Starting a new group, Part 4: Making your group sustainable

This guidance explores how to go about starting a new group. It is a collection of ideas and tips structured in a way that we hope will help you to move forwards with your plan from the beginnings of an idea to your first rehearsal and beyond. This is the last of four sections and focusses on looking to the future to ensure your group is sustainable in the long term.

Content:

When you are deep in the process of starting a new group, getting it off the ground may seem like enough of a challenge. Making your group sustainable might be something you intend to address further down the line, but in our experience the most successful new groups are those with at least one eye on the long term future. Below we explore five key areas it’s important to consider when working on the sustainability of your group. 

Welcoming new members

This may seem like a small point but it is an area in which a little bit of effort can go a very long way. Putting lots of work into getting the word out to potential members is all very well but part of what will make them into long lasting loyal members is in how easily they fit into the group when they join.

Small things like making introductions, explaining the format of rehearsals and letting them know in advance about any expectations or post rehearsal activities can make all the difference. Some groups have buddy systems in which each new member is welcomed and looked after by one specific person, others make sure to sit a new member next to an old hand. These are both ways of helping to speed up the process by which a new member becomes an integrated member of the group.

Build a team and trust it

In part two of this resource we looked at how a good team can make the workload of running a group more manageable, but a good team is about much more than this and can make all the difference in the long run. It can be easy to fall in to the trap of one or a few people doing everything when you first start. This is sometimes necessary (and beneficial) but is it sustainable? If you are the only one that knows the details of how your group works and you can’t be there, would the group be able to continue? Having a team of people who are invested and engaged in the group, confident and ready to take on responsibility can only be a good thing. Make sure that your team all understand the group’s vision, and what needs to happen to keep it moving forwards.

Having a defined structure for you team will help in the short and long term. This could be a traditional committee structure, or something more informal and flexible. Whatever form it takes it is important to have clear and defined roles and agreed ways of working and making decisions as this will allow for efficient and effective management.

We have a separate resource on running committees and committee role descriptions which are a pretty good starting point. You can find them in the further reading section.

Group structure

In the long term it’s a good idea to decide on a structure for your group and have documented governance procedures.  Having a written constitution or governing document that sets out basic rules about how your group is run is a good way of doing this. This may seem like an administrative burden or too formal for your group, but it is a good idea to think about it before it becomes something you wish you had.

As you group gets bigger or if the direction of your group ever becomes contentious, having a defined structure and set of rules will be very useful in managing your growth and providing a framework for decision making and how to move forwards.It can also be very useful when new people get involved, either at member or management level, as a way of introducing them to the group – how it works in general, or learning the ropes of a role in the committee.

Many of our member groups are charities (this means that they have charitable aims and a charitable constitution – not necessarily that they are registered charities).  This may or may not be an appropriate route for your group and we are happy to advise our members on the different types of charitable structure.

If you’d like your group to be charitable and need help writing a constitution then we have a model constitution developed with the Charity Commission specifically for Making Music Members.  We can also advise on charity (and non-charity) structures and what they will mean for your group

Some of the key things to include in any constitution are:

  • Objectives
  • Membership rules
  • Committee elections
  • Committee powers and decision making
  • Finance rules
  • General meeting rules
  • Dissolution

Being financially self-sufficient

The financial challenge involved in starting a group is huge and we have covered that in more detail in Part 2: The Practicalities. In reality the story of how each group manages those first few months will be different from group to group and will usually include a mixture of: self-funding by the people involved, grant or trust funding, and member subscriptions. 

Getting through the first few months one way or another is an impressive feat in itself, but at some point you’ll need to make a plan for a sustainable future. One of the most common reasons we see for groups being in trouble is the loss or reduction of a regular income stream. A few individuals can’t be expected to go on funding a group forever, and funding from external organisations may help, but in the long run it’s much better to be able to rely on the organisation itself to be financially self-sufficient.

To do this think about your budgets and forecasts, work out what you need and what is an extra luxury, plan realistically and make sure the whole management team is aware of the situation. One really good way to build and maintain a stable financial footing is to think about diversifying your income.

If you rely completely on one income source such as membership subscriptions, ticket sales, or revenue from donations and that income stream dries up you will feel the impact very quickly. If, however, you always have multiple income streams coming in then you are more likely to be able to weather the loss of one of them. Read more about improving your income in our guidance.

Building loyalty and support

The final element of increasing the chances of a long life for your group is the loyalty that you build amongst your members and audiences. A great strength of many voluntary and community music groups is the strong link between performers and the audience. Through the members of your group you are already connected to an audience who will want to see your group thrive in the future. They are a community ready to help you build a reputation for the group. Developing and maximising this potential is really important for longevity.

Since the members of your group are taking part in music making for the love of it, they are in the perfect position to persuade others to support the group too. There’s nothing better than seeing your family and friends enthusiastic about something they are involved with – if your members are enthusiastic and engaged then they will be fantastic ambassadors for your group without even trying. So if there are ever particular needs or challenges your group is facing, or projects you are considering undertaking then remember how much value your group members hold as ambassadors for your group hold and get them on board too.

Think about how to develop member and audience engagement. Can you reward members for their hard work, how will you encourage audiences to return and continue supporting you. Making the experience of being in the group or coming to see your concerts something a little bit special is the first step towards making it something they care about and continue to support.

  • Could you start a Friends or Patrons scheme?

How exactly the scheme would work is for you to decide but in essence it’s a way for non-members to become associated with and support the group. You could ask them for a donation in return for some benefits, for example advance concert information, a patron’s reception or acknowledgement of their support in the programme. For information on starting a friends scheme see the further reading section.

  • Start an audience ambassador scheme

    The idea here is to identify particularly keen members of your audience (for example those who are there every concert, or particularly supportive family members) and reward them for bringing new people to see your events. For example, could you give them one free ticket for every 10 they sell?

  • Think about how to help your audience feel connected to your group

    This could be as simple as keeping them up to date, inviting them to social events, or having post-concert receptions when performers, audience members and supporters can all meet.

  • Remember your audience are more than just ticket sales

    Audience members are people that you don’t necessarily know, and you never know where their support could lead you. They may work for potential funders, partners, or venues so make sure that you give as much attention to the experience for the audience as you do to the music making itself.

Ensuring sustainability for your group in the future is an ongoing task but one that we are continually working to help our members with. The key things are: first to get your group on a stable footing with a good team and appropriately formalised structure, and then to work on improving your financial health and network of support. This is not a one off job: it’s about continual reassessment, awareness of where you are and where you want to be, and willingness to adapt.

Some further reading and resources that might help you on your journey are available here. As always, we are happy to hear from groups, or potential groups in the making, so let us know about what you are doing, challenges you have overcome and if there’s anything we can do to help.

Further reading and resources

We hope you've found this guidance helpful, and that you enjoy setting up your new group and thriving in the future! Don't forget - new groups get a 50% discount on Making Music membership with exclusive services, tools and discounts as well as guidance on all areas of running a music group.


We hope you find this Making Music resource useful. If you have any comments or suggestions about the guidance please contact us. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the content of this guidance is accurate and up to date, Making Music do not warrant, nor accept any liability or responsibility for the completeness or accuracy of the content, or for any loss which may arise from reliance on the information contained in it.