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Student Organizations Fair

Planning Time4 to 6 weeks before end
of previous semester
Group SizeAny
Staff #2+
Event DateBeginning of semester

Activity Overview:
Depending on the size of your school, you will have to present something about your group to anywhere between a few hundred and a few thousand students. The goal is to get people passing by to stop and learn about your group, and eventually get involved.

Planning timeframe:
These fairs are generally held at the start of the semester/quarter, either in the fall or the winter. You should start planning 4 to 6 weeks before the end of the previous semester - although if your group is new, anything you can get together is better than nothing.

Depending on the size of your display and group, planning requires 2 to 4 people. Have the people representing your group at the table review these Five Tabling Basics. The day of the event will require 2 to 4 volunteers to run the booth at all times, so the total number needed will depend on the length of the fair. Group leaders should check in with these planners periodically (before the end of the semester, and before the fair) to make sure that they are on track!

Tabling at a Student Organizations Fair is a form of promotion on its own. However, consider how you will use that opportunity to promote future events. Have some other event planned ahead so you can ask people to attend (take note of the Sample Year and First Meeting resources). This is better than just asking people to join, as it gives them a more concrete idea of what activities your group does. Alert members through your email list so they can stop by to say hello, and have a sign up sheet for new people to join the email list.

What can my group bring
to the activities fair?
  • Banner
  • Display board
  • Fliers
  • Business cards
  • Literature
  • Sign-up sheets
  • Clipboards
  • Pens
  • Buttons
  • Stickers

Material requirements:
Above all, you need things to advertise your group. Though these vary based on preference, cost, availability etc. Common and effective tools will be a banner, display board, flyers (to hand out), business cards, and literature (to hand out or to show). Many of these items can be requested for free from SSA at the Tabling Supplies request page. If you have them, consider bringing photos of things your group has done. You will need sign-up sheets and pens for students to give you their contact information - don't trust that they will remember to get in touch with you! Remember you can apply for a project grant if you want to buy supplies. 

You may also want to dress in an attention-grabbing manner; if you don't have group t-shirts, wearing matching buttons or stickers can work. Some groups have dressed as pirates in reference to the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Usually, your school will provide a table for you to set up a booth, but make sure that this is the case! You may also want folding chairs, and don't forget normal outdoor gear - water bottles, sunscreen, or an umbrella!

Cooperating Organizations:
Since this is about promoting YOUR group, collaboration doesn't really apply. However, this isn't always the case - if, say, your group can't or doesn't get a table, it may be possible to cozy up to a sympathetic organization and share their booth. Try as hard as you can to get a table - this is the time to recruit new members!

It's also a good idea to send a leader around the fair to greet leaders of ally groups. Look out for groups that are related feminism, interfaith, science, and any other themed group that might want to work with you in the future. 

Suggested Walkthrough:

  1. Start during the semester before the fair. This means in the middle of the spring semester/quarter for the fall fair, and during the fall semester for the winter fair. You'll need to determine a few things. What are you planning for the next semester that you can promote? (Speaker, debate, milestone) What have you already done that you want to promote? (A well-attended event, number of members, prestigious award)
    1. Many schools give their incoming class an orientation guidebook which lists campus organizations and activities. If possible, try to get your group in there, with as much information about you as possible. Your university's Admissions department may be in charge of that.
  2. Find and talk to whoever coordinates the activities fair. Usually, they are a part of a Student Activities department, and they can tell you when and where it will be, how long it will last, and what will be (or will not be) provided to groups at the fair. Often, fairs have limited space, so make sure to ask if you can sign up to table, or when you will be able to.
    1. IMPORTANT! Some schools have eligibility requirements to table at the fair, such as being recognized by the student union. You will want to know what these requirements are and how you can meet them.
  3. Within your group, determine 2 to 4 people who will be responsible for planning and coordinating your table. Also ask for people who would be willing to volunteer to table at the event - student availability may be dependent upon the fair's placement within the school calendar. You will want to have 2 to 3 people at the table at all times, but you'll want to rotate out representatives throughout the event.
  4. Determine what materials you want to have at the fair (see above), and what of that you already have. Figure out how you can get what you need, how much it will cost, and how you can get the money for it. Figure out what resources are available from your university - generally, recognized groups have copying privileges, which can be used to make free fliers. Be sure to order tabling supplies from SSA a few weeks ahead of the fair.
  5. Try to get as much of your display ready before the end of the semester - the less you have to put together between move-in and the fair, the easier it will be.
  6. It's important that everyone who will be representing your group at the table goes over these Five Tabling Basics.
  7. Keep in touch over the summer, just so your group members don't forget and make other plans. An email a month is fine (although there's no harm in supporting a thriving freethought discussion over the summer, either!)
  8. At least one week before the fair, get in touch with volunteers and potential volunteers. Schedule and confirm 2 to 4 people to be at the table at all times. They should rotate, tabling one to three hours each. Preferably, before the fair you should prep everyone on what to say about your group, and how to answer common questions. You might even want to create a sheet of talking points to have behind the table.
  9. The day of the fair, set up your display about an hour before people will arrive. Be cognizant of your surroundings - if you're in a bad spot, see if you can shift your table, or if you can orient your display for maximum visibility.
  10. During the fair, be friendly to everyone, even those who aren't interested! Provide those who are with easy ways to get in touch with your group - give them your regular meeting time & location and an email where you can be reached (these should also be on your handouts). Have a sign-up sheet where interested people can leave their names and email addresses, which can later be put on your mailing list. If you're having an event soon, let them know!
    1. If people aren't coming by your booth, an idea might be to have a volunteer hand things out in a populated area.
    2. Check out the SSA's Group Running Guide for more tips on successful tabling
  11. After the fair, pack up and clean up any trash. Some things can be used at later events (banners), whereas others (fliers) are time-specific and should be used before they become irrelevant.
  12. Follow up! Be sure to thank your volunteers and coordinators! Don't forget to add new names to your announcement list and send out a message welcoming them to the group and inviting them to your next meeting or event. Pack your displays and tabling supplies carefully and make sure everyone knows where they're stored so you can find them for the next tabling opportunity!

One of the 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! Email us at organizer@secularstudents.org with your stories and experiences!

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