If you read my first post, you know that over the course of this year I’ll be live-blogging the experience of creating a new STAND chapter at the Catholic University of America. Today, I’m going to talk about the all-important first meeting.
To me, setting the agenda and running the meeting were the easy parts. The topics that should be covered at an introductory meeting are fairly straightforward and intuitive: I started by having everyone introduce themselves, and then moved into a 10-minute summary of why STAND exists and how we use smart advocacy to promote genocide prevention. There were administrative items to cover—officer volunteers, choosing a regular meeting time and place, etc.—and then I turned the remainder of the meeting over to the attendees to brainstorm possible events and activities for the year ahead. We wrapped it up within an hour, and everyone left feeling excited and engaged.
As smoothly as the meeting itself went, I was surprised at the number of headaches involved in actually making it happen. The logistics seemed simple enough: pick a time, pick a room, and advertise it as far in advance as possible. But appearances can be deceiving. How could I figure out what time would be best for as many potential attendees as possible when I didn’t yet have a group? The issues of venue and advertising created even bigger challenges. At CUA, only officially recognized student groups are permitted to reserve classrooms or conference rooms for meetings, or post flyers in common areas. At the time, STAND was not yet approved, and the Office of Campus Activities was taking its sweet time replying to my request for recognition. Unless I wanted to indefinitely delay the first meeting, these options were effectively closed.
To overcome these difficulties required some creativity. My residence hall has a fairly spacious and comfortable lobby, so I decided that it would work well as a meeting location until we could reserve “official” space. To choose the time and advertise the meeting, I relied heavily on social media. Over the summer, I had created a Facebook page for CUA STAND; by the beginning of the academic year, the page had accumulated about 100 fans. I used Google Forms to create a quick survey (click here for a tutorial on how to use this excellent tool) asking people to list two or three times that worked best for them, and sent the link to all of the page’s fans. Based on the responses, and after a quick check of the official university calendar to ensure that there would be no conflicting events, I picked a date and time that would (I hoped) ensure maximum attendance. I created a Facebook event (with a promise of free food featured prominently in the event title), and asked all of my friends to promote it heavily as heavily as they could both online and through word of mouth. I also plugged STAND at other student organization meetings and, recognizing that media coverage is the best form of free advertising, convinced our student newspaper to write an article.
These stopgap solutions were by and large highly effective. Turnout at the meeting exceeded my expectations, and the coverage in the student newspaper even prompted a professor to email me out of the blue and offer to serve as our faculty sponsor. Despite some initial challenges, CUA STAND had gotten off to a strong start, but it was just a start. In my next few posts, I’ll talk about some of the grunt work that comes after the first meeting: choosing officers, getting university recognition and sponsorship, and starting to plan out events. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!