Why You Should Attend the SSA Conference
This article was written by Drew Pruitt, a member of the Secular Student Alliance at UNLV.
It had never occurred to us to go the SSA national leadership conference. We knew about it - we'd been getting Lyz's emails for two years letting us know about it, but it never even came up as something to do. Our group is in Vegas, Ohio is a million miles away, and we all have our own summer plans. If it hadn't been for a personal email from Nick Stancato, letting us know he'd love to meet us and that he really wanted our group to be there, we would not have gone this year, either. And we would have had no clue what we'd been missing.
As it turns out, sending three of our leaders to this conference was the single best thing we've done for the group. There are a number of reasons the conference was fantastic - any one of the by itself make it worth going.
We networked with leaders of other groups around the country. We had lunch with them, we sat next to them, and we slept in the same dorm rooms as them. We talked about what we've done that was successful, what we've done that wasn't, and new idea for how our groups can move forward. I walked away from the three-day conference with a notepad full of ideas for the group (enough to keep us busy the whole year if we wanted), a pocket full of business cards of students to keep in touch with, and a stronger feeling of optimism for what we can accomplish than I would have ever suspected.
We were completely energized for the movement. On more than one occasion over the previous two years, I'd started to feel burned out. I was busy with school, busy with life, and being a leader for a group is a lot of work. But hearing the stories of other groups, of other individuals, and realizing how much easier it will be now that we don't have to make all the mistakes ourselves! We were exhausted at the end of the three very busy days, but we were more excited, more eager, and more empowered than we'd ever been before.
And perhaps the most important thing we got from the conference was competency. I was amazed how much tangible, real-world advice was given. There were talks on how to fund-raise, how to table, how to recruit members, how to run public meetings, how to run a tabling event, how to organize the leadership, how to utilize the resources the SSA has to offer, and many more. In short, everything you need to know to run a successful student group. I've been to almost a dozen conferences in my life in various fields, and this was by far the most tangible and helpful conference I've ever been to. And it's not close.
So within a two-week span, I went from never having considered going to the conference, to showing up but not knowing what to expect, to falling in love with SSA, the movement, and the conference itself, and the two other members of our group felt the same.
So from now on, the SSA at UNLV has a new item at the top of our budget. Every year, our group is going to pay for two of our members to go to the conference. We'll take full advantage of the travel grants the SSA offers, but whether we get those or not, airfare, lodging, and meals will be covered for two of our new leaders that year. We have easily been able to cover that expense using what we learned about fundraising at the conference, but even without that, even if it truly were a negative line item on our budget, it would still be the single most valuable thing we could spend our money on.
Want more info on our 2014 conference? Go here!