Strengthening Support Groups: Group Dynamics and Incorporation

Strengthening Support Groups: Group Dynamics and Incorporation

Posted in Craigs Keystone articles

Each support group will form its own unique character. This simply reflects the fact that each is formed for a different set of reasons and formed by different people. It is easiest on everyone to “grow” into a recognisable support group rather than “go” into it, forming one overnight from nothing. In the first method, you do as you are able and as you have keen and eager helpers. If you “go” into something, it is like trying to organise others who don’t want to be organised, and you could end up frustrated beyond words.

Some support groups limit their numbers. This has several advantages. It preserves the group’s character and group dynamics. This can be extremely important for some, for the character and dynamics of that set of individuals could be the entire attraction of a support group. A group of home educating mums, all good friends from way back, will see their support group as a natural extension of their years of friendship. A set of mums all from the one church denomination will obviously see and appreciate and approach things in very similar ways, minimising the need to be wary of other differing value systems within the group. Although welcomed with opened arms for here are other brave souls who have “seen the home schooling light”, one or two new families coming along will definitely change the way the original group interacts. The new comers could well have completely different needs, aspirations, expectations and value systems and could easily step on the toes of the original group members simply because they do not know the unwritten “rules of relationships” which have already developed among the others.

Larger and growing groups have more complex dynamics and are always changing and become less personal. Larger groups also require…and expect…. more organisational structures. If the organisation isn’t there, the person seen to be in the “leadership” position is criticised: totally unfairly and unjustifiably as the person is a volunteer already busy with her own family. But criticism comes and sometimes it can be severe. This can be very hurtful (support group members, please take note), but it is also an excellent opportunity to learn and grow. Criticism is simply part of the price of serving in a leadership capacity. “No pain, no gain” is a true statement. However, this can be avoided by a well-focussed executive committee, and larger groups can certainly begin to gain larger discounts and attract the attention of those offering various goods and services. One danger to watch for is that you don’t allow the support group’s mechanics and growing administrative requirements to become a higher priority than your children’s education. It is easy to be pushed along by circumstances, especially when so many people are hoping you will do this and do that and what a fabulous opportunity to serve others….before making any commitments to being chairperson, ask your husband. Better yet, get the dads to do all the admin, for the mums are already doing all the teaching.

It is to be expected that support groups will fluctuate over time and that some members find one group no longer meets their needs so they move to another or establish their own. Many home educators belong to several groups, for again, each offers something unique. When you see this happening in your own group, recognise it as a natural occurance and try not to make life difficult for yourself or others by questioning loyalty and commitment. Our loyalty and commitment is to our Lord and our families long before it is given to some support group. Sure, it is nice to have things remain the same, but that isn’t always realistic.

Incorporation                                                                                                                                                           Many support groups become legally incorporated. Probably the only benefit to doing so is to be able to qualify for Clear and Telecom donations and grants from various agencies. There are two ways to become incorporated.

1) Via the Incorporated Societies Act, wherein you need 15 people to sign a deed of incorporation. You have elected officers and AGMs and must have minutes of meetings and financial statements, properly audited. These are legal requirements. It can seem a somewhat top-heavy bureaucracy for a few outings and some mums wanting to get together. But large groups with lots of assests (a resource library for example) may need such a structure. It means someone is going to do a lot of work administratively that has nothing to do with home education. An incorporated society’s structural requirements will of necessity draw some people away from the task of home education for more or less hours a week. It is also expensive: $250 to incorporate and if you get a lawyer involved in writing the constitution and other paper work it will cost several hundred dollars more.

2) The Charitable Trust form of organisation requires only three people as trustees of whatever assets you have or will have. It costs nothing to gain legal incorporation as a charitable trust, although it will if you hire a lawyer to do your constitution and other paper work. Charitable trusts are not legally required to present minutes or have AGMs or to provide financial statements, unless the trust is applying for grants. The trustees can just organise activities themselves and make all the decisions. Most people are quite happy to pay fees and have others do all the work. Or you can have elected officers and run the show like an incorporated society. But in that case, the elected officers must be very clear about what parametres they must work within as laid down by the constitution and the trustees. The trustees are still responsible for what the elected officers do. We have seen terrible problems erupt among good friends when it slowly dawned on the elected officers that the trustees could overturn any decision made by the elected officers. Although this rarely actually happens, the elected officers must be willing to operate within this system.

Either form, incorporated society or trust, can have a status with the IRD as profit-making or charitable.  Charitable status means no bank fees and no worries with income tax. In addition, donations of $5 or more to an organisation with charitable status are themselves tax deductible.

Either form can hire people to work for them (as long as the constitution allows for it). If the person hired is considered self-employed, or hired on a contract basis, the person is responsible for his or her own tax concerns. Having your organisation becoming the employer means getting into ACC and PAYE issues, which one really wants to avoid if possible. Either form can register for GST at any time if you see advantages to that.

So there are a lot of issues to consider, but probably only with a larger group. Most start by a couple of mums organising something for themselves and then others want to join in. That’s fine. When someone says, “Hey, you should organise such and such,” you can respond, “Great idea! Feel free to organise it and we will do what we can to support you in your efforts.” We began organising things for our own children and were quite happy to have others join in. But when others began to expect us to organise things for their children (even when their children were a totally different age group) and then NOT SHOW UP when we did organise it, we became more discerning. Outrageous? This happens in virtually every support group we’ve talked to.

The group must serve you and other home educators. Never let the group’s organisational and administrative requirements cause you to serve them to the point that you can no longer home educate effectively.

There is a mountain of information available through the CAB or other local community support agencies or on the web at:

From Keystone Magazine
July 1999 , Vol. V No. IV
P O Box 9064
Palmerston North
Phone: (06) 357-4399
Fax: (06) 357-4389
email: craig