Choosing Members for Your MAG (Mutual Assistance Group)

MAGs, or “Mutual Assistance Groups” are popular concepts for preppers who don’t already have built-in reserves of manpower or backup in the form of large families full of able-bodied members, or several friends in the area who are of like mind.

A MAG is little more than a group of preppers, typically with varying skills, resources and advantages to bring to the table, who voluntarily pledge to help and support one another during times of disaster or other crisis.

two men sitting at a table

Ideally, it serves as a sort of tribe for preppers who don’t have one of their own already, and this can be an important hedge against a bad outcome whenever the chips are down.

But as you are probably expecting any MAG is only as good as the sum of its parts, and joining a MAG that is full of members who are shifty, unmotivated, duplicitous or just losers can result in you being let down in the worst way when you are counting on your fellow members to pull their weight.

It might take more than one bad apple to spoil the bunch, but in MAGs it seems like non-performing members drag everyone else down out of all proportion to their numbers.

If you are in charge of, partially responsible for or part of a committee responsible for vetting incoming prospective members for your MAG, it is absolutely essential that you know what to look for in any possible candidate, and that you screen them appropriately to weed out the non-starters.

In today’s article I’ll be providing you with tips, guidance and insight to help you choose the right members for your MAG.

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MAG Membership Requirements

Before we can delve into what separates good MAG members from bad ones, we first need to know what is expected from a MAG member. The answer actually varies.

Since a MAG can take many shapes and come in many sizes, it follows that the requirements they have of their members will vary wildly from one to the next.

Some might only require that members loosely network and try to help each other where feasible. Others might require a solemn pledge that members will come to the aid of other members when requested in the aftermath of a disaster or crisis no matter what.

Some MAGs will only want members to help out with what skills, tools and manpower they can muster, whereas others might have the genuine expectation that all members pool their resources together when things really go pear-shaped in order to best survive as a ready-made community in whatever proto-society follows the collapse of our current one.

There is no necessarily right or wrong answer; since membership in a MAG is voluntary barring some entrance screening by leadership it is up to the group running the MAG or the collective membership together to decide what is appropriate.

But no matter what requirements are insisted upon by any given MAG the members must have certain innate qualities in order to be counted on by their fellows.

No matter how loose the affiliation, no matter how strict the bond, certain people just do not get along with others in any kind of team endeavor. Others are plainly sluggards or sandbaggers, and will always take more than they put it.

These are your classic parasite types that must be avoided at all cost. And still others are genuinely malicious, preying upon group interests and structures in order to pad their own pantries and their own pockets. Folks like this are simply a more advanced form of predator.

Since an in-depth discussion of the requirements, standards, and other specifics that a MAG should or should not require of its members is an entirely different article or series of articles, I will only be offering insight into what characteristics and qualities you should screen for as a member of your MAG’s “entrance” board, or as the chief screener.

These are techniques, tactics, observations and procedures that I have used personally to good effect in the past, and have seen associates do likewise with, so I am confident they will work for you.

Choosing Members for Your MAG

In the sections below I’ll be going into detail on a variety of topics relating to screening applicants that will help you get the cream of the crop for your MAG.

Some of these items will test your observational powers, while others are “acid test” techniques and tricks that can help sort the wheat from the chaff; lots of people interview well, but few can keep up a ruse or show people what they want to see for extended periods, and under duress.

1. Admit Slowly, Expel Quickly

No matter how eager you are to start growing the ranks of your MAG, don’t be too quick to admit people under any conditions, unless, of course, the applicant in question is already a person that is well within your circle of trust, and whose quality has been proven time and time again under adverse conditions.

Just like in business, most people are way too quick to let someone come aboard only to find out in short order that they have some glaring personality flaw, a complete lack of people (or other) skills, are slackers, or exhibit some other red flag behavior or weakness that would have completely preclude you from hiring them in the first place had you seen it.

The same is true for any group where gatekeeping is necessary to maintain a high standard of quality.

The longer you make someone wait, the more hoops you make them jump through (so long as they are reasonable, and moves them incrementally closer towards admittance) the better.

Time itself is often an excellent arbitrator of quality, and will quickly prove any defects when it comes to impulsiveness, patience or sense of entitlement; each one of these by itself could be a poison pill for a potential applicant to your MAG.

And on the other hand, once someone has been admitted into the group don’t be afraid to cut them loose at the drop of a hat if they are still within their probationary period or are otherwise a greenhorn.

Some people get worse the longer you let them dig in, and if you start noticing negative side effects and other problems as a direct result of allowing someone into the group, it is best to get rid of them as quickly as possible before they start to drag down group morale and cause other issues.

Admit slowly, expel quickly!

2. Always, Always Do a Background Check!

This stuff is so elementary it really should not need a reminder. I have included it here because there is more to doing a background check then just getting the report and giving someone a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down.

Someone’s reaction to having a background check done on them in a comparatively informal setting like a MAG might owe you more about their character than what the report actually says.

For instance, you should let any potential member know you’ll be running a background check on them (once again, unless they are someone that is already well within your circle of trust).

People with nothing to hide should not flinch in the least. People who may have something to hide, but are at least upright and honorable about their intentions should let you know what you should expect to see on their background check.

Lastly, people who let you run the background check and discover their dirty laundry for yourself are perhaps not the best people to include in a high-trust environment.

An obvious red flag for any potential joiner is any show of temper tantrum or great resistance to having their background check run, or refusing to provide official identification to expedite it.

Note, for the record you do not necessarily have to have saints and choir boys in your MAG in order for it to function at a high level reliably.

But you should, nonetheless, be very wary of admitting anybody with a history of criminality, as criminals will often betray group trust to meet their own objectives.

This is not to say that people with a criminal history are not worthy of trust on an individual or small, in-group level, only that you should think long and hard before admitting anyone with such anti social characteristics.

One more tip: make any member pay for their own background check. This should not cost more than $20 to $40 depending on where you live and what service you use to run the check.

Any member who would object to such a small cost is a penny miser and is very likely to be stingy with other supplies in the future as well. Proceed with caution.

3. Make Them Put Skin in The Game.

No member, or potential member, should be able to benefit off the group efforts, the group stores and the group’s assistance without first putting skin in the game.

This means they must furnish something that is of use to the group in order to show they are serious about being part of the group.

The form this takes is largely dependent on what your group requires. It might be a certain amount of material goods of some kind, it might be labor or some other tangible benefit like access to land or even making use of the new-join’s skills for the benefit of the group.

It is absolutely essential to filter out people that are not really serious, people who want the sizzle, but don’t want to do what it takes to get the steak.

Everyone can appear as sincere, as serious and as switched on as possible right up until the time they have to put in the work, they have to sacrifice and they have to be the one to put the team or group first.

Don’t require something so radical that it appears as a scam going in the other direction, though; they should not have to pay any exorbitant sums of money to the group kitty, donate half or the entirety of their own supplies, or remodel somebody’s house on a promise of membership or as part of their probation.

It must be reasonable, and something that a reasonable person would see as a worthy sacrifice towards admittance to a group that is worth being a part of.

4. Skills or Assets Required to Join

Who you should let join or even apply to your MAG is mostly a question of what the group is looking for, and what the applicant brings to the table, be it skills, assets or some other benefit that the group can make use of when the chips are down.

Generally speaking, if you just let anybody in, including people who cannot contribute in any meaningful way no matter how “interested” they are, you’ll be diluting your group, not strengthening it.

This is not to say that every person that is allowed to join needs to be a snake-eating, hardcore survivalist or hairy-assed wildman pioneer type.

Most people can contribute something, and depending on what skills your group really wants to add to its collective repertoire, someone who appears to be an unlikely candidate could be an excellent recruit.

For instance, if your group desires someone with comprehensive medical skills, a doctor who otherwise lacks physical fortitude and other desirable survival-centric assets might be an excellent addition all the same.

But this does not necessarily mean that this person with special or rare skills gets to ride the “gravy train with biscuit wheels” all the way to the apocalypse come nigh without contributing.

Even if they cannot pitch in physically, financially or in some other way until their skills are needed, they can still earn their keep by teaching others the basics of their skill-set.

In the case of our doctor, they can teach first-aid, CPR and basic trauma care to the group in a series of classes, for instance.

What is most important is that any addition to the group either serves as a serious hedge against disaster in some way or actively makes the group better with their contributions.

No freeloaders, no mascots and no hangers-on: everybody contributes or they are out, period.

5. Always Consider External Loyalties

This next one can be tricky to navigate for even the most well-intentioned MAG.

It is imperative that every, single member of the MAG be assessed according to not only their merits and what they can bring to the group, but also what loyalties that are external to the group might affect their operation and contribution to the group.

Failing to account for this might see your MAG deprived of members just when they are needed the most, as the individual in question rushes to take care of themselves and their dependents or other obligations.

For instance, almost everyone has family members, at least a few, that they are likely to drop everything for when and if they are imperiled.

If disaster strikes and you are counting on somebody to be there for the group, but they are taking off across the wild blue yonder to go find their parents, uncle, sibling or whomever you can scratch them off the list for the duration.

Another possibility that could compromise an individual in the MAG is job requirements. Specifically, the kind where they have sworn an oath to do their duty or to push a post when called upon.

Folks who are police officers, firefighters, members of the standing military or the National Guard, and other civil service related professions are highly likely to be called in when disaster strikes.

This is a shame, because, otherwise, they typically bring skills and connections that are of great use to your MAG.

One possible way around this conundrum is to make membership contingent on bringing all dependents and family members with them for inclusion under the group’s umbrella of protection.

This can work, but typically only works well on a small scale where you have entire families forming the whole of the MAG itself, not a situation where in times of trouble the MAG is expected to take care of the memberships’ families who are previously total unknowns to the group.

This can turn into a drastic, surprising drain on supplies and manpower as might be expected, but in long-term scenarios will also introduce way too many variables to handle when it comes to interpersonal dynamics and group conflict. Not good.

In a perfect world, the members of the MAG would only be accountable to and dependent upon other members of the MAG, but you and I both know this is a pipe dream except in the rarest circumstances.

It might be challenging or even impossible to completely ameliorate, but you are setting yourself up for failure if you do not at least account for these external loyalties when admitting a new member.

6. Filtering: Strict, Moderate or Loose?

It also bears mentioning that you should get entirely clear on your purpose and your standards from within the MAG. What kind of group are you? What are you trying to achieve?

What are you trying to assure for all members? How big do you want to be, or how small? All of these questions and more must be answered, and will be the prime factors that steer your admissions.

If you are a small, tight-knit clan of survivors, each a veritable one-man-army unto themselves with decades of experience cumulatively you will probably opt to not to let in every Tom, Dick and Harry with a BOB and a bucket; pretenders and laymen are only going to hamper an elite band like yourselves.

On the other hand, if you are a loose collective of families from a smaller city or rural area already generally dependent upon each other’s kindness and courtesy anyway, you probably don’t need to be screening everyone using some hardcore entrance protocol; it is better just to get everyone on the same sheet of music and committed to the common good.

It is best to decide early on and, remain consistent with your entrance protocols. Will you admit only the best of the best that can check every box and exceed every standard at a high level?

Or do you need people, bodies, more than anything, and allow in anyone who can at least bring something to the table, even if it is only that one thing?

Or will you be somewhere in between, looking for people with modest skills and expertise who are committed and capable, but not necessarily frothing zealots or perfect people?

Understand that your filtering may change as the group size, objective and dynamics change. Once your group reaches a certain size, you may close admissions except for only the most necessary or exceptional people.

The opposite may occur after a handful of members depart. Always make your admissions process serve the group, not the other way around!

7. Build Rapport to Build a Team

Your MAG should always be engaged in something: Projects that will serve the group interest, help individual members, provide training, practice, or some other positive outcome.

Anything that gets the group together, and working together for a common goal is to be implemented as often as practicable. You should also make it a point to include any prospective or probational join to the group in these activities and do not delay.

Not only is this the best way to see how the group will react to the new-join, and the new-join react to them, but it will give you perhaps the most insightful look at how this person adapts and works in the team setting you have already built.

Assuming that things go well, they will not feel like they are stuck in the “waiting room” of MAG membership; they will have seen, felt and contributed to what you are already doing, and it also serves to give them a little bit of skin in the game like we discussed above.

If the initial outing does not go well- full of friction, arguing and general unpleasant feelings- it is probably a good indicator that the future will be similarly rocky with this person. Now, that is not always the case, but it is a typically reliable early warning.

Sure, you should not judge people by their worst moment on their worst day, but since it just so happens to fall on their first serious interaction with the rest of the group, it is a bad omen.

8. Spotting the Faker.

We all learned as much back in middle school: Nobody likes a poser. It will rarely fail that your MAG will attract the wrong kind of people eventually, especially if it is publicly or semi-publicly advertised.

These people typically want to put on some kind of air that they are somehow “more” than what they really are, which is merely a concerned citizen trying to look out for themselves and their fellow man when times are tough.

You are looking for people that have character, not people that act like characters.

Anybody who seems to have a gimmick, an overemphasis on a certain skillset or attribute, or someone who is laying it on just a little bit too thick in the probationary phase is likely a faker, and someone you should watch closely.

Now, it is true that they might just be socially awkward or nervous, and are compensating in one of several ways that can come off a little awkwardly and cringey, but just as often as not they’re living out some lesser fantasy with the members of your MAG as the audience.

Always be extremely wary of anyone who is too eager to tell tales that inflate their worth, revolve around old “war stories” (especially those that cannot be verified), or otherwise talk of hard-to-believe accounts of things they have done or places they have been.

The best members are always those who are quietly content to contribute and benefit from the group with little fanfare or grandiosity, those who banter and joke about such things in a self-aware way excluded.

9. Group Politics are Downstream of Group Culture

One sticking point that MAG personnel responsible for admitting new members might have when it comes to screening is what, if any, bearing political and social orientation should have on the member in question.

On its surface, this can seem like a real briar patch, but in practice, if handled correctly, it is almost a non-issue.

First things first, don’t make the primary purpose of the MAG anything to do with politics, social issues, or anything else aside from members helping to take care of members, and that broadly means helping to take care of other people from in and around your community.

That is something that everyone should be able to get behind. If your MAG does not have a mission statement written in stone, for anyone to read, that is indeed going to be a problem.

Expectations must be managed from the word go. Some MAGs will operate more charitably, others somewhat more ruthlessly with the well-being of the group and the group members’ families paramount above literally everything else.

I am not judging; I’m only advocating that you make sure your MAG has similar clarity when it comes to its mission and purpose.

With that done, politics should take a back seat. Everyone is there to contribute and to benefit from the group. The End.

If your group is actually behaving the way it should be, and doing the things that it needs to do, it will start to develop its own internal culture among members.

That is the point! And with that done the group’s politics will develop downstream from its own internal culture, but even so this should have very little or even no impact on the interactions of group members.

The only politics the group should care about are its own. Once you have worked, sweated and bled together for each other enough times everything else will start to become secondary.

On the other hand, if the group is completely homogeneous regarding its social and political beliefs, admitting someone who is lukewarm toward those beliefs or, even worse, holds beliefs that are the polar opposite could do nothing but incite strife and division.

If that is to happen you would have been better off passing on that new member entirely!

Also, I would hope that all preppers who are serious about the endeavor by now realize that no politician, from any party or any pole of the political spectrum, is going to be personally responsible for their safety. It just will not happen.

The only person responsible for your safety is you, and to a far lesser extent your fellow group members. If your group internalizes this, discussing and bickering about big-picture politics should be the farthest thing from everybody’s minds.

10. Assess in Totality

Lastly, barring someone is exhibiting major red flag behavior, don’t be too quick to eliminate them over one or two perceived shortcomings.

Most people have a variety of strengths and just as much variety in their weaknesses, strengths that can be a benefit to your group and weaknesses that can be… Covered, by the group.

You might have a candidate who is a little bit lackluster in the physicality, skills and assets department but who has a huge tract of land that he makes available to the MAG for training, camping or bug-out purposes, and always puts in 100% effort in any group endeavor and never quits.

That sounds like a halfway decent member to me! Likewise, the member who is sarcastic and fairly hard to get along with but is always there when the chips are down and is never stingy with their supplies, money or time should have their lesser flaws overlooked so long as this does not sow serious discord within the group.

Ultimately these are only examples, and you will have to be the one to assess everything the potential member brings to the table- perks, quirks, flaws and all- against the other standing members of your MAG, the needs of the MAG and all of the other intangibles.

This is a decision and an assessment that no one else can truly make for you. But I can tell you this: if you hold out for “perfect”, you will probably be holding out for the rest of your life. Ultimately you will have to roll the dice, and take your chances with any member.


A MAG is only as good as its members, and even the most experienced and long-serving group can be thrown into disharmony or outright mutiny by adding the wrong person or people to the otherwise functional and efficient mix.

You can nip this in the bud early or potentially before it occurs by employing intelligent admission and probationary standards for all incoming members. Use this article as a guide and you’ll be sifting the gems from the coal in no time.

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