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Sage advice from Papa Aug


The following is the (slightly updated) body of an email I used to send out to students trying to start groups back before SSA had any staff or the like. Now days we encourage people to request a group starting packet , but I think this email still has some very simple advice without too much fluff getting in the way.

I only ever wrote up details for the first five steps. If anyone wants to add comments about the last five, I'm sure they would get read and used.

The following is a general bit of staring advice I send out to people that want to start groups. I'm not sure how all of it will apply to your particular institution. But I'm sure you're more than clever enough to adapt it. It's long. Remember you don't have to do this all in a day.

The following is not fully linear (that is to say that you don't have to be 100% done with #1 before you start #2 or #3, and so on). Perhaps you've already done some of this.

So, odds are since you've given this some thought already, you'll have come up with a good deal of this on your own. But I know I had to learn a lot of this by trial and error when I started my first group back in '97, so hopefully you'll find some of this helpful.

The process looks something like this:
1) look at examples, ask questions, read up
2) assess resources and situation
3) work on acquiring any needed leaders
4) plan, name, and formalize
5) create supporting structures and acquire missing resources
6) plan first meeting(s)
7) Advertise, Advertise, Advertise
8) hold first meeting(s)
9) plan, advertise for, and hold first big event
10) Onward and upward!

I want to make it very clear that although I am very willing to help, that this is your process and your group. If you ever think I'm butting in too much, let me know and I'll butt out. Also, this may seem like a huge job at first, but it is really quite doable when taken one step at a time.

Oh yeah, although I've started, helped start, and watched the start of many groups, I'm still learning all the time. So I strongly encourage your feedback and ideas.
Anyhow, on to the steps...

1) look at examples, ask questions, read up

Here are the web sites of some successful freethought campus groups... they might give you some ideas for what you want to do with your group...

Other rich tools for gaining more context are
SSA's Group Running Guide -- we're happy to send out a print copy of this if you don't already have one.
CFI-on-campus has a group running manual: http://www.campusfreethought.org/docs/og.pdf -- CFIOC will likely send a print copy of this if you ask them.

2) assess resources and situation

Also start thinking about what kinds of resources you'll need and what you've got on hand. You're likely going to need three student leaders--folks willing to be a president, a VP, and a treasurer. They might be people you already know, they might be people that you'll meet after advertising the idea and talking it up a bit. Most groups find they can make use of more than three officers. You're going to need a faculty advisor. You won't need a ton of money to start, but a little bit of money to copy some flyers and buy a staple gun may be quite helpful. If you don't have money for that, the SSA may be able to help you (very likely in fact).

Be aware of the services the SSA offers.

We are happy to mail flyers (on neon paper) to you and tools to hang them if you want to find more people before you go past this step.

3) work on acquiring any needed leaders

In finding the other people to help you run the group, it will be vital that you are able to clearly articulate what you want the group to be about and what kinds of things you want to do. Looking at the web sites of other groups will help you get an idea for the kinds of events and the kinds of values these groups have. It'll make you much better at explaining it.

It's likely you already know someone who could be the advisor. If not, the philosophy department is a great place to look for an advisor. How many friends do you have that you think might be interested? Talk up the idea to them, see how they feel about it and if they would be willing to help.
If you don't think your friends will be game, the next thing to do is hang up flyers. I can send you the flyers we have (we will tailor them to your campus). Or you can make your own.

I can send you some SSA brochures. That might help as well.

4) plan, name, and formalize

From here on, you're pretty well going to need to have at least a couple of other leaders in place, just so you know you'll be on the same page.

You'll want to figure out what you want your group to do, how you're going to do it, and govern it. You will want to write up a constitution. Your school's office of academic affairs will likely be happy to offer a sample constitution. The SSA has a sample constitution as well.

You can also find some constitutions here:

You're also going to have to come up with a name for your beloved organization. There's a section in the Group Running Guide on this. And you can also look over the names of the current SSA affiliates.

You'll also want to file with your school--they are likely to give you at least a few resources and a little money when you do this. You'll also want to set up a bank account. This is often far easier than you might think. Most banks offer free or nearly free checking to nonprofit student groups.

5) create supporting structures and acquire missing resources

There are three main supporting structures that you will find very helpful: a web site, a planning listserv, and a brochure or business card for your group.

Lucky for you, the SSA is happy to provide all three at no cost to you.

You may be able to get web space through your school. If you can't achieve this, a Facebook group is a quick and easy alternative.

Listservs are a popular way of communicating in general. They are invaluable for student group organizing. All students have email and most students check it very often. yahoogroups.com and googlegroups.com both provide free listservs. The SSA is also happy to hook you up with an ad-free listserv if you like (just ask). This will be a great way for the leaders of your organization to stay on the same page.

You may also want to create two other listservs: one for general discussion amongst your members of whatever they feel like talking about and a second one for sending out announcements from the leadership to the membership.

Having something paper you can hand out to people when you're tabling or when the group comes up in conversation is very useful. Many groups have made brochures, but in the day of the web, a business card with your group's URL on it is really almost as good. If you'd like us to print up 250 biz cards for you group for free, just ask.

There are five more steps on my list, but these first five should keep you busy for a while. Once you're ready to move beyond these steps, you should be able to get a lot of what you need out of the Group Running Guide and talking to other leaders and us at SSA. Remember, there's no deadline. Take it easy.

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