This Week (Group Starting Edition) - What's Next? How to Focus Your Group!
By Group Starting Specialist
Last week I discussed one of the most important things in group starting: visibility and how to get your name out on your campus. Hopefully you all took that to the bottomless black holes you call your hearts and have either planned to attend your campus' activity fair or to hang those flyers we sent you (or some other idea that's equally awesome).
You may be saying to yourself, "Ok, we hung our flyers. We have some interested students. We even wrote a constitution, have had organizational meetings, and have applied for recognition on our campus. What now?" Well, this week, I'd like to discuss coming up with a focus area for your group in the upcoming year and how to use that to plan your group's activities.
I want to start off this article with something important. The SSA cannot tell you what to do with your group. You are all completely autonomous and can run your group as you see fit. Secondly, each group is going to be unique and different. The resources I'm going to discuss in this article are all important, but remember that your group is unique and may come up with ideas or face problems that we haven't even considered before. But, having said that, do not hesitate to ask us for help when you need it and don't ever be afraid to use your own ideas and creativity when planning an event.
Before you start planning events for your group, it is good to have an organizational meeting where you and your members can discuss what the focus area (or areas) of your group should be. Here at the SSA we have five "focus areas" around which your group can center its activities. These focus areas are: community, activism, cooperation, education, and service. The community focus typically revolves around activities that bring secular students together and help them form a tight-knit group of friends where they feel like they can be heard and understood. Activism focuses mainly on lobbying, separation of church and state issues, and other politically-minded activities. Cooperation deals with the sometimes difficult question of how we can work with other groups (even religious ones) to work towards shared common goals. Education includes activities that are meant to educate your campus about what it is to be a secular student (like tabling and hosting speakers) in the hopes that knowledge will lead to awareness and acceptance of atheist students, faculty, and staff. Finally, service focuses on activities that are geared towards improving your community through volunteering and other service-oriented projects.
As I said above, every campus is different. Where one campus is heavily focused on activism because their school constantly infringes the First Amendment, another campus may be more focused on community activities and service projects.
Now, your group does not have to pick a certain number of these focus areas. I know groups that have successfully covered all of them in one year. However, for new groups, it is usually easier to focus on one or two areas in which you can really be effective before expanding to other areas. For instance, when I started my group, we focused mostly on community activities and service. We chose this because it fit the needs and wants of our students the best. The best thing to do is to get you, your officers, and members together and decide amongst yourselves what you think your focus areas should be. This is something that the SSA cannot tell you, because we don't have first-hand knowledge of your campus or members.
Once you decide what you want your focus area(s) to be, the SSA has a plethora of ideas and resources you can work with. Available at our website (for free!) are our Activity Packets. We have taken some of the greatest events and activities we could find and wrote up templates on how to organize each event. We've even organized them into different categories based on the goals that the activity or event falls under. These are available at: http://www.secularstudents.org/activitypackets.
Also available to you is a great organizing tool called the "Sample Year." This is what a year for a busy group at a moderately-sized university might look like, but it is by no means the be-all-end-all for what you must do. It's available to you as a template and example of the type of events and planning that are involved in group running.
Finally, remember that our campus organizing team, and everyone else here at the SSA, is here to answer your questions at any time. We have many years of experience in group running and event planning, so don't be afraid to approach us with questions or problems.
See you next week with more info on campus organizing and group starting!