Setting up a new volunteer group
Volunteering is a great way to help your local community. Although people often carry out good work in their community without needing a formal organisation, some projects and activities need a structure to function safely and efficiently. A volunteer group can allow these kinds of activities to take place.
What a volunteer group is
A volunteer group is run by more than one person on a ‘not for profit’ basis and provides benefits to the local community, environment or to aid a specific case. The group can choose to be ‘constituted’ or ‘non-constituted’.
What a constituted volunteer group is
Constituted groups have a formal structure. A constitution is a simple set of written rules for the group and should make clear to everyone involved what the group intends to do and how the group intends to operate. This ‘Constitution’ document gives the group a formal structure which is necessary if the group wishes to raise finance or funding or enter into a legal agreement with another organisation.
There are no legal rules about what your constitution should say but generally it should include:
- the name and purpose of the group
- who the members of the group are
- who makes the decisions – the committee or board members
- how the committee will work with processes for decision making/resolving disputes
- any designated roles such as Chair, Treasurer & Secretary
- who has responsibility for Health & Safety
- how money is to be managed
- what powers the group has – for example: to raise funds, to give out grants, to manage buildings, to employ staff and so on
As a constituted group – sometimes called an association – you are now able to apply for funding, set up a bank account, buy insurance, rent property, own equipment and even employ staff. You can also apply for charitable status.
Setting up a new volunteer group
Your local Volunteer Centre can help you and provide further guidance such as:
- identify the purpose of the group - what the group will do and in what geographical area
- find out if there is another group in your area doing something similar and whether you can join them rather than set up a new group
- build a team and work out how the group will run - this includes
- how the objectives will be achieved
- the frequency of volunteer sessions
- the administration of the group
It is important that you have a role description for your volunteers so that you and they are clear about what they are intending to do, the impact they will have, and the support being provided.
- identify a name for the volunteer group
It is important not to pick a name that is the same as, or too similar to another volunteer group. The name should be memorable, attract volunteers and reflect the purpose of the group.
- decide if you wish to be a constituted group
If so you will need to form a committee (elect a Chair, Secretary and Treasurer), develop a constitution, set up a bank account and choose a legal structure for your group.
There are a number to choose from depending on what the group plans to do. Many local volunteer groups will register as an unincorporated organisation, as it is quick and cheap to set up and ideal for small groups with small membership, short term goals and low incomes.
To find out more about the different structures available visit the Charity Commission website.
Make sure good governance is in place by knowing and applying key policies and procedures. This will help identify any risks associated with the volunteer group and how to manage them, as well as deal with potential barriers to volunteering.
Key policies include Health and Safety, Equal Opportunities, Safeguarding and a Volunteer Policy
Access NI checks may be needed for each individual when as part of the group’s activities they are working with children and/or vulnerable adults. Training in safeguarding may also be needed.
You will also need to:
- arrange appropriate insurance cover for your volunteer group
- advertise the volunteer group and recruit volunteers
- start the volunteering sessions and make sure everyone has fun in a safe way