Ability to access the local media
  • Ability to design promotional literature
  • Familiarity with electronic databases and mail-merge systems
  • Experience in organising social events 
     

For a small group, brainstorming is the best way to identify the required skills. Once everyone has agreed on the list, the next step is to invite people to talk about the skills that they bring to the group and to match these to the list. Encourage people to explore the skills gained in volunteering and family life as well as through their work. This process is usually rewarding at both a group and a personal level as people discover skills they may never have acknowledged or valued.
Compare the list of desired skills to the list of available skills and identify any gaps or weaknesses. Discuss how you will address these. Lawyers, accountants, media and other professional consultants often provide advice to new organisations free of charge and there are training programs and workbooks that the group could study together.  Your peak organisation, Peak Care - Queensland and the Queensland Council of Social Service (QCOSS) are valuable sources of information and training opportunities.

Once you have identified the skills you need and where to find them, the final step in the audit is to delegate the responsibility of ensuring that strategies to access or develop the required skills are implemented. Be sure to document and evaluate any training or pro bono service and schedule regular reviews of your strategy to update it as your needs change.

For more information on conducting a skills audit for volunteers see the Volunteering Queensland web site at http://www.volunteeringqueensland.org.au.

1.3.3      Establish Your Systems

Until now you may have been working alone or in a small group. With the formation of the work group you are likely to have more people involved, and new systems and procedures will now need to be established. Some of these are: * Meeting procedures - dates, times, duration, format, location, decision-making process.

  • Delegation issues - who will do what, how and when they will report back to the group, what powers they have to act on behalf of the group between meetings.
  • Documentation and communication systems - keeping minutes, maintaining the database of information and contacts, where and how records will be kept, when and how people will be contacted.
  • Financial management - powers to incur expenses, recording expenditure, donations and out-of-pocket expenses.

Meetings

Agreeing on these operational issues early in the life of the work group will ensure that the work flows smoothly. Again, there is no right way to do these things; it depends on the people involved.  For example, many small groups use consensus decision-making which is a system that ensures everyone has an equal say in making decisions. However consensus decision-making procedures may be inappropriate in some cultures or communities, such as those that have a tradition of leadership based on age or on religious or political status. The key to success here is to work with the decision-making system most people in the group are comfortable using. Most libraries have books on consensus decision-making for teams and the following website gives a useful overview http://www.casagordita.com/consensus.htm. As well as agreeing on how you will meet, consider the logistics of your meetings such as when and where you will meet. Try to meet at regular times and in a public setting. Neighbourhood centres and community centres usually offer space to new groups, or one of the organisations represented at your visioning workshop may be able to offer space until the organisation is financial. Try to avoid meeting in someone's home as this usually means files are not readily accessible to the rest of the group and can result in the homeowner carrying an inequitable share of the work and communication costs. Meetings in private homes can also be intimidating for some volunteers. Encourage people to discuss how much time they can give to the project and any time constraints for meetings.

 Delegation

Work groups seldom use formal roles such as a Chairperson or Secretary.  Generally the only recognised role is that of the facilitator who is responsible for managing the meeting logistics and process. Many groups rotate this responsibility so that everyone has an opportunity to develop meeting facilitation skills. Other tasks are generally delegated according to the skills required and the availability of volunteers. Again, in some communities a different system could be used and a civic or religious leader may be expected to chair meetings and to speak on behalf of the group. The important thing here is that the decision-making system is explicit so that volunteers understand the rules of participation. When people are delegated jobs to do on behalf of the work group, it is important that they are also briefed on the powers and constraints associated with their actions between meetings. This ensures that volunteers know what is expected of them and allows them the freedom required to perform tasks without incurring unexpected costs, obligations or other risks for the group. 

Records

Because your work group is not a legally incorporated entity, the minutes of meetings are not legal documents and need not be too detailed. The important thing is to record the decisions:  who will do what; any powers or constraints involved (e.g. the power to negotiate or the limit on costs that can be incurred); and who they should liaise with between meetings.  It is also useful to start your Policies and Procedures Manual now.  At this stage, this can be a simple Book-of-Agreements, which records your decisions under specific headings such as Meeting Procedures, Delegation, Data Base Management and Financial Management. Each time you make a decision about how your group will operate enter it under the relevant heading along with a reference to the date of the meeting. This is a valuable management tool and an excellent way to bring new volunteers up to date. The information system you established during your initial research phase should now be reviewed by the group to ensure that everyone has access, and that the system can cope with the increase in data likely to be generated by the increase in volunteers. You will also need to set up an internal communications system so that everyone can contact each other and be informed in a timely manner in order to prepare for meetings and have the information needed do their work. 

Finance

Setting up an organisation costs money. In the beginning, the usual costs are for travel, communication and printing. Usually groups cover these costs themselves, often by everyone donating to a working fund from which people are reimbursed their out-of-pocket expenses. The working fund may also be established by donations or people may agree to meet their own expenses. If a working fund is used, you will need to establish some policies on what will be reimbursed, the maximum amounts for different items, and what will be accepted as evidence of expenditure.  Keep a record of donations and financial contributions. It will be useful as evidence of community support should you apply for grants to finance the ongoing costs of your organisation.  If you want to open a bank account, three members could open a joint account requiring two of the three signatures or an established organisation could be asked to auspice an account until the organisation is incorporated.

Addressing these group management issues takes time but you will be rewarded by avoiding many of the problems that develop in groups and by helping your volunteers to work effectively. In addition you are continuing to build a strong foundation for your organisation.  The project will also benefit from the high level of commitment this process of organisation building creates in the people involved. Finally, as your work progresses, take time to review your team performance and to build and monitor morale.  For more information on building good teams see Chapter 3: Meetings.

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