It's always interesting when I get asked this question because nobody really wants the real, truthful answer. What they want to be told is "just grab a whole bunch of your friends, make some posters, and meet at the local basketball court to have practice!" And that can work, I guess, but it won't last long.
If you really want to run a color guard you have to look at it from a business standpoint. It has to make money. That's the part that nobody wants to know about. It's the part that everyone in the performing arts tries to hide... cover up the monetary aspect! It has to be all about the art! We can't let them know about the money! Sorry, I hate to be the one to bust the illusion but it's the fact of the matter. If you, as a human being, don't make money then you don't get to eat. If an organization doesn't make money then it doesn't get to survive either. Granted, there are programs that will step in and help businesses out, especially non-profit organizations, just like welfare is there for those who need that extra assistance. But depending on that sort of assistance means completely tying your hands and losing your freedom to make choices as a business.
Anyway, back to how to start a color guard... My first piece of advice to the average color guard performer/designer is this: DON'T. Just go find another guard that's already been established and work for them. If you're still with me at this point and really wanting to give this a go then alright, let's get down to it. The next thing you have to realize is that there's no defined path of success with this sort of thing - you have to make your own way and your own rules. With Spintronix, for instance... I ran a Weekend Camp for a couple of years to drum up some interest in the community before even thinking about starting an independent group. In fact, the independent group was not my goal whatsoever! I actually wanted the local high school to see how well I could run a guard and then allow me to have a scholastic group there (another story for another day). After the success of the camps, I started the guard and enrolled in our local circuit, then after a couple of seasons of that I put together an application for a non-profit 501(c)(3) from the federal government.
Now, this was the tricky part. I had been advised well that it is difficult to earn a 501(c)(3) on the first try, and realize that I would have to revise the application and turn it back in multiple times before it would be approved. So I spent an entire summer on that application... No really, that was my only project for the whole summer. I made sure it was perfect because I didn't want to have to do it ever again. And I didn't have to, because thanks to my meticulous record-keeping from the previous few years and all of the people who read over and helped me revise my wording multiple times, we were approved on the first try.
Here's where everyone thinks "Finally, Spintronix started rolling in the money!" and I'm not going to lie, I figured grants and donations would just come pouring in after that point. Guess again. Sure, we were finally eligible to apply for grants, but most of what we qualify for are arts grants. Do you know how many arts grants are out there? People who supposedly know the biz will tell you there are thousands upon thousands of arts grants, boasting millions of dollars in potential finances to keep your programs running. I applied for eleven of those within the first six months of having our non-profit status; know how many we won? Zero. Grant writing is not easy, and it takes a LOT of time, and when you are a full-time teacher who also runs an NPO on the weekends the last thing you have is time. Honestly, we probably would have done better to open a for-profit business.
It's been a lot of work to get to where we are today. We have to depend on the generosity and graciousness of a lot of people in our community in order to keep going right now, but I know things are going to get better. The thing is, if you really want something to happen then you have to put in the work to make it happen. This can be applied to ANYTHING that you might want to do in your life from starting your own guard to becoming a movie star. The people who were so-called overnight successes actually put in YEARS of hard work to make it happen, and they often did it while juggling other responsibilities in their lives like jobs and families. There aren't short cuts, so you need to just buck up and prep yourself because if you want to get somewhere then you need to work for it. And when people get you down (which happens a LOT any time someone is chasing their dreams) you have to remember; the reason that people discourage others from following their dreams is because they've given up on their own dreams and aspirations.
Want to see behind the scenes of running a guard and what we do? Come be a Spintern for a weekend. It could change your life.