Protips for effective tabling

With the Fall semester in full swing, many new chapters, and chapters looking for greater success, may be wondering, “What can I do to boost my chapter’s membership?” The answer lies in how you recruit. The heart of any recruitment drive is tabling. Effective tabling can mean the difference between no new faces at your next meeting, and ten (or more) new faces at your next meeting. This is a guide to effective tabling strategies, as my chapter (Hamline University) has discovered them.

Table early, table often: the most crucial period for tabling is at the beginning of a semester, especially Fall semester. This is the time when Freshman and transfer students are looking to get involved on campus.

Even if you’re part of a well-established chapter that has been operating on campus for a number of years, you never know whether a new batch of students will contain your next superstar. They could be a future President, Vice President, or Treasurer, so the earlier you catch the attention of students new to your school, the higher the chance YAL will become their first commitment, before they find other orgs to command their free time.

Also, ask your campus activities office about student org fairs at your school. The students who come to these fairs are specifically seeking involvement, so there’s a good chance that at least some of them will sign up.

If possible, try to schedule multiple tabling days each week for the first two weeks of the semester. If you don’t catch the right students on one day, you may catch them on another!

Variety: varying your tabling schedule for different times of the day means a higher chance that new people seeing you table. Most people have set routines, passing through the building you table by during the same time, regularly. Ask your activities office which buildings are available for tabling; varying location, like varying time, increases the chance of reaching students who aren’t yet familiar with YAL.

Get creative: just like in a job interview, presentation matters. Although YAL sends your chapter all it needs to make a pretty table, it’s up to you to decide how enticing your setup will be. Many blog posts on this site document tabling that chapters across the country have done, and of them, many have pictures of their particular table’s setup. Browsing these could provide much-needed inspiration.

Be unique: consider personalizing your table. Even some flair as simple as your school’s bumper sticker on your table’s YAL banner will give fellow students the sense of YAL as a home-grown organization that is ingrained in your campus community.

Also, ask yourself what sort of issues your campus cares most about. Is your campus anti-war, pro-second-amendment, anti-police-brutality, or pro-drug-legalization? The hand-drawn signs my table uses (shown below) are tailored to my campus’s political attitudes.

Don’t know what your campus will respond to? The best way of finding out is greeting passers-by your table with a question, e.g “Do you like Ron Paul?” “Do you want to legalize marijuana?” “Do you like guns?”, etc. Keep track of which questions draw in the most people, and consider making signs asking those same questions for future display. 

Hamline YAL's tabling setup

Follow up: it’s best to have your next meeting within a few days of when you table. Remember to tell any new sign-ups when your next meeting will be. Send a follow-up email to them regarding the meeting time and place. College students have a lot to keep track of, so they may forget if they don’t have this information in writing!

Don’t get discouraged: you may end up with 60 signatures on your clipboard by week’s end, or you may end up with 6. Twelve people may show up to your next meeting, or two. Even if your numbers turn out underwhelming, tabling early, often, and in a variety of locations is free advertising for your chapter–it promotes name recognition. Gaining exposure is a “win” in itself, as it builds your org’s presence on campus.

Just remember, tabling works, and effective tabling works even better.

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