Our Story (Part 2 of 4)
So, you want to start a homeschool group! Wonderful. What kind of homeschool group? Maybe you are thinking of a co-op, or a drop-off program, a full hybrid school, a PE group, or a playgroup? Here are 10 steps to start a homeschool group of any kind.
Find part one of this series here.
Note: I am not a CPA, lawyer, or nonprofit professional. This is not intended to be legal or tax advice. This is my experience with the process of starting a homeschool group and the lessons I have learned. I encourage you to contact professionals in your areas of need.
10 Steps to Start
Step One: Figure out what kind of homeschool group you would like to start.
The possibilities are really endless in this area but below are a few ideas that might help you define your group.
- Local Support Group: Usually a nonprofit organization that supports homeschool families. Events might include parent meetings, park days, field trips, workshops, curriculum swaps, science fairs, spelling bees, or clubs.
- Homeschool Extracurricular Group: This is a specific kind of support group that focuses on a type of extracurricular activity, just for homeschoolers. Ideas might be sports, park days, science club, 4-H, Boy Scouts, music class, sports groups, etc.
- Virtual Group: Not an online school, but an online support group. Usually, a group meeting virtually for one subject with a teacher who uses a particular curriculum and teaching philosophy.
- Homeschool Co-op: A group that cooperates together to provide classes, either academic or extracurricular. Parents work together to teach the classes and tuition is usually to cover books and materials. Once outside teachers are brought in, tuition is required, and students are dropped off, the program is starting to fall into the category of a hybrid group.
- Cottage School: Similar to a co-op, but smaller and easier to run. It falls on the continuum somewhere between homeschool co-op and hybrid group. Basically, a small group of families gets together for a selected amount of time to educate their children. Most of the time no money changes hands, but the families work together to educate their children. If you want an excellent how-to for this model, head over to this Cottage School Life for consultative services and an amazing handbook!
- Pod School: This can either be a cottage school or a hybrid school. If your pod school is totally volunteer-based, you are really a cottage school. If your pod school has a drop-off component and families are paying tuition, you are most likely a hybrid.
- Homeschool Hybrid Group: This model often functions as a nonprofit and provides a split in educational time. Students attend a school-like setting for part of their educational time and spend the balance in a homeschool setting.
Step Two: Will you be a nonprofit, social club, or informal get-together?
Once you determine what kind of group you want to be, then you will need to figure out what kind of group you really are! Okay, that sounds strange, but your group might need to be clearly defined with the IRS, especially if you are getting money involved.
- Informal Get-Together: A group of people getting together. No money is being exchanged. Ever. (no fundraising, dues, tuition, required books, etc.) No one is caring for or teaching someone else’s children. These are playgroups, park days, storytimes, or meeting with another family (or families) to work on schoolwork together.
- If this is you, great, carry on! Enjoy. Skip down to step five!
- Social Club: This is similar to a 501(c)(3), but is a different kind of tax-exempt group: 501(c)(7) Social Club. The main difference is that you can have tax-exempt status but you cannot offer tax-deductible donations. Your purpose must be pleasure, social, or recreational. The nice part about a Social Club is that you do not have to file an application with the IRS! (Yippie!) You can self-proclaim your status. You do still have to file taxes for your organization on either a 990/990EZ/990N.
- Nonprofit: If your purpose falls into the category of religious, educational, charitable, scientific, or literacy and you charge a fee: then you are a nonprofit. You will need to file an IRS application if you gross more than $5,000 a year. You will also need to file taxes with the IRS on either a 990/990EZ/990N.
Now, don’t freak out at this point and give up on your dream! You can do this.
First, I would recommend if you are having trouble determining if you are a social club or nonprofit, use this link and read this wonderful article from Carrol Topp, the Homeschool CPA. Then, read on and work the steps. You are about to create something amazing!
Step Three: Start a nonprofit.
I would in no way pretend to be the expert in this field. But, having just worked through these steps myself, I am here to offer you encouragement and a few lessons I learned:
- Start by reviewing Carol Topp’s checklist for starting a nonprofit. Read over the list and take a deep breath. She has so many useful samples linked here that it becomes almost as easy as a fill-in-the-blank.
- I also recommend downloading her homeschool organization board manual. This will help you get and stay organized from the beginning.
- Finally, I would recommend purchasing her e-books that apply to your group. Read them.
- Before you dive into the checklist referenced above, complete steps four and five below. This will give you a head start on the checklist and help you have a clear focus as you go forward.
- Realize that you have time. Once you are set up as a nonprofit corporation with the state that you reside in, see phase two of the checklist, you have 27 months (from the date of your formation) to file for 501(c)(3).
- Hire professional help if needed. You can hire Carol Topp to take care of the 501(c)(3) application, you can do a phone consultation with her, or you can buy and listen to one of her informative webinars. This was one of the best recommendations I was given.
Note: I know I endorse Carol Topp’s work frequently. I receive no compensation for this referral. She does not know that I or A One-Room Schoolhouse even exist. I just think she has put together some great resources that have helped me a lot!
Step Four: Get Help.
This can be the scary part, depending on your personality. I had the idea of a hybrid homeschool group running around in my head for a couple of MONTHS before I even talked to my husband! Namely, I was so scared everyone would think I was nuts. But, slowly, I started talking about my idea…AND no one, yet, has laughed at me!
After my husband was on board and I had talked to a few family members for support and brainstorming, I realized I was going to need a founding board. In short, core support is a must if you are forming a nonprofit and very helpful with starting any kind of group.
The really scary part: talking to friends…
First, I started talking to a few close friends. I remember each of these conversations very clearly. One friend, I cornered while paddling together in a canoe (REALLY!), another in her playroom, and another in her backyard. And guess what? They were all very kind and listened! Really listened!
Out of all these conversations, one friend really got excited, but she was a bit nervous if her husband would be on board. I was a bit nervous too: chatting with my girlfriends about my crazy idea was scary enough, but her HUSBAND…Ahhhh!
Incidentally, the interested friend had emergency surgery. Sadly, she was left with at least a week of recovery where she would not be able to easily hold or lift her young children. With a nursing baby and a 3-year-old, this was going to be a problem! As a result, I invited them to stay with our family for a week so I could help with her kids.
The silver lining to this situation was I able to have some great talks with her husband and answer all of his questions about A One-Room Schoolhouse. What a blessing! A few weeks later, they let me know they would both be happy to be part of our founding board!
(Heads up: I will go into more details about getting help in the next couple of weeks. Look for a post “The Courage to Say Something”!)
Lessons I learned:
- Start talking about your idea. Your friends are nicer than you think and you WILL find someone (or many people) to join you in your quest.
- You need 3 or 4 people to start your founding board. These people can’t be all related.
- Look for people with varied strengths. We have a nice balance of leader/hustler, a money man, a techie, and a creative guru.
- Be honest with people about the time commitment.
Step Five: Define Your Name, Purpose/Mission, Vision, Values.
Above all, every organization needs a name and a common goal. An informal group, a social club or a nonprofit will all benefit from spending a little time in this area. Creating something as intangible as a mission statement can seem overwhelming, but I have provided you with an easy to use, downloadable worksheet to guide you through the process.
As you work through this guide, you will create a name for your organization, a purpose/mission statement, vision, and value list. As a rule, this is a must-have for a formal organization and very nice to have for an informal organization.
Everything you need to complete this step is included in the downloadable worksheet. Enjoy!
Go here to see these elements for A One-Room Schoolhouse.
Step Six: Get Organized.
You have done the groundwork and now it’s time to really get started. You are moving out of the brainstorming phase to the action phase. Now, watch as your dream becomes a reality!
- It’s time to dive into the checklist on homeschoolcpa.com. You have already done a lot of the groundwork in steps four and five. Now, you are halfway through the first phase of the checklist and well one your way.
- Furthermore, I would also encourage you to purchase Carol Topp’s “Homeschool Organization Board Manual”. It will be the most helpful ten bucks you spend in this process!
- To start with, jump over to this checklist written by Carol Topp. You will be able to check some of these items right off the list! Give yourself a pat on the back. Also, cross out the items that might not apply to your group.
- Particularly, pay special attention to item number three. This is such an important part of getting your organization off on the right foot. Talk about the 4 W’s (What, Where, When and Who) and 2’C’s (Cost and Curriculum). Write down everything from this discussion.
- Important items to add to your to-do list: Set a calendar, firm up your policies and procedures, have a discipline plan in place including rules to govern student behavior and, make and stick to your budget, think about your insurance needs, create forms (registration, billing, and attendance, etc.), consider a dress code, design your space, think about fundraising, set up a bookkeeping system, etc.
- These items can be ongoing as you work through steps seven and eight. Don’t get overwhelmed, just work through the list with your board, one item at a time.
Step Seven: Find a location.
Once you are organized and clear on what your group is doing, it’s time to find a home. To begin with, A One-Room Schoolhouse will be meeting in my basement while we look for a permanent home. (Read: we are using my house as a free location while we save money!)
Here is a short idea list of places to host your homeschool group:
- Homes of members
- Public Parks (shelters or buildings can often be reserved)
- Church (Sunday school rooms often go unused during the week)
- Dance studios (Dance rooms often sit empty until after school when dance classes start)
- Community centers
- Former churches (often these can be found for lease or sale)
- Vet halls or other social club halls
- Boys and Girls Clubs
Step Eight: Spread the word.
Now it is time to spread the word! Here are some ideas to get the word out about your homeschool group:
- Get a website: This is a powerful tool to reach many people and answer the common questions people will ask. My advice: Outsource! Unless you have web design skills, hire someone to do this for you.
- Start a blog: Although this won’t be for everyone, you might consider adding a blog to your website. This allows you to share relevant, interesting, and updated content while engaging your online following. This can also be a revenue source in the future to help support your homeschool group. I have found the courses at yourbloggingmentor.com to be soooo valuable.
- Social media: Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest… the list could go on! Start by picking at least one social media platform and start a page for your group. Social Media 101 found here is a wonderful course to help hone your skills in this area.
- Online communities: Many areas have Facebook groups just for communicating different activities and events for homeschools. See if you can announce your group in these forums.
- Printed material: First, you might want to have business cards printed that you can hand out to friends. Furthermore, you also might consider sending out print announcements to churches and preschools.
- Open house: Host an open house at your location. You can have curriculum samples for parents to view, example student activities, tours of your spaces, and time to answer parent’s questions. Remember, refreshments always help sweeten the event!
- Word of mouth: Above all, start talking about your group. You will be surprised at how many people will want more information. Be ready with a short “pitch” and a business card with your website.
Step Nine: Do your thing!
Wow! You did it. Your dream is now becoming a reality. Follow your plan and enjoy! You are an amazing homeschool leader!
Step Ten: Plan for sustainability.
Finally, here are some quick tips to help your home school organization thrive in the future.
- Make long-range goals for your organization. Example: Over the next 5 years, increase enrollment by 10 families. OR Create two blog posts a week to inform and engage both our current families and future families. OR Save enough money to buy a permanent home for our group.
- Then, identify what resources are needed to reach these goals. Think of things like money, talent, technology, space, and training.
- Next, create a statement with each goal and the resources needed. Create benchmarks for each goal with a corresponding timeline and person(s) responsible. These items can help you guide your board meetings.
- Stay close to your mission, vision, and values. Review these at least once a year and make sure you are still on the path you intended.
- Above all, support your leadership team and avoid burnout. Board members will need to change over time. This will help leadership stay fresh and engaged. After completing the first items on this list, it will be easier to rotate in new leadership.
How is your journey going?
In conclusion, let me know in the comments about your homeschool dream. Is your organization taking shape? I would love to hear about it! Also, look forward to the next two posts in this series: Choosing a Curriculum and The Courage to Say Something.