Congratulations on wanting to make a difference! You have gone from thinking “I should do something about that...” to wanting to put your idea into action.
Establishing a community organisation is a challenge but very rewarding.
Before you start running around, setting up meetings and pouring all of your energy into this project here are few ideas and tips about getting started.
Your group might be just a few people who work together to help meet the needs of their community. You don't have to be a 'formal' organisation to be a community group but you might want to find out if it could help your group to grow even larger and work better.
Setting up as a 'formal' organisation involves some preparation and may change the way you work as a group, so the first thing to consider is whether it might be better to become part of another organisation or continue to work as a community group.
Are there other groups doing what we do already?
In Australia there are over 700,000 community groups and organisations so there may already be someone doing the same sort of work as your group. If there is an organisation doing similar work, you could discuss with them if your group could become members and continue your work with their help. This would give you all the benefits of being part of a larger organisation that might have more experience and resources to help your community.
Before talking to other organisations, you will need to have a clear idea about the aims and objectives or purpose of your own group. Understanding why you are working together and what you want to achieve will make it easier to decide if another organisation is already meeting these needs.
You might decide not to join another organisation but some of the people that you talk to may be able to give you advice if you do decide to become a 'formal' organisatio
To find out about other groups:
- you can check what is happening in your local area with your local council, State or Federal member of Parliament;
- look up the Our Community website which has a list ( Australia-wide) of community organisations at its "join in- join up" section.
- check with the relevant State authority the Office of Fair Trading or the relevant government department for the area in which you wish to set up the organisation.
- another valuable source is relevant peak bodies that cover your area of interest. For example you can contact the Queensland Council of Social Service, PeakCare or Self Help Queensland.
- Search the internet
- Once you have decided that you really do want to establish a new community organisation to address the issue then it would be a good idea to undertake research into who is affected, what help is required and what can be done to help. This assists in identifying your purpose.
Get others involved
By now you have communicated with a number of people about a need for a new organisation and no doubt have found others who want to get involved. The best way to keep up momentum is to start having regular meetings. At the meetings you can:
- Invite people to share their ideas and contribute to the vision
- Invite experts or professionals
- Invite the public
Form a work group
The purpose of this group is to set up the new organisation. Ideally the group consist of about five to seven people to share the work-load but at the same time keep decision-making quick and less formal. If the work group includes some-one who is affected by the issue their experience and connections can be invaluable. For more details about setting up the work group go to the QUT page on work groups.
Define who you are and what you do
Your mission and what you want to achieve should be top of mind from the start. If you have crystallised your thoughts about the group‟s purpose it will make it easier to decide the structure of your group and whether or not to incorporate.
Other useful resources can be found on the Our Community website.
Choose a name
If you are considering becoming incorporated there are some legal requirements around names you can‟t use and requirements about what needs to be included in the name so that the public is aware of what type of organisation it is dealing with.
It may also be wise to check that the name you are thinking of has not already been protected for example as a trademark. You don't want an international corporate giant suing your organisation for breach of intellectual property. For more information visit IPA Australia.
Your group is up and running with a name, clear aims and enthusiastic members. The next decision is whether your group is going to operate on a formal or informal basis.
Do we need to become a 'formal' organisation?
A community group that is not a 'formal' organisation is also known as an unincorporated association. As an unincorporated association, you can organise your activities largely as you like and will only have few legal responsibilities as a group.
For example if another person or organisation donates money to the group, it should only be used for the activities of the group that benefit the community. This is known as being a not-for-profit group rather than a business.
Although you might have fewer legal responsibilities as a group there are more things that individual group members might be responsible for personally. For example if your group wants to rent an office, someone in the group will need to be personally responsible for signing the lease. If the group is unable to pay the rent for some reason, then the person whose name is on the lease may have to pay. If the group wants to open a bank account or take out insurance or buy property, it will be members of the group who may be liable for any debts or may even be sued.
A community group that is an unincorporated association may also have difficulty applying for or receiving grants from the government or other organisations. However, a group that does become a 'formal' organisation or incorporates will have legal status that is separate to the individual members. This means that members of your group may have more legal protection if there are problems. It also means that you will have a number of legal responsibilities.
Finding out more about becoming incorporated
There are a lot of other things that your group will need to consider before becoming incorporated, including how it might change the way that your group does its work. To understand all the requirements of becoming incorporated, it will help if there are members of your group with English language proficiency and book-keeping skills.
To find out more about becoming incorporated, there is further information provided below and in the following sections. It might also be helpful to talk to other community organisations about their experiences.
Before your group makes any decisions about whether to become incorporated, you might want to ask for advice from a solicitor and/or an accountant.
- Office of Fair Trading information about becoming an incorporated association
- Our Community help sheets about starting a community group
- Caxton Legal Service is a not-for-profit community organisation that provides free legal information, advice or referral to another solicitor by appointment.
- Developing your Organisation is an online wiki from QUT's Centre for Philanthropic and Non-profit Studies.
- Developing your Board is an online wiki from QUT's Centre for Philanthropic and Non-profit Studies.
- Australian Taxation Office offers non-profit organisations relevant GST and other tax information.
- Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations (ORIC) supports and regulates the corporations that are incorporated under the Corporations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) Act 2006 (CATSI Act)