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This Week (Group Starting Edition) - How to Own Your Campus in One Week
One of the most difficult things about starting a new group is deciding how best to use your resources and time when you're just beginning. For many of you, this upcoming quarter or semester will be the first time your group is active on your campus. So, for this first email, I thought it would be helpful to talk a little about what sort of ideas and strategies can help you the most during your first week. Activity fairs are by far the most important event that you'll find information on in this email - they can really give your group a boost in membership and visibility. Also, you'll find information on flyering, chalking, and tabling supplies - and how the SSA can help you in all these areas. Finally, I'll give you an introduction to some more creative ideas (like cook-outs, recruiting events, and more) that can really get your group off the ground.
The first thing I want to talk about is probably the most important. Almost all schools have student activity fairs during the first few weeks of the fall semester or quarter. These are extremely important. If you can get your group a table at one of these activities then absolutely do it. Now, many of you haven't tabled before, so here are some of the basics. First off, making your table look as professional, clean, and presentable as possible goes a long way. Things like a tablecloth (a cheap plastic one from the Dollar Store works fine) and brochure holders (available at most office supply stores) can really make your organization look really prepared and serious instead of making you look like a rag-tag band of homeless people. Secondly, dress for the part. I'm not saying go out and buy a suit or an expensive evening formal dress, but wearing a nice pair of jeans and a clean t-shirt (especially if it's a t-shirt for your group!) can really make a difference to who wants to approach your table. Thirdly, make sure you have a knowledgeable officer or other volunteer at your table at all times. I've had a lot of experience tabling and nothing looks worse than when a new member is manning the table and forgets the name of your organization. So, make sure you have at least one officer or other knowledgeable volunteer at your table to answer questions about your group.
Before you can even start tabling though, you're going to need tabling supplies like brochures, stickers, buttons, and the like. Thankfully, the SSA has a free Tabling Supplies service for you at http://www.secularstudents.org/tablingsupplies. New groups just getting started can request one set of supplies before you're up and running. Just let us know what you want and we'll ship it off to you as soon as we can! Also, for more information on leading a successful tabling experience, check out our Activity Packet on tabling.
If your campus doesn't have an activity fair or you're too late to register there are still tons of things you can do to utilize your first week on campus. First of all, register for a table in a high-traffic area of campus and do what I said above, but just not at an activity fair. Secondly, flyer, advertise, chalk, etc. This is one of the biggest things you can do (maybe even bigger than tabling) to get your group's name out there. Make use of every avenue of advertising you have. Get a small group of friends together and hang the flyers that came with your Group Starting Packet (but make sure they're approved first!). If your campus allows you to chalk, do that too! If you have friends at your campus newspaper, write an article about your group and try to get it published. Utilize your Facebook or website and email to get in touch with as many students and supporters as you can. The more you talk about it, the more you get your name out there, the more people you're going to reach and the more people will come to your meetings (makes sense, right?).
Finally, the last bit of advice I have for you is: get creative and have fun. A lot of the things I've talked about are common sense. However, some of our most successful groups are the ones who have been creative and quirky enough to do something crazy, eye-catching, and memorable during the first week of school. This doesn't have to be hard, expensive, or insane (please don't get in trouble, either!). Things like having a cook-out on campus, organizing a soul-auction, having a freespaghetti dinner in tribute to our Noodly Lord the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or just having some type of game night at your first meeting, all can attract huge numbers of students and are fun and different enough to really draw attention to your group and get your name and mission out there. Organizing some type of recruiting event is important, but remember: most organizations will be doing the same (especially religious groups, and they have a lot of experience and money behind them). If you can figure out a way to really make your event stand out and be fun, then you'll be certain to win over a lot of support and membership for the rest of the year.
As always, we here at the SSA are here to support you and give you whatever resources and services we can. If you come up with a great idea and would like to tell us about it or need help organizing it, just let us know! I hope you all really get out there and throw your best into the upcoming quarter/semester. Having once been a student leader just starting a group I know how intimidating it can be. With the SSA behind you and enough effort though, you can be sure that your group will not only be successful, but it will grow to be a lasting and important facet of your school's community.