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Getting People to Come to Meetings

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We have heard from more than a few groups saying that they were having trouble getting people to show up to meetings. Since a lack of attendance can quickly cause a group to fade away, we put together our best advice on how to get and keep people coming to your meetings-a critical part of building up your group.

running a meeting

1. Have regular meetings.
You can't expect people to show up to meetings if you don't have regular meetings. This is the single most important factor in getting people to your meetings. Regular meetings (same time, same place, ideally every week) establish a routine for your members to plan around, build relationships with the members, and increase interest in the group. Once your members get in the habit of showing up at 7:30 on Monday night, they'll be inclined to keep doing it. They'll look forward to seeing one another, and they'll get more engaged with the group's activities.

Often a stumbling block is trying to find a time that works for everyone. Sometimes you can get people to respond to an email or online poll, but oftentimes you just have to pick a time that seems like it will work for people. Once you have people (multiple individuals, not just one person) complaining that they can't make it to the meetings, then you have enough interest that you can ask around for a time that might work better. It is usually best to switch meeting times between semesters so that everyone can plan the new time along with their new class schedule.
Also, don't get discouraged if your first meetings are small. Stick with it (and try the ideas in the rest of this article) and your group will grow.



2. Advertise for meetings.

You'd put up flyers and chalkings for a big speaker, wouldn't you? You'd post an event on Facebook or a Google calendar? You'd send a reminder to your email list and maybe even send a message to all your Facebook group members. You'd ask your members to bring friends. Are you doing the same thing for your meetings?
Advertising your meetings has two great results. It (1) attracts new, interested, potential members to your group, and (2) reminds your current members where and when they should show up.You don't have to take out hundreds of dollars in ads and wallpaper your campus (except maybe for a first meeting of the year…). A handful of bright, clever, attention-grabbing flyers in high-traffic areas and places of particular interest (a hip coffee shop, the science and philosophy departments, etc.) should do the trick. You can check out our Flyer Exchange for ideas.

Save yourself some time! Since your meetings should be the same time and place every week, design your flyers so that you can leave them up all semester. Then you just have to replace the ones that get covered, worn, lost or stolen!



3. Provide snacks.

Ideal (and not-so-ideal) Snacks

-Chips, Pretzels, and the like (flavored chips are great - no dip needed)
-Cookies (especially if they're homemade, but we dig Oreos, too)
-Snack mixes. Trail mix, Chex mix, Gardetto's, or any of the pre-mixed munchies you can find in the grocery store.
-M&Ms. A one-pound bag is usually enough for a group, and they're fabulously popular!

You might want to stay away from:
-Anything that requires anything more than napkins or maybe cheap paper plates
-Veggie trays. They never seem to go over well among college students.
-Meat-based food. Secular groups seem to attract a disproportionate number of vegetarians.

Food goes a long way for college students. Providing snack mix, chips or cookies at your meetings will attract more members - especially if it's mentioned on your advertising. You don't have to go wild and buy pizza for everyone every meeting - a bag of chips or package of cookies should be plenty.

Some leaders complain that they don't want to bribe people to come to their meetings. If it bothers you, consider providing snacks as a perk, a feature that makes your meetings more worth people's time than another activity they might have gone to instead.

Other leaders think that people will show up just for the food. While someone might go freeloading to a meeting that promises free pizza, it's highly unlikely that they'll come to a meeting just for a few potato chips. Really. They'll just go get a bag of chips from their dorm vending machine - it's way less work!

Last but not least - always make sure that your meeting location is okay with you bringing food. The last thing you want to do is make a bad reputation for your group by getting in trouble!

Food!


4. Include activities.
Activity Ideas
- Discussion sessions. Throw out a topic a few days in advance and dedicate some time to exploring the ideas, or show a video clip at the meeting and discuss reactions.
- Comedy film night. Show your top ten YouTube atheist videos, the best atheist episodes of South Park, or parts of Julia Sweeney's Letting Go of God.
- Craft night. When was the last time you made a model Flying Spaghetti Monster?
- Engage other viewpoints. Invite members of religious organizations to come to your meetings for an exchange of viewpoints to further understand one another.
- Have a speaker. You don't need to bring an internationally-acclaimed speaker to every meeting - your university has professors who would be happy to come and present on the historical context of the gospels, the incompatibilities of various religions, or transitional fossils. Or you could bring in a leader of an off-campus group to present on how you can stay involved in freethought after graduation. There are lots of opportunities here!
Your meetings are a great time to plan big events, design T-shirts and flyers, and take care of the business of running a group. But if all you're going to do is take care of business, consider a meeting of just the officers - the rest of your members will quickly learn that they don't need to be at such a meeting and will stop coming. You want to have something at your meetings that's interesting to everyone.

On the other hand, don't feel as though you can't have any business items on your agenda! Your meetings are a great time to do some brainstorming, get feedback on an idea, or to look for volunteers to help out. We encourage you to use these times to get things done - just make sure that's not all you're doing.

The key is to have some activity at each meeting that people are interested, engaged and/or entertained by. There are lots of ideas out there, so get creative and get going! Your members may have suggestions - listen to them and take their ideas seriously.


5. Be respectful of your members' time.
College students have a lot of things to do. Be respectful of this fact when running your meetings. If the posted meeting time is 8 p.m., start at 8. Yes, a few latecomers will miss the beginning of your meeting, but so what? If you advertise 90-minute meetings, don't drag on for two hours.
Normal meetings shouldn't last longer than 90 minutes. Any longer than that, and people can start to feel trapped. If you're watching a film, don't interrupt. But on film night, make sure to have very little else going on your agenda and to start on time.

This doesn't mean that you have to turn off the lights and kick people out when the timer goes off, though. A huge aspect of any secular group is the community it fosters, and post-meeting gatherings are a great way to build those relationships. Just be sure to announce when the formal meeting is over so that people don't feel like they're obligated to stay when they have other things to do.


6. Get feedback.
Once you start getting people to come to your meetings, solicit some feedback from them. Try to find out why they came, what they liked and didn't like. What would they like to see more of? You might try passing out paper surveys, a clipboard with a question at the top that people can write responses to, or other creative ideas.

And, of course, once you have that information, use it! If comedy film night was a total flop, don't keep doing them. If everyone liked having the biology professor come speak, try to find another speaker to bring in.


7. Foster your group outside of meetings.
You can increase attendance at your meetings by fostering interest in the group outside of those meetings. Does your group have a web forum, Facebook page, discussion listserv, or other method of communication? If not, you're missing a valuable tool for your group. Go start one up!

Then, go feed it! Post interesting videos and articles, links to your favorite blog posts from your favorite atheist blogs, links to secular news events, and info about secular events in the community or country that your members can get involved in. You probably only need a few items a week, but an active, engaged group might send out several items every day. You might even want to assign an officer the formal role of moderator of the list and have her keep the discussion moving.

With these tidbits, you're reminding people between meetings that your group exists and that there's plenty of reason they should stay involved. The more active a group is, the more likely people are to become engaged, and this is one easy way to show your group's activity level.

Still Need More Tips?
Check out this video from our very own Lyz Liddel on increasing meeting participation!


One of our best resources to find out what works and what doesn't is you - our student leaders! If you've employed a strategy that worked well, let us know about it so other groups can also use that idea. If you've learned a lesson of caution about something we suggest, point out the pitfalls. You can email [email protected]

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