nuts-and-bolts for organizing
Posted: 18 July 2006 07:35 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I attended the Student Leadership Conference, July 14-16 (which was held in conjunction with a CFI Community Leadership conference). I really enjoyed the opportunity to get to know some other students and community members around the country and the world.

But I must admit that I was a little disappointed that the Sunday morning schedule turned out the way it did. I think that DJ and others were repeating material that had been well-covered on Saturday. Even on Saturday, much of the information was repetitive for me, as I’m sure it was for people in some of the established groups who attended. The first time it was presented, I understood completely because there were many in attendance who had only recently gotten involved; that was evidenced by some of the comments or questions that were raised. But even persons who had just learned of CFI would have benefited from
[list:023598aa4d](1) opportunities to connect in sit-down sessions with community members in their area, and
(2) a chance to sit down for real sessions with other student organizers to talk about nuts-and-bolts issues of starting a group, doing events, etc.[/list:u:023598aa4d]

I’d like to hear more about (2) above. Particularly, tell me about getting your group started and what you’re planning to do to keep the momentum up.

Thanks!  smile

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Posted: 18 July 2006 12:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I was also at the conference. I think it was a fantastic idea and CFI was extremely generous in getting us all there and feeding us. But you are right, it could have been better and it was definitely not designed for already established groups. But hopefully we are able to find each other through this forum!

Let’s see if I can answer some of question 2.

I initially started an atheist discussion group known as the Trinity College Atheist Society. We just sat around, ate chips, drank coke and talked a lot. Through that, I met a few influencial people and we created the Toronto Secular Alliance. We spent a summer writing our mandate and constitution and figuring out what we wanted to do. If anyone needs a sample of a mandate (http://secular.sa.utoronto.ca/mandate.htm) or a constitution (http://secular.sa.utoronto.ca/constitution.htm) feel free to use ours as a template, it has worked well for us.

We decided to start our club with a big bang and ambitiously launched ourselves with a giant movie screening. We were the first group to show the movie “The God Who Wasn’t There” in Canada and we had the director there by webcam to answer questions as well as a full panel discussion group including several priests. That got our initial group of members.

We then went to Frosh week. I’m sure many universities have a club day, so make sure you get a booth out there, it’s amazing how many people you can get through that.

In order to keep the momentum going, we have continued to run a variety of events. Lecture series, movie nights, pub nights, anything, just keep people together and talking. I strongly suggest a Winter Solstice party or some Darwin Day fun.

Hmm, maybe I’ll stop talking now. But feel free to ask any questions. Our group has been extremely successful in a lot of areas but we have also had our failtures. Hopefully I can help some groups avoid those and maybe give some worthy advice.

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Posted: 18 July 2006 06:04 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Hey Gavin, I got the same impression from the conference and did hope for a faster pace and more specific information or at least a few suggestions on where to begin, what to focus upon, and how to best attract people to a CFI community. Some of this was hinted upon throughout the week, but there was nothing really solid at any point. Most of the specific details and suggestions came from the comments/questions of others.

The only rationalization I came up with was the problem of the “learning curve”: the fact that there were many different levels of progress between groups.  However, at the same time this could have been a great opportunity to toss organizational ideas around the room.

I have yet another complaint. We all understand the fact that CFI wants people to become “Friends of the Center.” I seem to recall this being mentioned at least 3 times with thorough explanations each time. This was also brought up toward the end of the convention and I was really getting the impression of being begged for money.

Of course, CFI graciously paid much more than $60 to bring me to the convention, but they should really work on not making the “friendship” pledge thing sound so desperate. I’m all about actions speaking louder words. If more time was spent on truly helpful information and ways about how to tap into the CFI resources, we would be much more inclined to invest our time and money. I have finally signed up with CFI, but I do so without any ideas on how I can help promoting science and reason in my own community.

Thank you for your guidance and examples, Jennie. I’ll be sure to look them over more closely very soon.


-Miguel

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Posted: 19 July 2006 07:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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It does seem daunting at first - there’s so much to do and in a sense we are trying to make something though we have almost nothing.

Here is one thing that you can do thats could have huge impact: arrange for a debate on campus.

Here is what you need to do:

Ask for permission (if needed) to start a CFI on Campus group or whatever the regulations require.  Place an listing (probably free) in the student newspaper seeking others to join.

Identify the venue such as an auditorium on campus that you can use for free.  Most schools have this. 

If you need a faculty member as a sponsor, identify that faculty member.  The science department may be a good place to start.

Decide on a topic for a debate: Does God Exist? is excellent.

Find an opponent.  You might contact a Christian campus organization for a debate opponent.  This might be the toughest part of the process.

Contact CFI for a debater such as Ed Tabash.  He loves to do this.

Promote the event with posters on campus and articles in the student newspaper and radio.  Send notices and call local media.  Professors may also ask students to attend if this is related to a philosophy course they teach.

Have the event.

Hundreds will show up if the students live on campus.  If it’s a commuter campus, this must be done during the day when students have free time between classes.

Done.

You have no idea how enlightening this debate is to persons who have never heard anything remotely like this.  Do this once a year and you’re good.

Now if a debate cannot be done, there are other options such as science based events such as Darwin Day or .  The process is similar except that a different kind of speaker is needed.  Once again you can contact CFI or try NCSE.

Gerry Dantone
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>>I have finally signed up with CFI, but I do so without any ideas on how I can help promoting science and reason in my own community.

Thank you for your guidance and examples, Jennie. I’ll be sure to look them over more closely very soon.

-Miguel<<

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Posted: 19 July 2006 03:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Thank you, Gerry, for your very straightforward suggestions and approach. However, I do have a few stumbling blocks including the fact that I am no longer directly connected to the university. I will attempt to make contacts within the university, but my ability to do so will be dampened by my current status.

As of this moment, I am completely alone in my community as far as willing manpower is concerned although I do sense potential - especially the aspect of getting help from local democrats in discussing “religion in politics” in public forums. There are also many people who are “non-religious” that might enjoy our meetings.

Any initial comments/suggestions from this starting point? I’m swamped at work for the next couple of weeks but plan to dig through the CFI handbook procedures for clues on help and legalities for starting a community.

Here’s a few of my current thoughts:
1) Spend $20 setting up a pair of meetups - One for CFI and one for a somewhat related group that seems popular in the area.

2) Go around posting CFI flyers all over town. Ask the campus about posting and hope to get a few students involved in the meetups. ASAP: Encourage students to find faculty support and petition for organizational status at the local university(ies).

3) After the first couple meetings, go through the process of obtaining community status. Get local CFI web page, contact community calendars and newspapers for meeting announcements, and try to contact any “friends” in the area to invite them to meetings.

4) Connect, encourage, and possibly collaborate with local organizations who share common goals/ideals with CFI

5) Grow.. Grow.. keep everyone motivated, talking.. and Grow!

There are lots of details to flesh out.. including the question of when we’ll begin charging admission to the meetings (as per CFI’s suggestion).

Further comments, suggestions, and advice would definitely be appreciated. Oh.. and thanks again for your ideas thus far. You’ve all been extremely helpful.

-Miguel

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Posted: 19 July 2006 10:04 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Excellent discussion here, folks. I hope we can get the ear of someone at CFI Central to help out ...

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Posted: 20 July 2006 03:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Great discussion here, much like the 3 hours total of group discussion we had Sunday morning and the discussions on Saturday when student leaders shared their experiences and concerns with one another—we have a combined level of experience and expertise such that every CFI campus group should be able to put on major outreach events in the coming year. 

We’ll take the constructive criticism to heart: as we have more of these events in the future, we’ll be able to rely on more experienced groups who have been working closely with CFI and are able to “mentor” the newer CFI campus groups. And of course, we’ll try very hard to encourage everyone to avoid the “Mensa effect.” We’ll be able to expand on the sessions we put on during last weekend—the sessions on putting on events, PR, activism, and the like. I know that not all students were able to attend all the sessions (late nights out on the town sometime get the best of us) but all the sessions were recorded and will be made available in the months ahead.

There is a technology to campus organizing; there are effective strategies and less effective strategies. While the resources CFI makes available are considerable, there is a lot of flexibility when it comes to specifics (so CFI campus groups and leaders can tweak the particulars as it suits them). Ideally, CFI campus groups will be able to avoid “re-inventing the wheel.”

For specifics about organizing events, go to http://www.campusfreethought.org/lectures.htm—it details how to work with CFI to bring an event to your campus. Much of this was covered last weekend on the session on putting on events. (Akaro: You may not have attended this CFI On Campus session, choosing to attend the meetings for CFI Community Leaders instead.)  There are other resources under “group leaders” as well.

As was emphasized time and again this weekend (repitition is the greatest form of emphasis) putting on a major CFI event at your school is the single most effective way to attract student and faculty support. And the new Campaign for Free Inquiry, also detailed this weekend, is a perfect way to accomplish this. Be on the lookout in the weeks ahead for how you can bring the Campaign for Free Inquiry to your school.

Regarding becoming Friends of the Center, I am gratified that the majority of students in attendance for the weekend paid the $20.00 to join CFI.

PS. Akaro: Your flight from Nebraska was $357.10 and we also picked up the hotel stay and your meals during the weekend. It was a pleasure to have you attend, and I look forward to your future involvement as we work together to advance science and reason in your neck of the woods, using the resources detailed last weekend on event management, PR, activism, etc., etc.

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Posted: 20 July 2006 03:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Hi Miguel - I would like to reply to some of your criticisms, if I could…

Of course, CFI graciously paid much more than $60 to bring me to the convention, but they should really work on not making the “friendship” pledge thing sound so desperate.

In fact, we paid over $450 in airfare and lodging for you to attend.  We spent an extraordinary amount of money providing free travel and lodging for over 60 students.  With regard to your comments about becoming friends of the center and our financial appeals during the weekend, I can only say that if you think it is possible to run a non-profit, providing only “actions” and financial assistance to others, and never ask for money, you are sorely mistaken…  While the “ask” is annoying to many (especially students who (1) have little money and (2) don’t have a strong grasp of the financial straits nonprofits are in), it is that very practice which made it possible for you and others to come to the conference.  I’d just ask that you realize that the resources you’d like to “tap into” come from donors, who were, at some point, asked for money.

We tried hard to make the conference as informational and helpful as possible, so when you say that you left with no idea how to become active in your community, it implies that nothing was accomplished at the conference, which I think many people would disagree with.  I find it difficult to believe, given the overwhelming positive feedback we’ve received from many student and community leaders, that you got next to nothing out of the conference, which included 3 days of seminars, workshops, speeches, discussions, and unfortunately the ever-tiring THREE “friend of the center” appeals.  Your criticisms are appreciated, and will certainly be taken into account, but I hope you will understand where your reasoning is a bit unfair.

Colin
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Posted: 20 July 2006 06:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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suggest some direction for this thread

I think Miguel’s point about the $60 was that the expenses paid for most students were much greater than the annual fee a Friend of the Center pays. Hence, I interpreted it to mean that CFI spent a lot of money and so it was understandable that they encourage attendees to be generous, too. I didn’t see it as a complaint but as an acknowledgement of the investment CFI made in all those who attended.

If I had the ability to choose the direction of this thread, I’d like to hear more notes from the field. Jennie and Miguel both give great ideas. And DJ mentioned the site about lectures and debates which was also helpful. And if you’re trying to start a group, you can ask for support or suggestions here.

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Posted: 09 September 2006 05:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I am in the process of starting up an organization at the University of Texas at Arlington.

We’ve had 2 meetings so far, with over 30 members showing up. I’ve found Facebook extremely helpful in generating initial student interest.  I sent over 2,000 invites to the group in search for interested parties.  I started the group by myself, but within 2 weeks had people jumping in to help in any way, all through facebook contact.

What I also found helpful was that I have not made any major decisions without input from everyone else, usually by voting.  When people are involved in the decision-making, they are more invested.

Also, we pick a topic before each meeting for an open discussion.  Once we get the business-y stuff over with, the “meeting” is adjourned and the open discussion begins.  Having the chance to voice our opinons and really discuss topics of interest seems to be a great way in getting people to come to the meetings.  We plan to eventually start organizing events and such, but are taking things slowly, at first, to secure the organization and define our goals as we go.


Hope this can be of some use to those in the beginning stages of a campus group!

-Becky
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http://www.freethinkersofuta.org

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Posted: 02 December 2006 03:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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How to Attract a Faculty Advisor

I am normally a very assertive person who knows her mind and isn’t afraid to share her thoughts.  But I have to admit I feel afraid to engage in atheistic conversation with a professor about helping to start a CFI club. I’ve put out several “feeler” conversations that have been diplomatically redirected.  I have had several conversations with other students about religion and atheism where I clearly state my position for secularism.  Mostly, the student responses have been chilly.  I live in a fairly split liberal/conservative part of the world (San Diego, CA)  I have got the email packet from CFI and I know the protocol involved in starting an organization.  I am a junior and this is my first semester at my university since I am a transfer student.  However, I am an adult re-entering into full-time college status, and I realize how extremely difficult it is to play the political game of getting reccomendations for graduate school, or for getting a real job.  I am not normally a coward, but I can relate to the gay and lesbian fear because I feel as though I will be socially and professionally ostricized for “coming out” as an atheist.  In the professional world, I suspect I have suffered before for not espousing a belief in “god.”  How am I to avoid martyrdom and still assert my beliefs? :?:  Is diplomacy allowed in atheistic discourse?

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Posted: 03 December 2006 10:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Re: How to Attract a Faculty Advisor

[quote author=“jemsupercharge”] How am I to avoid martyrdom and still assert my beliefs? :?:  Is diplomacy allowed in atheistic discourse?

Diplomacy is required for any sort of group undertaking, but in this case, the problem sounds more like perception than diplomacy.

If you feel people are reacting negatively to an atheist group, you can place the emphasis on humanism or, better still for a school campus, scientific inquiry.  Do the students you speak with think that it’s proper for a religion to prevent any medical research that offends it?  For a chuch to require biology to be reduced to a matter of opinion, with the side with the most votes getting to decide what really happened?

As long as you’re careful to not come across as agressively anti-religion these sorts of questions should be a good way to get a conversation started with both students and faculty.

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Posted: 04 December 2006 04:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Re: How to Attract a Faculty Advisor

As long as you’re careful to not come across as agressively anti-religion these sorts of questions should be a good way to get a conversation started with both students and faculty.

Excellent point, thank you.  Passion for a sensitive subject can come off as aggressive, so I’ll be sure to monitor myself, and that will probably help to get more willing discourse.

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Posted: 08 December 2006 08:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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First Semester

Well, I have to admit, the easiest part of getting my group started was finding an advisor-which I heard to be the most difficult. My Major World Religions Professor, Dr. Schoenig was more than willing to help out with that. I went straight to the philosophy dept on finding my sponsor so that is always a good place to start.

Also, I got the attention of most students at our Club Extravaganza event during the first week of school by using humor: “Yes we have morals; No we don’t eat kittens.” People smiled and weren’t afraid to approach us since we didn’t attack religion or xianity which is what dominates our campus as far as representation here in San Antonio, TX.

Getting the message that we weren’t against religous people and their beliefs but welcomed them was the best surprising factor we could hope for. That alone led people to wonder about what we were doing as a group. Asking questions and promoting dialog between different beliefs and a lack thereof was our main goal this semester.

You can bet next semester, as I have taken a position in the Student Government as well, I plan to put my atheist group where we will be more visible in our demand for our civil liberties as non-religous persons. I plan to hold a Dawin Day event as well as an open forum for an atheist and a xian to discuss their views, not so much a debate.

It was a great semester and I recommend having a meeting once a week when you first start off to let students know there is something going on regularly. We got about an average of 20 persons attending our weekly meetings with 25 plus attending small events such as pizza and an Exvolution lecture from a geology professor. It helps to know your faculty and be open to others views though they are not yours. Respect is one key thing to remember and we corrected students when a generalization came up or a clarification was needed on a seemingly offended remark. Keeping the discussion focused to the topic helps a great deal and we were always complimented on how active a discussion gets at times yet everyone still leaves the meeting in good spirits and with more knowledge about who we are as atheists, freethinkers and agnostics. ^_^

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Posted: 08 December 2006 09:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Excellent! Sounds like you’re doing a great job.

:D

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Posted: 08 February 2007 09:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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[quote author=“Gerry D”]It does seem daunting at first - there’s so much to do and in a sense we are trying to make something though we have almost nothing.

Here is one thing that you can do thats could have huge impact: arrange for a debate on campus.

That’s the WORST way to introduce yourself to the community you’re trying to reach out to… Arranging for a display of high f’lutin gibber-gabber between yourselves and a group of diametrically opposing views? Far too antagonistic, and only an exercise in vanity. Debates are delicate things, and should be reserved for later.

 

[quote author=“Gerry D”]Decide on a topic for a debate: Does God Exist? is excellent.

Find an opponent.  You might contact a Christian campus organization for a debate opponent.  This might be the toughest part of the process.

Contact CFI for a debater such as Ed Tabash.  He loves to do this.

Find an opponent? Psh, how about trying as your first activity a LESS ANTAGONISTIC method of seeking out allies. The most such an event—given its timing relative to your groups creation—will yield is a weeks worth of gossip, perhaps a 5% or less increase in membership, and probably a 25%+ increase in staunch[er] opposition.

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