A GUIDE TO STARTING
YOUR OWN THEOSOPHY GROUP
These are suggestions and pointers for forming
your own independent Theosophy Group and
not instructions on how to form a branch of a
larger Theosophical organisation.
The subject of affiliation to a larger body is
covered but as affiliation may mean compromise
and nobody owns Theosophy anyway, we leave
that decision entirely up to you
A Small informal Group – A good place to start and you may wish to keep it this way.
Travel light – don’t get bogged down with formality and administration as this saps energy and nobody wants to be hassled with that sort of stuff these days. Of course if you’re a frustrated jobsworth who gets a buzz from controlling people and bureaucracy and likes a fancy title then the sky’s the limit but don’t expect to attract many members.
The essentials are somewhere to meet and some Theosophy to study. You may prefer not to bother with membership fees and operate a ‘contribution at meetings to cover costs’ arrangement. This means that things like constitutions aren’t needed in the early stages and the finances can be kept on the trustworthy person, cash book and biscuit tin basis for a while at least. There is a good argument for staying like this for a long as possible.
If you do wish to open a bank account for the group, the bank will require a copy of your constitution and possibly a copy of a resolution to open the account and personal details of all the signatories. The account would be a Treasurer Account and all banks provide an information leaflet for this. There is a sample constitution farther down this page. By adopting a version of this constitution, you will have upgraded from informal group to an Unincorporated Association of Members and will consequently have more responsibilities. Yes, the biscuit tin does have something going for it.
Where to Meet
Meeting in someone’s home is a good arrangement but if this is not practical then the main local library, community centre or even leisure centre may have cheap rooms for hire. We are talking here about a place to meet for study and discussion and not necessarily to conduct lectures.
The smoking ban has made pubs slightly more viable but this is rarely an atmosphere of study. However, some pubs may have a suitable room for hire.
A name for the group may be useful but not immediately essential. Names such as;
Anytown Theosophy Crew
Anytown Theosophy Group
sound informal, whereas Anytown Theosophy Study Group sounds a bit intimidating and dour as an overall title although the term study group is perfectly appropriate for a group within a group.
Some Theosophy to Study
As for some Theosophy to study, there is plenty of free stuff on the internet which you can download and copy, so there is no need to pay for anything in the early stages. Even many of the definitive Theosophical texts are online. You can also buy Theosophical books online but be wary of anyone trying to make money out of Theosophy.
These are just suggestions;
Publicising a Theosophy Group
before we had the Internet
Those were the days
The first port of call is the internet to trawl for local directories which offer a free listing. If you can put a webpage up to say a bit your group and link it to directory listings this should be quite effective. You can also raise the profile by sending your webpage details as a link to other Theosophy websites. A group picture of members enjoying themselves will make your group more approachable to enquirers.
Fewer people now read the local paper than in the past but it may be worth enquiring as to whether the paper has a free listing once a week for religious, voluntary and charity events. Some free newspapers also offer this.
There may be opportunities to put a free poster up in the local libraries, community & leisure centres and possibly New Age shops.
If you have a photocopying facility available, you could run off some A5 flyers and leave them at appropriate venues.
Paying for advertising is very expensive and not an exact science in terms of returns. Even some large established Theosophical Groups never pay for advertising. You may, however, be able to obtain a moderately priced listing in a local New Age magazine.
Building up an E-Mailing List
This is absolutely essential and something that you can start from day one. It’s just as easy to email 500 people as 5, so if someone shows the slightest interest, get their email address. Always send the emails out on BCC (Blind Carbon Copy), which keeps the email addresses confidential and prevents some joker from hi-jacking your list.
There are larger Theosophical organizations to which you could affiliate. This is entirely optional and you may wish to remain an independent outfit. Please remember that nobody owns Theosophy or Theosophical ideas and you can develop your own approach and interpretation. Don’t be overawed by tradition, lineage or claimed spiritual authority. Many in the Theosophical Movement now believe that the centralized, hierarchical Theosophical organizations have had their day and that the future of Theosophy lies with smaller independent groups who run their own show.
One thing to be careful about is the level of control that you might be giving away when joining a larger body. Be particularly careful about giving anyone any say whatsoever in your finances or the power to dictate who can or can’t be a member, and never give an outsider the right to chair your committee meetings or AGM.
Please note that being an independent group does not preclude you from taking part in events such as Theosophy Summer Schools or Conventions in collaboration with other Theosophy groups. The rise of the internet does however mean that such gatherings are becoming rarer.
A Half Way House
If having weighed up the pros and cons of affiliation, you decide to remain an Independent Theosophy Group, there is still plenty of opportunity to form informal links with other individual groups within the broader Theosophical Movement. This can be with a group within reasonable travelling distance of your own or even with one on the other side of the world, which you may have found on the internet.
Opening up the channels of communication is easy as most Theosophy Groups are always glad to hear from other Theosophy Groups. It also helps if your webpage includes pictures of your members enjoying themselves.
No Free Lunch
Of course, it goes without saying that you should to be very skeptical about accepting assistance from any organization if that assistance involves buying their stuff.
Put simply these are the questions to ask when considering affiliation;
1) What will you pay for the privilege of affiliation?
2) What do you get in return?
3) What level of control are you giving away?
4) Are you expected to buy their stuff?
5) If you do buy their stuff, where does the money go?
A More Structured Group
The move from informal group to structured entity, which hires venues for events, to which the public are invited is a big one and not one to be taken lightly. Some active groups have folded after making the move, as it was inappropriate. Think carefully about whether the new body would be viable and who’s going to do the work. Don’t be coerced from outside, only you know your circumstances.
The Group Format
The usual format, for an interest group such as a Theosophy Group, is that of Unincorporated Association of Members. This type of organization can be set up easily and there is no need to register for taxation purposes unless it starts to make serious money from trading. The main requirements are ongoing elected management, a constitution stating the aims and remit of the organization and a Treasurer bank account.
The Unincorporated Association of Members format has some limitations. Unlike a limited company, it is not a legal entity in its own right, which means that the members can be personally liable for its debts and it cannot normally borrow money or enter into legal agreements, without the personal guarantee of at least one member. If an official signs a legal document such as that for the release of a bequest for the Association and the entitlement is then disputed then the official, and not the body, is personally liable for the money.
You will be able to trade at a moderate level and may want to offer appropriate items for sale at meetings. Be careful to ensure that all money taken for goods sold at group meetings goes directly to association funds. Beware of anyone attempting to use the group as an ancillary to a private business. There may be an exception to this when an outside speaker offers a free talk in return for the opportunity to sell specialist items or promote a service.
You will need a constitution for your new upgraded body and here is a sample. A mention is made regarding the need for members to be in accord with the Objects of the Theosophical Society and there is more about this farther down the page.
This constitution is only a guide. Most of its content is
standard, however your group may wish to change or make additions.
The name of the group shall be _______Theosophy Group
To promote the study of Theosophy
The group will fulfil the aim by:
* Organising study groups and courses
* Holding lectures.
* Organising social events
* Disseminating Theosophical study material and making Theosophy accessible to the general public.
* To raise funds and receive contributions where appropriate to finance the work.
* Offering appropriate goods for sale
* Publicising and promoting Theosophy & Theosophical activities.
* Opening bank accounts.
* Defining membership requirements and responsibilities
* Taking out insurance.
* Liaise with other Theosophy groups and exchange information and advice with them. No affiliation will be made to a larger association if its affiliation or membership requirements conflict with this constitution.
* Take any action that is lawful, which would help it to fulfill its aims.
(a) Membership of _______ Theosophy Group shall be open to anyone who is interested in helping the group to achieve its aims and willing to abide by the rules of the group and who is in agreement with the Objects of the Theosophical Society
OBJECTS OF THE THEOSOPHICAL SOCIETY
1. To form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste or colour.
2. To encourage the study of Comparative Religion, Philosophy and Science.
3. To investigate unexplained laws of Nature and the powers latent in man.
(b) Every member shall have one vote at general meetings.
(c) The Management Committee shall have the power to refuse membership to an applicant, where it is considered such membership would be detrimental to the aims, purposes or activities of the group.
(d) Registration and termination of membership.
* Any member of the association may resign his/her membership by giving to the secretary of the ___________ Theosophy Group written notice to that effect.
* The Management Committee may, by resolution passed at a meeting thereof, terminate or suspend the membership of any member, if in its opinion his/her conduct is prejudicial to the interests and objects of the association, PROVIDED THAT the individual member shall have the right to be heard by the Management Committee before the final decision is made. There shall be a right of appeal to an independent arbitrator appointed by mutual agreement.
(a) The_____________ Theosophy Group shall be administered by a Management Committee of not less than three (3) people and not more than fifteen (15) members elected at the group’s Annual General Meeting, Management Committee Members must be at least 18 years old.
(b) The officers of the Management Committee shall be:
and such other officers the group shall deem necessary at the meeting.
(c) The Management Committee shall meet at least twice a year.
(d) At least three (3) Management Committee members must be present for the Management Committee meeting to take place.
(e) Voting at Management Committee meetings shall be by show of hands on a majority basis. If there is a tied vote then the chairperson shall have a second vote.
(f) Power to set up sub-groups and working parties as deemed necessary who shall be accountable to the committee.
g) In the event of a Committee member vacating a post during the one year term of office, a new official may be appointed by majority decision of the Management Committee subject to re-election at the next AGM.
(a) Any money obtained by the group shall be used only for the group.
(b) Any bank accounts opened for the group shall be in the name of the group.
(c) Any cheque issued shall be signed by at least two of any three nominated signatures.
(d) The Management Committee will ensure that the group stays within the budget.
(e) All proceeds from goods sold at meetings shall go directly to the Associations’s funds. No individual shall be allowed to trade at meetings on their own account. The Management Committee may, however, approve special arrangements by which an invited speaker is allowed to sell goods or promote a service in return for providing a free lecture.
7. General Meetings
(a) The committee may call general meetings of all members at any time to discuss urgent business which may arise.
(b) The Chair of the group shall normally chair these meetings.
(c) At least seven (7) days’ notice of such a meeting must be given.
(d) All meetings, including AGMs, must be minuted and available to any member.
(e) The quorum for a General Meeting is five (5).
8. Annual General Meeting
(a) ____________ Theosophy Group shall hold an Annual General Meeting (AGM) at not more than 15 month intervals.
(b) Where possible members shall be notified personally, giving at least 14 days’ notice of the AGM.
(c) The business of the AGM shall include:
* Receiving a report from the Chairperson of the group’s activities over the year.
* Receiving a report and presentation of the last financial year’s accounts from the Treasurer on the finances of the group.
* Electing a new Management Committee and considering any other matter as may be appropriate at such a meeting.
(d) The quorum for Annual General Meeting shall be at least five (5) persons
9. Alteration of the Constitution
(a) Proposals for amendments to this constitution, or dissolution (see Clause 10) must be delivered to the secretary in writing. The secretary in conjunction with all other officers shall then decide on the date of a forum meeting to discuss such proposals, giving at least two weeks (14 days) clear notice.
(b) Any changes to this constitution must be agreed by at least two thirds of those members present and voting at any general meeting.
The group may be wound up at any time if agreed by two thirds of those
members present and voting at any general meeting. Any assets shall be
returned to their providers, if they require it, or shall be passed to another
group with similar aims.
11.Adoption of the Constitution
This constitution was adopted by the members present at the meeting held
Some notes about the constitution
Clause 4a; The
Objects of the Theosophical Society were established by the original
Theosophical Society founded in
Causes 3c & 3d; No one person has the power to refuse membership or kick someone out. This is a valuable safeguard against someone abusing power.
Clause 5b; The three officers indicated are the minimum required to qualify as an Unincorporated Association but you may elect others such as events organizer/programme secretary, publicity secretary and a membership steward to process applications and give out membership information.
Becoming a Registered Charity
You can register you group as a charity with the Charities Commission and if your are handling a serious amount of money there are real tax benefits.
The downside to this is that the administrative requirements involve considerable work for a small group and accounts and other documents must be submitted to the commission annually by certain deadlines.
Arranging Larger Venues
You may be lucky and decide that the room you’ve been using for study meetings is large enough and suitable for lectures.
Realistically though, you will probably need something a bit bigger and with a few more facilities. The local libraries, leisure and community centres as mentioned earlier may have something suitable but venues such as Quaker Meeting Houses and Church Halls may be worth a try.
As the numbers increase, car parking becomes an issue and before agreeing to a venue, it is worth scouting round to see if this is affected by restrictions such as “Permit Parking”.
The E-Mailing List Comes into its Own
When you first start holding lectures, you’ll be glad you built up a large e-mailing list. You can email everyone with information about the event with about with a week to go and follow this up with a short reminder email on the day before the event. Don’t send out emails and updates every day as people just get fed up with that.
If you send out an attachment, it is better to use “Word 1997-2003 Compatible” as this seems to be accessible to just about everybody.
Make Time to Rock ‘n Roll
Whatever the structure and aspirations of the group, a programme composed entirely of serious study will burn everybody out. Make sure that you include social events where everyone can let their hair down. Time to socialize after the meeting is also important.
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