How to start your own community organisation

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How to start your own community organisation

Have you had a brilliant idea for something that could be happening in your community but isn’t? Would you like to see that idea grow into a Not-for-Profit Organisation? This guide will take you through how to turn an interesting new idea into an interesting new organisation.

Check whether someone else has already had your idea

The Community Sector in Tasmania is surprisingly broad. When TasCOSS did a statewide survey of the Community Services Sector in 2015, we counted over 300 Community Organisations operating throughout Tasmania. So before you spend too much time doodling logos for your new organisation, it’s worth double checking that there isn’t someone else out there who already has your area of interest covered.

To find out what’s already out there, you could:

  • Browse the FindHelpTas website, which is an emerging directory of Tasmanian Not-for-Profit Organisations in the community sector.
  • Explore what’s going on at a national level via a few different websites, including Our Community and Pro Bono Australia.
  • Check with the peak bodies for your area of interest. (A peak body is the member organisation for community organisations that provide similar services.) A list of the Tasmanian peak bodies that belong to the Tasmanian Community Sector Peaks Network is available on the TasCOSS website.

Find relevant people, and work collaboratively with them – avoid Founder’s Syndrome

If you know there’s a gap in the community that you can fill, it’s time to start reaching out to the people you want to help – and to people who can help you. This is also the time when the potential for Founder’s Syndrome can creep in.

Founder’s Syndrome is what happens when all the wonderful things a founder brings to their organisation – passion, vision, knowledge, and drive – aren’t balanced by input from other diverse sources. An organisation experiencing Founder’s Syndrome may find that decisions are made without consultation with others; staff and board members consist of the founders’ friends and colleagues, and the skills and knowledge of people outside of this inner circle are not sought.

The best way to avoid finding yourself in this situation is to seek out diverse perspectives and opportunities to work collaboratively with others right from the start. Think about the issues at the heart of what you’re doing, and ask yourself:

  • Who is directly experiencing the issue or is at risk?
  • Who are the targets for change, the people who are contributing to the issue through their action or lack of action?
  • Who are the agents of change, the people who can influence the issue and conditions that are contributing to the problem?

Seeking involvement from these people will help you create and maintain a relevant and effective organisation.

Figure out what you want people to call you

Coming up with a name that captures your organisation’s personality and purpose can require some serious brainstorming sessions. Some of the questions you might want to consider when considering names include:

  • Is the name understandable and pronounceable?
  • Does it represent your organisational’s purpose and/or demographic?
  • Does it have the potential to limit future growth?
  • Does it translate well to an available web domain (preferably something short – remember, your web domain will probably be what’s attached to your email addresses)?
  • Is it unique?

You can search the register of business names at ASIC and the IP Australia register of trade marks to make sure you’re not using the name of an existing organisation. Don’t forget to do a simple google search as well.

Establish the structure of your organisation  

Create a set of rules for your organisation, if you don’t have one already. This will be your constitution. The Tasmanian Government provides a constitution template, or Model Rules. You can print this off and start filling it in to fit your organisation.

Also refer to How to write a constitution for your organisation.

Decide what you want your legal status to be

There are a few options for what legal status you can choose. They are:

Lots of community organisations start as associations that aren’t incorporated. As they grow and become more complex they often evolve into something else. If they become incorporated they get a few significant advantages including the ability to enter into contracts, apply for government grants, engage in legal action as an organisation, and buy, sell, and own property. It doesn’t cost much to become incorporated.

To become incorporated you need to meet some eligibility requirements and there are certain responsibilities your Board has to agree to take on. You can find out about these here, on the Tasmanian Consumer Affairs and Fair Trading website.  If you use the Model Rules to write your constitution it will take you step by step through these requirements and responsibilities.

If you decide you would like to be a charity, there are useful resources on the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission website which will help you work out what you need to know and do. Click here to see a Checklist: Before you Start a Charity.

Decide who is in charge

Every organisation needs a governing body. You will need to establish a Board of Governance or a Management Committee to be responsible for your organisation. You will have to do this as one of the steps to becoming incorporated.

Here are 10 principles for good governance for Boards to think about as they set themselves up - written for not-for-profits.

Next steps

The next things you need to think about are how you are going to organise your finances and your paperwork.

It might sound dull, but taking the time to organize these systems lays the foundations for an effective, sustainable service. Good financial systems enable you to approach donors and funders; and your administrative and information systems will mean that people who come to your service can be the focus of your attention, rather than trying to find the lost paperwork. They will help you do the good work you want to do.

Good luck!