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Setting up a French association (loi 1901)

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Living in France has undeniable advantages which go beyond good cheese and wine, such as being able to set up a non-profit  Association Loi 1901.  Ideal for those looking to do something a little different in their spare time an Association can give useful structure to a group with shared interests  or goals. VINGT Paris meets a young association set up last year by three young women, two journalists and a photographer, with a common aim: to promote the arts in Paris. The association, Le Suspendu, acts mainly as a cultural network  facilitating contact between artists and professionals.

Le Suspendu currently operates from its Facebook page where friends of the association can find news  from diverse cultural structures to participate in various projects all over France.  In their spare time the founders of Le Suspendu, meaning ‘Hanging’ (an allusion to a bubble of space and time hanging in mid-air), organise cultural events such as exhibitions and get-togethers. The first edition of the new website will be going live later this month.  Focussed on Street art, with articles, interviews, videos and free classifieds updatating artists about the latest jobs, collaborations, sponsorships and funding projects.

The Founders admit the process of setting up an association was daunting at first as there are many underlying rules to be respected.  Their advice is to take the process step by step, to get as much information as possible before starting out, and to take the free classes at your district’s Maison des Associations which teach you about the different stages and components of an association before  you  attempt the set-up process. These rules and procedures should not be underestimated . The Maison  des Associations in the 12th district (181 avenue Daumesnil, 75012) is particularly good and there are also various organisations to help associations with the different stages - a list is available from the Maison des Associations. Make sure you pick up one of the very helpful "step-by-step" booklets.

An association is governed by the ‘1901 law’ whereby a group of people are authorised to get together and practice a common activity, with a common aim. The first step is to decide on the aim of the association and who to have on board. The association must comprise of at least two people. The structure of an association consists of a ‘Bureau’ and a ‘Conseil d’Administration’ followed by various types of members (decided upon by the association). The Bureau consists of a President, a Treasurer and/or a Secretary. The President is liable in all legal matters so this is an important post with significant responsibilities.  The Conseil d’Administration is made up of up to three people who also help in the running of the group. and together they form the nucleus of the association.  An association can make a profit  as long as thes money generating activity does not constitute over 50% of the association’s overall activities. Also, there is the rule of the ‘3 Ps’ to remember: Product, Public, and Publicity. The three must not rival a company’s activity - so no similar products or service aimed at a same market and advertised in the same way as a company’s is a viable format for an association.

Once the aim and members of the group have been settled, the best thing to do is to make an appointment to see an advisor at a Maison des Associations. Associations must be registered at the Préfecture de Police on quai Gervais near the Hôtel de Ville. There are several documents to hand in. A list of these and  useful templates are available at a Maison des Association. The main documents needed are  the ‘Statuts’, an official document confirming the activity of the association. The founders will also need to decide on the headquarter address; again, check the conditions (as they tend to vary).  All documents must be handed in to the Préfecture by the president as their signature is needed. Models of all the necessary documents can be found on the internet and at your local Maison des Associations. The project is evaluated and if it is viable, the association’s name, aim and address are printed in the ‘Journal Officiel’, a monthly glossary of associations. Once that has been done, the activity can begin!

When setting up an association remember that there are rules for everything - let’s not forget the bureaucratic spirit here in France!  So get as much information as possible  before launching into this endeavour.  The best advice is to keep it simple at first or the rules will be difficult to apply later. For example it can get complicated when an association wants to employ volunteers, or employees (members of the Bureau cannot be employed by the association). If handling money, an special bank account must be opened and someone must do the association’s books. To open an account, the association must ask for a SIRENE number from the Insée, which is the equivalent of a company’s SIRET number. This registers the association  with the fiscal authorities.

Setting up an association takes time and patience and having a good idea of what is involved to make it work is essential before setting out on this path.  The rewards can make it all worth it if the project works although the results may not be immediately apparent. Le Suspendu advises not to give up, keep up the enthusiasm, stay flexible and never stop believing in the aims of the association until the feedback is positive. Lastly, it is really important to mutually respect the others involved and to keep it fun at all times, or things can soon turn sour.

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