Saturday, 12 October 2013

How to start a Chapter and my Experiences as a CO

After emails, tweets, tumblr and facebook messages asking for advice on how to start a chapter I thought I would make a simple guide to help you all out. My experience is slightly different to the one you are likely to endure so I'm going to split this post into two parts;

1. How to start a chapter
2. My experiences as a chapter organiser

Hopefully you'll find this a helpful tool on starting your very own HPA chapter in your community!

How to start a chapter: 

So you want to start a chapter! Fantastic! If your experience is anything like mine then you're about to have the time of your life, but first you have to tackle the hardest part. Establishing your chapter.

Step 1: Research.

First make sure you know exactly what The Harry Potter Alliance is and what they stand for, and that it's something you fully agree with and want to help support. I suggest reading their mission statement here. If that just sent ripples of excitement down your spine, you're on the right track! The next page you should read is about the chapters themselves, which you can find here.

Step 2:  Setting up your chapter

So you've read the mission statement and researched into chapters and you're more keen than ever to get your own started! Yay! The next step is filling in this form  - someone from the HPA will be in contact with you very quickly (I received an email from Pam within 48 hours!)  where you'll be prompted to sign up to Hedwigs Howl, a weekly newsletter helping you to keep in touch with what the Chapters Team are currently doing and what you can do to help with this, it includes all current campaigns, competitions and allows you to contact Chapters Staff as well as other Chapter Organisers about events and fundraisers you would like to set up in your communities.

They will also ask you to fill out a Chapter Information Form to be officially recognised as a Chapter. This contains simple information such as what you would like your chapter to be called, how many members you have currently, where you're based etc.

I'm keen to stress just how helpful the staff are at this, and all stages. If you have any queries at all, fire them over a quick email and they'll be more than happy to give you a hand! They're some of the most dedicated staff members of any organisations I have ever met!

Step 3: Spreading the word

So you're all set up! You're an official chapter! Congratulations! But right now it's just you and your cat, and actually you're not too sure the cats interested at all, he's only in it for the cuddles.

The next step is spreading the word.  The key to this is social network. Make some cool graphics (or find a friend or teacher who can help you with this) and post them on twitter, tumblr and facebook - making sure to tag them with relevant topics including "Harry Potter" "Fan Activism" "Volunteering" " Dumbledores Army" and the name of your area.

The next thing to do is to personally try and find some fans of Harry Potter (or other fandoms) in your area. Ask your friends, and get them to ask their friends. Print off those totally awesome graphics you made earlier and stick them up in local schools, colleges and supermarkets. Another great place to try is bookshops! My local bookshop let me put flyers in all the YA books to advertise my chapter. If there are any conventions near you that are coming up, that's a fantastic place to network too!

Step 4: The first meeting

So you've rounded up the troops and you have a good haul of budding wizard activists, the next step is probably the most nerve-wracking. The first meeting.

Make sure to pick a public area that is convenient and easy to find, my chapter chose to meet at Platform 9 3/4 in Kings Cross Station for our first meeting, but you could try a well known cafe or bookshop!

Another important factor is making sure the timing is good for everyone, don't choose a Tuesday at 10am, as most people will be at school or work and unable to attend the meeting.  Early afternoon on weekends usually work well for most people, but the key is communication. Set up a facebook group and add everyone who is interested in joining the Chapter to it, ask when is best for everyone.

Before the meeting make yourself a list of things you need to talk about at the meeting, including a chapter name and one solid focus for your chapter. Don't run before you can walk! My chapter chose to focus on illiteracy as reading is something important to all of us and is a big problem in our area, however you may want to choose gender equality, homelessness or any number of other things. If there is more than one issue people want to work with, take a vote and assure people that as the chapter grows, you will be able to expand and work on other areas.

Plan some ice breakers. We did simple ones including names, Hogwarts house, and favourite Harry Potter characters. This easily got people talking as it was something they knew well and felt comfortable about, and started up great discussions on just WHY they didn't like Neville Longbottom and if they'd always been a Slytherin.

Don't panic if you aren't all best friends by the end of the first meeting, don't even panic if barely anyone spoke, this is completely normal! Everyone is in a room of strangers and they're going to be slightly on guard, but as more meetings take place you'll find the walls breaking down and you'll be laughing at the "one time my cat ate my Bertie Botts every flavour beans and puked all over my copy of Deathly Hallows" story in no time!

Step 5: Decreasing World Suck in your area!

If you've made it this far, I'm sending you huge hugs and congratulatory smiles! You're officially a chapter organiser and I'm so glad! You're going to be wonderful!

What you do from here is up to you and your chapter, work strongly together with the local community and start making changes, even small ones. Hold a bake sale, or a book drive, speak to other CO's, Chapter Prefects and to the HPA Chapter staff for more help and remember to keep reading Hedwigs Howl.

If you ever need help but are nervous about emailing the HPA (which you definitely shouldn't be, deep breaths, you can do this) you can email me anytime at and I'll be more than happy to help you!

Keep me updated on your chapters and what you're doing in your communities!


My experiences as a Chapter Organiser: 

My experiences as a Chapter Organiser have been slightly abnormal. Within the first week of being an established chapter we had already begun organising a book drive at Platform 9 3/4 in Kings Cross Station, and within 2 months had successfully launched the drive, raised over 1000 books and £600 in donations, we had won The Chapters Cup and we're in the midst of planning a Sponsored Walk across London in memory and James and Lily Potter.

My advice to you ?

Do not be afraid to dream big.

There is nothing you and your chapter can't achieve if you put your minds to it, don't feel restricted to bake sales and lemonade stands if you don't feel comfortable, although these things are wonderful too! The key to a successful fundraiser is careful and well organised planning. Some events will only take a week to organise, others will take months, we are currently planning some events that won't launch until March and August 2014, make sure you give yourself enough time and don't put yourself under too much pressure!

Work hard. And if you're worried about anything either email the HPA Chapter Staff, or myself, and we'll help you in any way we can. Or do what I do, and turn to the books that inspired you in the first place. What would Hermione do ? What would Dumbledore do ? What would Harry do ?

They are your teachers and guides during your time as a Chapter Organiser. And they will be there to help you, as they always have been, until the very end.


  1. Thank you so much for this, Jessica! I am more motivated than ever to start a chapter!

    1. So glad to hear it! Let us know how you get on!

  2. Just started a community chapter here in Alabama and we had our first meeting tonight. Your advice is spot-on! Thanks for this helpful post! Can't wait to do more with our chapter as we grow. :)

    1. Congratulations on your chapter! How was the first meeting ?
      You're very welcome, let us know if you need any more help, advice or support! X