Most celiac or gluten-free support groups are run by a dedicated few who pour their heart and soul in to making the group everything they think it can be. These dedicated leaders often spend their own money trying to provide newsletters, drinks at meetings, and countless hours emailing members. Here are a few tips to help your support group run a little smoother, even if you can’t get 15 dedicated volunteers to help.
1. Keep it simple. Don’t try to do too much at one time or one meeting. If you know that you can book a speaker and bring drinks, then leave it at that. You don’t have to do 10 things at the meeting. If you have a theme planned, then stick with that theme. If you want to have a meeting in October for Halloween, discuss safe Halloween candy and gluten-free versions of traditional Halloween treats. Leave cookbook announcements to another event. This makes it easier on you, your volunteers, and members.
2. Keep it short. A 2 hour meeting can benefit a new member who has a ton of questions, but may lose the 10 year veteran who has heard all of this information before. A teacher once said “The mind will only hear as much as the butt will endure” so keep the lectures and talks to a tolerable length. Even the most interesting information isn’t interesting when you are thinking “man, I really have to pee…” Break it up with a snack or change in focus, such as Q and A time.
3. Keep it cheap. Don’t spend a ton of your own money trying to offer snacks and drinks. If you have seasoned, dedicated members, ask if someone will volunteer to make cookies or brownies. If that isn’t an option see if you can get the snacks donated by a local trusted restaurant. Better yet, contact gluten-free companies like Pamela’s, Kinnikinnick, Bob’s Red Mill, and countless others, and ask for donations for group picnics or big events. Many times they will send cookies, hamburger buns, or mixes. These are free to the group, so you don’t have to spend your own money. This is also great advertising for the company. If your local grocery stores don’t carry Pamela’s cookies (for example) then your support group members don’t know how great the mini simplebite cookies are! Asking the company to donate a couple of bags for your meeting opens the group to new gluten-free product options.
4. Keep it easy. To avoid burnout, find easy ways to do things. If you have a support group with a lot of members, then emailing is both cheaper and easier than snail mail (and much easier than calling). To make an announcement via blast email you will need a program or non-spam way of emailing a large group of people. Services like Constant Contact and Vertical Response offer mass emailing with a few clicks. There will be some learning up-front, but when you know the ropes, you will be able to pass along a note about a meeting in less than 5 minutes. Constant Contact offers non-profit pricing, and Vertical Response offers per-email pricing (cheaper for fewer email contacts). There are other services available, just beware of scams and companies that seem too good to be true.
5. Keep it realistic. Think about how you find information, and what you want to have available when you want to look up something. Most of us look to the internet to research a restaurant before we go, check the menu online, and maybe get directions. Consider having a website for your group so the members can do the same thing. When it is easy to look up a meeting time or location the members are more likely to attend. They won’t remember the announcement from the last meeting, but they will remember the website, and check if for updates and news. Yahoo groups, WordPress blogs, Facebook pages, and professional webpages are all options. Spend as much or as little as you like (WordPress blogs are free, as are Facebook pages, and many others). The point is to have your information on the web, where most people look for information these days.
These are just a few helpful hints to get you thinking about how to keep your volunteer work easy and hopefully less stressful. Look for more support group tips and tricks coming soon.