The beginning of a new semester is the perfect time to be thinking about how to grow and expand your YAL chapter. Maybe you turn out a big crowd of people to a information meeting or a semester kick-off rally, but will they come back? Are they still there at the end of the semester? This is the ultimate test of your effectiveness as a student organization, and here’s what you need to remember.
The Idea: Community
Think about the most successfully organized groups you know. These may be churches, veterans groups, or college fraternities, for example. The common thread that sustains the existence of these groups is that they create an environment which not only enables the purpose of the group, but ultimately fosters social interaction. In other words, people want a place they can make friends and hang out! It’s half the reason you went to college to begin with.
Understanding “community” is vital to the success of your group. It encourages the creativity that occurs when people are comfortable around each other and sharpens ideas on philosophy and rhetorical skills. People build bonds with each other, find other common interests, become friends, and eventually begin to interact outside of the group. I love logging into Facebook and seeing people who are members of my YAL group asking each other which professors to take for a certain class, who wants to meet up for pizza, or where the best trails to go hiking are located. These people will continue to show up for YAL events, if only just to see their friends who they made there! I’m sure they love liberty too.
Consider this idea as “glue” for your YAL chapter as it grows or as “concrete” for its foundation if you’re just starting up. Keep this in mind as your YAL chapter establishes its vision and as you plan ways of expanding and sustaining membership.
The Purpose: Sustainability
Developing the idea of a “community” will ultimately help to sustain the middle section of your group, as new people join and older members graduate and move on. If the community idea is ignored, you run the risk of losing members over time as they find other groups to connect with, leaving only the most hardcore, individualistic types who show up and then immediately leave your events and meetings, like they would for one of their college classes. These chapters eventually die out when the leaders leave. Again, people on your campus are looking for a place to “fit in.” If you don’t make that easy for them, they’ll go somewhere else.
WARNING: Groups that are cliquish and do not interface or invite ideas from other members will not be sustainable. You do not want your leadership team to appear exclusive or privileged.
How: Be Inviting. Be Social.
How would you want to feel coming into a new group? The atmosphere of YAL should always be inviting and your leadership should constantly be aware of this. All of the members, especially leaders, should be expected to make attempts to welcome and interact with new faces in the group, setting the example for other members.
Identify ways to encourage social interaction between members. For example, use some cheap name tags until members become familiar with each other. If you go out to petition, encourage the leadership to pair up with newer members and not just their friends.
Additionally, plan events that are entirely social, such as a cookout or a meet-up at a local pizza joint. Host these types of events often when you have had new members join the chapter. Make certain that these events reflect well the character of YAL and are open to all of your members (e.g. not 21 and up bars). Be moderate with their frequency and make sure that exclusively social events don’t make up the bulk of your activities.
Large-Scale Activism Projects: The Best Way to Build Community
So can you kill two birds? Simultaneously encourage social interaction and engage in political activism? Something that doesn’t involve chairs and goes beyond what you typically do when standing around tabling? A perfect opportunity for this are YAL’s original large-scale activism projects such as:
- Visualize the Debt (over $15 trillion now, time to rearrange those numbers!)
- Choose Charity
- O=W (Obama = Bush)
- Political Philosophy Debates
- And more…!
Don’t forget to have fun! Your group will be most effective in spreading the liberty message when you both enjoy the activity you perform and build strong ties with your group members. Remember, the glue that will hold your group together will be the friendships and community that come with spreading liberty together. Be thinking about how your group will be a place people will want to come back to.Published in