Getting People to Come to Meetings
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.
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.
2. Advertise for meetings.
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.
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!
4. Include activities.
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.
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.
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]