How to Start a Clubhouse

What is a Clubhouse?

A right to a safe place to come, a right to meaningful work, a right to meaningful connections, and a right to a place to return are all guaranteed rights of Clubhouse membership. Most of the “how-to” issues are implied by granting these powers to members.

It’s crucial to keep in mind that a Clubhouse is first and foremost a social gathering place. Before it is a facility or a program, it is a community. A Clubhouse is a group of people who get together to support those dealing with major mental illness in their efforts to manage their disease and reintegrate into the realms of work, education, family, and friends.

Men and women of all ages are members who come to a Clubhouse to work on their recovery from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression, or other severe and persistent mental illnesses. All Clubhouse services and opportunities are offered solely on a volunteer basis, with members and staff working together as coworkers to provide them.

The International Standards further define the Clubhouse Model of rehabilitation for Clubhouse Programs.

People must get together and create relationships through a shared effort to begin to build this community. Projects and duties relevant to the people who engage are always part of a Clubhouse community’s work. The action of establishing a Clubhouse should begin in this environment.

The Start-Up Group 

When you first decide to start a Clubhouse, it’s a good idea to form a “start-up group” for the Clubhouse. The start-up group comprises skilled, energetic people dedicated to and well-positioned to assist a Clubhouse in getting off the ground.

People with mental illness, family members, mental health professionals, local politicians, community leaders, business people, and those who can help get money for the Clubhouse are typical members of a start-up group.

The start-up group is responsible for launching Clubhouse activities and providing community education, as well as providing support for the new Clubhouse, funding for the Clubhouse, and hiring the Director, as well as working with her/him to find a building for the Clubhouse and begin identifying community employers for the Transitional Employment Program.

Getting in touch with a Clubhouse International Certified Training Base and creating a relationship with them can also help keep the start-up group on track.

Typically, once these items are completed, the start-up committee will become the Board of Directors or the Clubhouse Advisory Board. From there, the group (now a board) offers oversight, support, and fundraising for the Clubhouse and delegating authority for day-to-day management.

The Work of the Start-Up Group

When two or more people are enthusiastic about the concept of establishing a Clubhouse in their neighborhood, they should gather regularly with the primary intention of establishing a Clubhouse.

The initial participants should start looking for other persons in the area who would be interested in joining the Clubhouse start-up group. When the prospective persons have been identified, they should be educated about the Clubhouse approach (reading the Clubhouse Standards is an excellent place to start) and, if possible, arrange for a tour of a nearby Clubhouse International Accredited Clubhouse.

At the same time, the members of the start-up group should begin to educate themselves about potential sources of initial and ongoing funding for the Clubhouse. For example, local governments, state/county provincial/city or national mental health agencies, vocational rehabilitation agencies, and public health or social care agencies are also possible sources.

Numerous public and private foundations support community mental health initiatives. Working with an existing mental health program to convert it into a Clubhouse is another option.

The Clubhouse must either be incorporated as a not-for-profit/non-governmental organization or a component of an already existing not-for-profit/non-governmental organization to receive money from any of the above organizations.

This could be the start-up group’s initial task. (For more information, see Freestanding vs. Auspice Agency Clubhouse.) Obtaining PBI or DGR status is required in nations such as Australia to be evaluated for grants and tax deductions. Therefore, it is critical for each start-up group to educate themselves about prospective funding sources and methods for obtaining them.

Funding from the government

Government funding is granted annually in many places to provide care to people with significant mental illnesses. In addition, there are frequently monies set aside for people with disabilities in general. Typically, the funds are set aside from available taxes.

Almost always, an established procedure is in place to determine how these funds are allocated for assistance to persons in need. The local government might control this system, with government personnel making financing decisions (i.e., what services are needed and should be paid to supply them).

Some types of competitive bidding processes may be employed in their area to determine funding decisions. However, bringing one or more representatives from government agencies and groups that receive funds into the working group is the best method to access these monies.

Another potential funding source in the United States is federally supported vocational rehabilitation agencies, which may be willing to subcontract vocational services to Clubhouse model programs.

Public and Private Foundations

Although foundations are less likely to give ongoing support for a Clubhouse, they are more likely to contribute start-up funds, capital funds, or one-time gifts. Members of the start-up group should enlist someone knowledgeable about local and national foundations and look for foundations that have financed initiatives in your area or community mental health projects in general. The majority of big businesses have philanthropic foundations or offices. In addition, many states, communities, and colleges will have foundation or grant-making libraries that are excellent funding sources. The Internet is also a valuable tool for locating potential financing sources. (For examples of successful grants, see Samples of Successful Grants.)

Existing Program Conversion

Although it appears to be the simplest way to open a Clubhouse, it is frequently the most complicated. A current program model financed to assist people with mental illness reorganizes into a Clubhouse community in this scenario (e.g., day treatment or partial hospitalization program). This method is the product of the start-up group’s campaigning. However, it is usually only successful if the old program offers subpar services or the current model is unacceptable. 

The most challenging aspect of this approach is that those involved as employees or clients of the existing program would have to change their roles from staff/client or therapist/patient to Clubhouse colleagues.

The transition is often challenging for employees to make. But, on the other side, this is frequently the quickest option to secure Clubhouse finance. To achieve this level of transformation, the start-up organization will need to provide or arrange for Clubhouse model education for donors, staff, and existing program participants.

Visiting an Accredited Clubhouse in your area will give you a “hands-on” look at what a Clubhouse is like. It will also be beneficial to network with a Training Base Clubhouse. Many of them have worked with programs that have successfully transitioned from a regular day treatment program to a Clubhouse. They can also refer members of the start-up group to persons who have gone through the process before.

Note: A fully operational Clubhouse program with an active membership of 100–125 persons and an average daily attendance of 60–70 people would require $500,000 (US) per year. The Clubhouse would not need as much money for operational expenditures in the first year or two of operation, but large funds are required for equipment and capital expenses. 

Therefore, the operating budget for the Clubhouse should increase in tandem with the active membership. So, for example, you don’t need six employees for a 15-member active membership, but you do for 70.

Educating the Public

The Clubhouse start-up organization will have to organize the local community’s education on what a Clubhouse is. The mental health community is the primary focus of education. However, politicians, philanthropists, and corporate groups such as Rotary Clubs or Chambers of Commerce and community organizations such as the Alliance for the Mentally Ill are also vital. The following are some suggestions for achieving this goal.

  • An introductory letter/brochure describes your new club, the Clubhouse model, and the support and assistance required.
  • A one-day conference or seminar is focusing on the Clubhouse model. Inviting Clubhouse International or Clubhouses to participate is a good idea.
  • Arrange for solo or group tours of local Clubhouses.
  • Videotapes from the Clubhouse
  • Obtain newsletters or brochures from other Accredited Clubhouses that detail the Clubhouse’s activities.
  • Clubhouse literature distribution.
  • During public presentations, include potential Clubhouse members.

Identifying Potential Clubhouse Employers

Assisting in the development of Transitional Employment (TE) postings is one of the most beneficial things a start-up group (and eventually the Board) can do for a Clubhouse (see How Clubhouses Function). Clubhouse International Clubhouses rely heavily on TE. It’s also one of the hardest to put into practice. Clubhouses that build TE sooner have more success than those that wait or fight for years to develop TE positions for members, according to our experience.

As a service to members, the Clubhouse assists members in returning to paid employment at their employer’s location, which is also a high-profile success for the Clubhouse. Success feeds on itself. When a Clubhouse’s members can begin working on Transitional Employment the day the doors open, it goes a long way toward promoting the Clubhouse to possible new members, funders, and other community members. In addition, successful employment programs frequently attract extra funding from both the government and the business Sector.

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