The Course of Reason

What do you have planned to kick off the year?

August 21, 2014

I asked three leaders of CFI On Campus affiliate groups—Max Nielson of the Secular Student Alliance at the College of Charleston, Aaron Friel of University of Northern Iowa Freethinkers and Inquirers, and Max McKittrick of the Illini Secular Student Alliance—to tell me what their organizations had planned for the start of the semester. Read what they had to say, and think about what your student group is doing to kick off the year. (Oh, and utilize their ideas all you want—the best events have usually been inspired by something another group did first!)

Max Nielson shares what his group has in store:

The Secular Student Alliance at the College of Charleston will be kicking off our year’s events by tabling at our campus organization fair this weekend. The following week we will table regularly in the center of campus, and hold our first meeting that Wednesday. The weekend after we plan on taking a trip to the beach, followed by a party.

Aaron Friel has lots of good advice to share about how to be ready for the start of the school year:

For a student group, hitting the ground running at the beginning of the year is second in importance only to not dying at the end of the year from a bad transition. It’s a little too late to write about the most important thing, so let me talk about what we do at the University of Northern Iowa Freethinkers & Inquirers (UNIFI). We start off planning our recruitment events early in the summer, focusing on recruitment, sketching out event ideas, and ensuring we’ve reserved the venues well in advance.

Details can come later, and I know from experience that when you do last minute details planning, it can be hectic. The sooner you can have real, in-person meetings, the better. I know that for a lot of you that will be difficult; for me, almost all of the UNIFI officers left town. Whether by Skype or Google Hangout, video chats and co-editing documents, such as with Google Docs, are invaluable for working out details with other officers. We work out our membership plan first. If you don’t have a membership plan, now is a good time to start.

To put that plan together and keep it going, we have an officer position dedicated just to recruitment and retention. The Director of Membership’s job is to ensure our events aren’t losing members, and to come up with creative new ideas to attract students to join. We table at every orientation and student org fair we’re able to, and those sign-ups are given to our membership director. She’s done an amazing job this year with a full timeline for reaching out and even a spreadsheet or two to ensure that we haven’t missed a single sign-up. That membership plan is our beginning of the year bible.

With that plan in place, we have to plan a recruitment event. Our event is Progressive Picnic, a fair-style event outside with food, music, and games. We table for the duration, three hours, with just six other student organizations. Big tent recruitment events – events that include like-minded student organizations – allow students to shop around for the student org that best fits them. This is easily the single biggest recruitment event for UNIFI, and it works out far better for us than campus-wide “student org fairs”, where we have to compete for attention with monied groups that can afford endless free food, among other gimmicks. With that membership plan and early event in mind, we enter the late summer, when real planning starts. We try to have our first officer meeting as soon as possible to plan out the rest of the year. Similar to what I’ve heard other secular student organizations do, we try to balance four key types of event throughout the year: education, service, activism, and community. At this meeting we go through the year, week by week, and decide what type of event we will do that week. Our Director of Activities’ job is then to ensure that at our regular officer meetings, we’re not just focused on what’s happening now, but that we haven’t forgotten about the activism event we planned in two weeks.

Juggling these details through the school year is difficult, and I know as much as anyone else that it’s easy to slack off on events when you’re busy. For UNIFI, burnout before and after Darwin Week really affects us. By planning events, or even just event types in advance, we can ensure that near those critical times like finals, we’ve scheduled easier to run social events like a game night or movie discussion. At the same time, we won’t have a saturation of social events during the semester just because we’re lazy. Scheduling our events saves our sanity, and our grades.

The key take-away here is that sometimes doing a little work saves you a lot. Event planning during the summer can be a hassle, and hard to organize, but it pays off in spades throughout the rest of your year.” - Aaron Friel, President, UNI Freethinkers & Inquirers

Max McKittrick shared with me his group’s plan for the whole semester (take notes—this is the type of long-term planning that all groups should be doing!) Some of their events include Quad Day, a cookout, and participating in International Blasphemy Rights Day, but seriously, it’s worth it to read over the whole outline. 

Does your group have something cool planned to kick off the year? Do you have any planning tips to share with other groups? Share them with the CFI On Campus team at and we’ll post it on the blog!



About the Author: Stef McGraw

Stef McGraw's photo
Stef McGraw is a Campus and Community Organizer at the Center for Inquiry. She has degrees in philosophy and Spanish from the University of Northern Iowa, where she first got involved in the freethought movement through the University of Northern Iowa Freethinkers and Inquirers




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