How to Set-Up a Mutual Assistance GroupAdam Smith
For preppers who lack the built-in survival group of a family made up of well-prepared people, like-minded friends or just a loose coalition of associates who they can turn to in times of trouble, the solution to the “lone wolf” prepping problem might be a mutual assistance group.
A mutual assistance group, or MAG, is simply a group of people, often with various backgrounds, skills and resources who decide to work together and rely on one another to better deal with times of crisis, disaster and general trouble.
In a way, it is a sort of prepping “club” although the implications of membership involve far more than just showing up to the monthly weekend mixer.
You can find mutual assistance groups all over the country in all kinds of guises. Some are large, and some are small. Some openly advertise, others are completely secret invite-only affairs.
Some groups function as a sort of inner circle or compartment of another organization comprised of like-minded members pooling resources and time to a common goal.
But on the other hand, some places don’t have any sort of MAG at all, or what MAG they have is completely unattractive or unsuitable for any number of reasons.
If you are a solo prepper who greatly desires a group of like-minded people to rely on and you find yourself living in a place without a MAG at all, or are stuck between choosing from ones that are a poor fit for you, you have only one choice to avoid tackling the apocalypse solo: You will have to start your own MAG. In this article I will tell you how.
What is a MAG Exactly?
Some peppers get too wrapped up in the definition of a MAG. I suppose it is understandable since “mutual assistance group” sounds like the blandest, and most amorphous kind of corporate-speak that can mean almost anything at all. But on the other hand, a MAG can mean almost anything at all to its members.
The most important thing you need to know about a MAG is that it is, ultimately, exactly what it says on the box: A group of people who mutually rely on and help each other in times of trouble. But we can unpack that even further.
What kind of help are we talking about, how often, and for how long? All good questions and all questions that will need answers when you decide to start shaping your own MAG.
Some MAGs are closer to functional tribes or coalitions that will physically band together and take their chances trying to survive a SHTF event in one of several pre-prepared locations owned by one or more members.
Others function as an expanded network of “neighbors” who will lend expertise, tools and labor to other members who are dealing with cleanup or repairs after a disaster or some other calamitous event.
There is no necessarily right or wrong answer. What matters is it the members contribute to the MAG as expected and the MAG contributes to its members. It is up to you to define the standards!
Putting Together Your MAG
Like any other endeavor where you are trying to bring people together under a banner, organize them and get them to work together for the benefit of all you have a bit of a task ahead of you.
If you have never attempted anything like this before it might seem too big, too complicated and too difficult, but you have my assurances that this is not the case.
Just like the eating of an elephant begins with one bite, the assembly of your mutual assistance group begins with defining your vision for the group and then laying out an actionable plan.
Some of these steps are essentially administrative, easily done by anybody with a few brain cells to rub together. Others are a little more esoteric, and might be determined or even changed by factors that are not entirely under your control.
I will provide you with simple and clear instructions for the former and offer you what guidance I can for the latter.
But no matter where you are, what your objective is, and what you are facing I have all confidence that you can pull this off. Below are the steps required to form your own MAG, from inception all the way through recruiting, investment and maintenance.
You don’t necessarily have to do these in order, but I strongly recommend that you do:
- Determine Premise – What is expected, of whom and under what conditions?
- Leadership – Who is in charge, what do they decide on and how?
- Core Principles/Charter – The manual, mission statement and tenets of the MAG.
- What are Membership Requirements? – Who will you let in, and what are the qualifiers? What are the disqualifiers?
- Investment and Activity – How much skin in the game is required from members, both material and action? What is expected of members to protect the group interests?
- Determining Size – How big is your ideal group? A small, tight-knit team or a large assembly? Both have advantages and disadvantages.
- Deal with Problems – Where you have people you have problems; you need to be ready to put out fires before they lead to clashes.
In the following sections we will dive into each of these steps in great detail.
Setting Up Your MAG Step-by-Step
As mentioned above, I highly recommend you complete each of these steps in order, though your specific situation might dictate you have to change the order around somewhat.
That is okay; don’t get too wrapped around the axle if you have to do a little cutting and pasting.
What matters is that you approach the process in a logical, thorough way. Failing to really define and nail down what you want your MAG to be about and how you wanted to function is a great way to put together a circus; a loud, garish event full of clowns that will do an awful lot without really getting anything done.
Don’t let this happen to you! Admonishment over, let’s get on to the good stuff.
The premise, or purpose, of your MAG is vitally important to ensuring that the group works the way you want it to for the people you want it to work for, including yourself. That sounds awfully simple, but believe it or not this is where a lot of would-be MAG leaders or founders go wrong.
It is an easy thing to think that you’ll just let in people who think like you and care about the same things that you do, but that is only the most tenuous premise.
Determining the premise of your MAG is where you really have to drill down, visualize and determine what your group is going to do, who is going to be a part of it, and under what circumstances you will all get to doing.
What does that mean? Perhaps a few examples might better illustrate this concept. Remember what I said earlier that there is no right or wrong answer; you just need to get crystal clear with yourself before you ever set out recruiting.
For a certain prepper in a certain time and place, a mutual assistance group that functions as a loose collective of people who are familiar with each other and committed to helping one another as best they can with tools, their own lived experience or professional skills, and perhaps a little labor in the form of roping in their friends and family members for the benefit of the other group member might be all that is wanted or needed.
This is a MAG in which members who are able will show up to help one member clear down trees from the driveway of their mountainside home after a nasty storm.
Another scenario might be members jumping in to help erect a sandbag dam to protect the home of a member in a low-lying area when a flood is impending.
For a different prepper getting ready for a different set of circumstances they might desire a MAG that is a proper unit, a team, one where everybody puts in maximum effort, and nobody slacks off or quits.
This is a carefully chosen, highly motivated and hand-picked group of people or families that plan on banding together closely when things go “bang” so each person can benefit from a trusted person on their left and right and at their back as the skies darken.
This group might plan to bug in or bug out depending on the SHTF event they are facing, and they might have dozens of other permutations on that plan in between.
The important thing to each member of this MAG is that they know they can rely utterly on their brothers and sisters through thick and thin.
Each of these possible setups is completely valid, and each has advantages and disadvantages. In the case of the former, a larger body of people means you will have many more hands to make light work of whatever situation you are facing.
A group like this forms the core of a community in a neighborly way. The downside is that when things get truly cataclysmic, they might not be invested heavily enough in each other to place the interests of the MAG and its members first.
The second example functions in a way that is much closer to an actual family, or true brotherhood, with members turning to each other first when things get really nasty. This is a tribe, a tight-knit unit that is answerable to one another as priority one.
A downside is finding such elite, motivated individuals, and forging the bonds necessary for this level of commitment requires a great investment of time and is never easy. Furthermore, the loss or desertion of even a single member could be a terrible blow to such a small group.
These are all factors you will have to consider when launching your MAG.
The leadership element of your MAG is going to be integral to its success, and getting this factor wrong even a little bit can make everything much harder, or even capsize the group before it properly gets off the ground.
Once again, there is no right answer when it comes to leadership; everything is simply a trade-off. What is most important is that you carefully consider which leadership style will work best to achieve your goals, and the circumstances you are preparing for.
The leadership of your MAG could be comprised of a lone individual, a captain, or a benevolent dictator depending on your style, a committee made up of chair people representative of different factions in the group.
It could even be a proper democracy, or a knights of the round table sort of arrangement where everyone gets a vote, and all members vow to abide by the decision of the vote.
Once again, there are pros and cons to all of these styles of leadership, and some styles work better in larger groups, while others work better in smaller ones.
A particularly skilled, capable and charismatic individual should be more than capable of leading a smaller band of preppers based on merit alone, but the same person will struggle to lead a large group without at least a couple of lieutenants to assist him.
A committee or true democracy style of leadership does make things more bureaucratic and ostensibly fairer, but they become unwieldy and slow in time-sensitive situations when a good solution right now is better than a perfect solution eventually.
Everybody has their own idea of what good leadership looks like, but a detailed discussion of all the variables that go into being a good leader is beyond the scope of this article.
It should go without saying that you should endeavor to learn as much as you can about being a good leader so you can implement the best leadership style for your MAG.
Core Principels or Charter
Any group that is selective in its membership must have a charter and its core principles made publicly available and all members must abide by them or face expulsion from the group. Failing to implement a charter or failing to enforce it simply means you have a free-for-all.
Your charter is what will determine what behavior and effort is expected of members, under what conditions, how often it is expected, and what behaviors or actions will result in correction, disciplinary action or expulsion.
This is another fine-line issue: You want your charter to cover big-ticket concepts that will prevent abuse, slacking off and milking of group resources or efforts without a member paying in the same, but on the other hand, it is easy to get swept up with adding line item after line item, and rule after rule.
Before long, the charter covers every possible contingency and outcome and now you have a door stopper of a handbook that can easily turn off members from even signing up. Simpler is better, but you have to give it enough teeth to help you weed out the shysters.
One good approach is to put the main items for consideration like probationary period, standards of behavior, necessary investment, expectations and contingencies into a simple charter or pledge that all members will put their name to.
At the same time, they would reserve the right for the leadership element of the MAG to arbitrate on issues that are not covered or settle disputes that cannot be resolved amicably among members.
If members are expected to contribute a certain amount of time each month either for contribution toward mutual supplies, property or other MAG-related items and equipment, that should be in the charter big and bold.
If it is expected that members of the MAG will respond to and help their fellow members, if at all possible, that should be in the charter, and the same goes for any rule stating that they are required to help only if they are reasonably able to do so.
Spelling the important stuff out in detail and without ambiguity is essential to preventing hurt feelings and resentment down the line. Knowing what you can fudge a little bit, and knowing what must be a hardliner approach is similarly important.
Whatever you do, unless your MAG consists only of family members and your closest friends and companions make members read it, understand it, initial the line items and then put their name to it before you file it on record.
At the very least this will cut down on people trying to argue from a position of ignorance or duplicity.
This is the other crucial element of forming your MAG, and indeed the membership is the MAG, its beating heart.
This is also another surprisingly tricky characteristic to nail down: Who are you going to let in? What is required of them in terms of skills, resources and other factors? What will disqualify someone from membership? Are there any exceptions?
Admitting members can be challenging if you want to do it right. You don’t want to let just anybody in, and you also don’t want to exclude people who have a flaw or shortcoming because they could still be useful, even vital members of the group.
This is, once again, a balancing act. Screening members can be a topic unto itself, and instead of rambling on about it ad nauseam for another 15 or 20 paragraphs I have included a short list of the most important factors just below along with my commentary.
- “Hire” Slow, “Fire” Fast– This is an efficiency trick borrowed from the business world. Never be too quick on the draw when it comes to allowing a new member in unless you can vet them by having known them personally for a long period of time, ala a family member or lifelong friend. Conversely, if you allow someone into the MAG and they begin to immediately turn into a total shitshow you should ditch them post haste so their bad attitude does not infect the rest of the group and create drama. In general, the longer you make someone wait as a “probbie” before they join the group the more likely red flags are to reveal themselves.
- Background Check or Bust– This is one element of screening members that I am extremely vocal and passionate about. If you fail to do a background check on any potential member you are setting yourself up for a nasty surprise. You need to know who you are dealing with, and although some cynics might rightly say you never, ever really know someone and what lies at the site of their heart, a background check will immediately skyline people who have had a troubled past. Just because someone has a criminal record does not mean they are a hard-pass or not worth consideration, but certain personality types simply do not play well with others and are total liabilities. You need to be aware of that. A background check will arm you with the information you need to make a good decision, even if that information is a suspiciously spotless background.
- Presence of External Loyalties and Obligations– This is another controversial element of screening potential applicants, but one that you must include and control for. Under ideal conditions you want members in your MAG who are loyal to the other members first and foremost. Obviously, this can be hard to come by if a member has a family unless they are also part of the MAG, or if they have a job where they swore an oath to do their duty, like a firefighter, police officer or member of the military. Especially in the case of the latter, those selfsame skills are what make them attractive for membership in the first place! But when the chips are down who will they side with first? The job or the MAG? I’m not saying you must do it one way or the other, only that you need to know what might potentially tear a member away from helping the group when the group needs them the most.
- Beware Characters– You want people that have character, not people that act like characters. It never fails that the people who put on a persona or try too hard to convince someone else that they are what they appear to be turn out to be posers, fakers, frauds and con artists. Anytime you have a potential member who seems a little bit too much like an actor on a Saturday morning show or B-movie you should double your caution. Chances are if you wait them out and dig a little deeper you will find some glaring flaws that will disqualify them. On the other hand, some people are just eccentric, outlandish or otherwise bombastic but this in no way reflects on their capabilities, performance or commitment. Use your best judgment, but try to sort the jokers out early.
- Assess Applicants in Context– The last bit of advice I can give you in this article regarding the screening and admittance of applicants to your MAG is to assess them in totality. Not every person worthy of joining has to be a young, fit, fire-breathing snake-eater who owns 200 acres on the turnpike. An older doctor could be a great addition for his skills and knowledge alone. Maybe a middle-aged woman who is an excellent horticulturalist and has an extensive “lived knowledge” of the county, its inhabitants and all surrounding counties could be valuable. Beyond skills and belongings, consider how the personality of the new applicant might fit in and interact with existing members. Are they likely to chafe, or will they fit right in? All such things matter in the big picture.
Investment and Activity
A potential draw or a potential sticking point for applicants into your MAG, and one that you should consider judiciously, is what level of investment, and what frequency of activity is required of them in contribution to the group.
Obviously, if members don’t have to do anything, and only have to contribute when it strikes their fancy you might not have a MAG worth the name!
On the other hand, if a heavy buy-in is required along with major time commitments you will probably scare off all but the most fanatically dedicated or those were already quite loyal to you.
Generally it is best to strike a balance somewhere in the middle. You typically don’t want people to be allowed into the MAG without having to contribute anything, since having “skin in the game” invests people emotionally and intellectually.
You also don’t want this investment to be anything so great upfront that they feel like they are paying out more than they are benefiting initially; the notion that you are scamming people might not be far from their mind.
Finding this balance requires a careful assessment on your part, and a thorough understanding of what applicants you are trying to attract as well as what kind of MAG you want your group to be.
Top individual duties/roles required for your MAG:
- firearms expert
- teacher / homeschooler
(Keep in mind several of these skills may be performed by a single person)
Activity level is another important consideration, since groups that don’t work together, don’t see each other and generally don’t care are groups only in the loosest sense of affiliation!
Conversely, any group of people that works together, plays together and, in some cases, suffers together have members who forge bonds that are genuine, and cannot be replicated in any other way.
The easiest and oftentimes most productive way to get group members together is through organized workshops, classroom sessions, recreational activities and so forth. Integrated drills and field exercises are also worthwhile endeavors, but logistically are much more challenging.
One great way to foster meaningful connections between group members is by setting up a group forum or chat board using social media or some other service where group members can freely converse, ask for assistance and barter.
If you are going to organize skill-building activities aim for at least once a month with the requirement that members meet every other month at the minimum.
More may certainly be doable, and even better for your group depending on how far apart your group members are, and what everyone’s scheduled commitments look like.
Failing to foster and build good connections between group members means that you are really just have a coalition of strangers, strangers who will have an easy time bucking their commitments to the group at large when the chips are down.
Don’t let this happen to your MAG by keeping everyone invested, working together and helping each other before the SHTF!
Determine Size of MAG
The size of your MAG must be established before you ever start opening up the membership rolls. Obviously you need enough people to contribute to the objectives of the group, but just as important you don’t want to let the group grow too large.
This can make it unmanageable, cumbersome and slow to react in a crisis. Just as too many cooks spoil the broth, too many members dilute the aims of the MAG! No matter if you decide on a group that is large or small, make sure the objective is supported by the number of members.
Smaller groups obviously won’t have as much man power as larger ones, and generally will not be able to bring as many resources to bear in a meaningful way. But what a small group will have over a larger one is greater “intimacy” and familiarity and as such all members are far more likely to be well acquainted, familiar with and comfortable with each other.
Smaller groups can also react far more quickly to emergencies, as the logistical and baggage train required to contact, coordinate and act in concert with a small number of people is always easier to manage compared to one for a bigger group.
Small groups make sense when you already have a sizeable core of people to form the nucleus of your MAG, be they family, friends or coworkers you share similar interests with, and at least some skills to bring to the table.
From there, it is typically easy to rope in another handful or two of members because “everybody knows somebody” and you can leverage that existing social network to find them easily.
Larger groups probably work better in areas of low to modest populations that are spread out over a wide area or in densely populated areas that might otherwise prohibit the easy gathering of members that are separated by any distance.
In the case of the former, a large MAG works as a sort of extension of the “neighbors” concept, an ideal that will be familiar to all involved.
In the case of the latter, a large MAG that places an emphasis on “cellular” activity (defined as activity where a few members might be expected to work together as an independent unit) will allow members that live near each other to link up, and work together quickly during a crisis.
The ability to provide mutual support to one another without reliance gathering the entirety of the group to a central HQ or rendezvous point is invaluable when the terrain might prevent it. These smaller cells can later connect with other cells, or even to the main body as time and opportunity permit.
Again, remember: Every decision you make about your MAG should serve your purposes and the MAG’s purposes.
There is no arbitrarily correct decision, and the best option for you and your members could run completely contrary to something I have said in this article. These are just examples, though examples you can generally trust as a baseline.
Deal With Problems
Dealing with problems is part of running a MAG, just like any other endeavor that involves a mass of humanity.
Some problems you can deal with before they start, nipping them in the bud. Others you will have to deal with as they surface. Some take a long time to gestate, and others arrive with all the fanfare and abruptness of a cannonball.
One problem that is fairly common is that of clashing personalities. Face it; some people just don’t get along with others! Perhaps this can be sorted by mediation, perhaps not. It does beg the question if the chafing is bad enough to even warrant an intervention.
So long as the annoying member is contributing, sincere and putting in the effort, it might be worthwhile to allow them their personality flaws. On the other hand, anytime someone makes people actively hate them, it is only a matter of time until tempers boil over, potentially with catastrophic results during a live event.
Another consideration that many MAG founders fail to account for is that of differing ideologies. I’m a staunch believer that any political views should be downstream of the group culture so long as you are running at your MAG correctly, and loyalties should be to group members before any political party.
That being said, political partisanship is only growing more and more stark and violent today and it shows no signs of slowing down. Pretty soon you’ll have the two main American political parties treating each other’s adherents like Hatfields and McCoys with people selecting their associations accordingly.
It would not do to be dealing with an event only to have one source or another attribute it to the actions of a given political party that then results in an instant schism within your membership. This might be a problem for you and yours or it might not.
Lastly, consider philosophical differences as well. If we are all being honest, everyone knows someone who has a fairly radical view about survival. Maybe they just believe in the Law of the Jungle, that the strong will take from the weak when the chips are down and the rule of law is but a distant memory.
Perhaps you know someone who is quite the opposite, someone with a strong religious or ethical bent that dictates they always do what they can to help those less fortunate no matter what kind of risk or hardship it places upon them.
Maybe you know an ethical contortionist who can justify an opportunity so long as it serves their ends for minimal risk or against certain groups of people. Each of these ideologies can make waves for the MAG in the wrong situation.
While I am not saying that you should outright ban anyone with certain views from joining your MAG, you really need to take the time and have a heart-to-heart with yourself and with them about their proclivities, extreme beliefs and compulsion toward certain situations.
Any might present severe challenges for the rest of the group. It is best to air these issues out ahead of time if at all possible.
Some people carry with them the promise of trouble like an albatross, and it is best to cut them loose before they get you and everyone else into a dilemma. Others, their quirk might not be something worth ejecting them over, but you will need to be prepared to wrangle them or overrule it when the chips are down.
Starting a MAG is challenging but rewarding, and one of the best potential preps you can have if you lack the built-in survival mindset of family or close friends.
A MAG can function as a collective far stronger than the sum of its parts, and so long as you choose with care who you let in and what you expect from them, you can be confident that you will have a group of companions who will go the distance with you when things get serious.