Tips for starting groups

Why start a community group? Types of groups. Roles & being a group leader. Getting members and launching the group. Incorporating and formalizing a group.

Recommended Resource COMMUNITY CANVAS

A framework that will help you build and run a new community, or analyze and improve an existing community. Poses questions through a 1-page canvas worksheet (full, shortened), guidebook, and worksheet doc. It is available in multiple languages.

Leading a group is hard work! It’s not easy, but it can be incredibly rewarding: personally & professionally. It is a unique and powerful experience.

Why Start a Group?

Know who you are and what you're creating. It is important to be very clear on why YOU want to do this.

Be as specific as you can, but some general reasons may include:

  • Professional Benefits

    • Practicing & demonstrating leadership

    • Creating job or project opportunities

    • Networking

    • Learning: keeping your skills sharp & current

    • Stay up to date with leading practices from other companies and individuals

  • Personal Benefits

    • Making friends

    • Staying interested by geeking out with others

  • Bigger Picture

    • Industry innovation, impact, and movement-building

    • Build a sense of community

As you're reflecting on this - talk with a lot of people to see what resonates with them.

Having no clear guiding purpose can stifle growth or, worse, lead to failure. See Group Mission & Vision.

The name of your group is important.

See some branding guidelines from Autodesk if you're starting a group.

Types of Groups

  • Physical groups/ local groups/ meetup groups - Meeting physically and synchronously for conversations and connection is the core. Focus is often deeper personal connections and in-depth topics.

  • Online Groups - Meeting online and often asyncronously for chatting, Q&A, and sharing is the core. Focus is often quicker knowledge sharing.

  • Company Practice Groups - All members are within a company, seeking to improve practices within the firm.

Study History & Precedents

  • Have there been similar groups in the past in this area? What happened to them?

  • Are there current groups doing what you want to do? Should you join or partner with them?

  • Can you talk with current and past leaders of these other groups to get insight?

Roles & Being a Group Leader

Leaders of the group set the tone, and healthy groups come from healthy leadership relationships. Define your group's leadership structure, even if it's informal.

  • Find another leader to do this with you?

    • It’s more fun and rewarding to work with others.

    • It's risky and less resilient if groups are too heavily dependent on one person.

  • Some groups run on "do-ocracy" - If you have time & interest to do something, just do it and enroll people along the way.

    • People may work themselves into specific niches based on interest and proficiency

    • High functioning leadership teams share responsibility and are able to distribute tasks over time.

  • Some groups formalize roles, though it's common that one person wears many hats.

    • President

    • Treasurer

    • Secretary

    • Vice President

    • Partnerships manager

    • Membership manager

  • A marketing person is crucial for every group to help drive engagement and awareness with group activities (on social media, etc)

  • Meet & communicate as a leadership team

    • Make time commitments and time availability clear and explicit.

    • Leadership is a support system for each other

    • Have a culture of accountability

    • Have fun together

  • When groups are very young, they're in a fragile state when the first leader is the decision-maker, executes most tasks, and establishes group norms.

    • As that first leader: take care with the tone you set, and seek to enroll others and get support.

"A group does not belong to whoever starts it, it belongs to everyone involved." - Adam Reilly, Austin CADD User Group

What do group leaders do?

  • Set the tone, vision, and direction of a group

  • Plan and host events

  • Maintain tools for the group (establish systems/ platforms for conversation)

  • Seed and share content

  • Catalyze & encourage conversation

  • Participate in conversations

  • Moderate conversations, enforce ground rules of the group + space

  • Welcome people & make introductions

  • Project management

  • Manage membership and member data

  • Analytics and gauging group health

  • Manage money, create budgets, raise funds

  • Create partnerships and get sponsors

  • Communicate to the group (via e-mail, social media, etc)

  • Market the group, market events

See more in community management and tips for running groups.

Tools to use when starting groups

You may need to set-up some infrastructure for the group when you start.

  • A website

  • A social media account

  • A way to accept payment or sell tickets

  • Group chat

  • An email account

  • An email newsletter or list-serve

  • A shared file storage drive

Start simple and see what works. See more in the Tools for Groups guide.

Group Documentation & Communication

  • Investing in good group documentation can pay off if and as the group grows.

  • This can be as simple as a shared cloud storage drive (e.g. Google Drive) and good meeting minutes.

Money

Not all groups require financial backing, but this is definitely a consideration to discuss as you’re starting your group. Leaders should communicate openly, honestly, and in-good-faith about money.

Often individual group leaders pay for up-front costs and seek to recoup those costs - but this can be financially risky. It also might lead to leadership disagreements and power imbalances if communication is not good.

  • What do you need money for and where will it come from?

  • Will you sell tickets?

  • Will you need to front money?

  • Will you find sponsors?

  • Will there be membership costs?*

You may want to explore partnerships to help get members and/or sponsors financially.

* Note that groups in the Autodesk Group Network must have a free and public membership option (as of June 2020).

Getting Members & Launching the Group

Many new group leaders ask how to promote and get momentum when they start...

  • The personal brand of founder & leaders matters:

    • If you’d like to launch a group, it is a good idea to launch your blog at first

    • Building a following on social media (e.g. YouTube channel)

    • If you don't already have that online presence, maybe your colleague has one that you could springboard from.

    • If you already have a strong individual presence online, an online group is likely to have rapid growth in the beginning.

  • Get people engaged by the purpose

  • Promotion through the grapevine is a good idea, especially if you’re an extrovert.

    • Find a group with the similar topics, on the same platform, or on a different one (If you’re on Facebook – explore LinkedIn, Telegram, vk, etc), contact the admin and ask them to promote your group. It is not dangerous for them because if they are confident and professional, they won’t lose the audience.

    • Talk to subject matter experts and influencers from the industry who are relevant to the group.

      • Ask them about their perception, what they are interested in, would they join the group, who else would they talk with and how would they promote it?

      • Convey "I want you to be part of the journey"... the goal is not to have everyone join the group, just to gather allies, insights, and connections.

      • Can these conversations improve and evolve your initial ideas? They might end up shaping the group's mission & vision - in addition to recruiting people.

Create a Launch Plan

  • Who's the audience? Don't just blindly recruit. Make sure the people you're attracting are the right people for the group's goals.

  • What's the main message and call-to-action? Reinforce the purpose of the group.

  • Do a soft-launch first with a smaller audience - play around, pre-populate conversations, create artifacts, give feedback to each other, have fun.

  • Get the word out by...

    • Writing blog posts & articles

    • Presenting at other events and groups

    • Social media (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc)

    • Being a guest on podcasts

    • Emails (crafted to be easily forwarded)

  • Have realistic expectations. If your high expectations aren't met at first launch, try to find value, keep your motivation, and kindle the flame.

  • Other resources on the web...

Take care in community management

  • Do community management

  • Do moderation

  • Do enforce ground rules

  • Make sure people are getting what they need

  • Make sure the space you're hosting is healthy & welcoming

See the Running a Group guide.

Incorporating & Formalizing a Group

  • Groups can be incorporated as non-profits and/or industry associations

  • Benefits of legally incorporating include

    • Creating a structure for continuity & decision-making

    • Limiting liability of group leaders

    • Holding bank accounts as a group, not as individuals

    • Enter into partnerships and contracts with other companies or groups

    • Enabling tax deductible donations (if a charity)

  • The incorporation process is different by country and by state, but it involves writing formal bylaws, registering with the government, nominating a board of directors, etc...

  • The downside of incorporating is that it adds administrative overhead.

Other resources from the web

Engage to improve

Submit questions, feedback, or suggestions on starting groups

Fill out our interest form to get support in starting a group Or, become a peer mentor