You’ve checked out all the societies that the Student Union has to offer, and it doesn’t quite have what you want, or you’ve spotted a gap in the market. Perhaps you desperately want to join a society that takes Beer Pong seriously or one that is dedicated to creating human powered aircraft but alas, such a society does not exist at your university.
However, there is a solution – why not just start one up yourself? You probably already have a good idea of the benefits of joining a society, so imagine how much more you could gain by being part of its committee? Here’s a short guide on how to set out setting up.
Liaise with your student union
Your SU may require a minimum number of people to be interested in your society, as well as a minimum number of people on committee (e.g. Keele’s societies must have at least a President, Treasurer, and Secretary). Inform the SU’s Activities Team on what your society is about, its aims, the sort of events that it will hold and their frequency, and the type of society it is – sports, academic, religious, arts, games, etc. A risk assessment may have to be submitted for some proposed events. Be sure that your society idea doesn’t overlap with that of a pre-existing society, and that the scope of your society is broad enough to appeal to many potential members. For example, a H.P. Lovecraft society may be too narrow (unless you know there’s sufficient interest at your university), instead you could opt for a Horror Fiction society.
The SU might provide some initial funding to get you started, however fundraising and applying for external grants are viable options too.
Assign committee roles
Find a group of people who are equally enthusiastic about starting up the society. This could be amongst your friends and course mates, but you may need to cast a broader net to meet suitable candidates. Once you’ve found your new posse, it’s important to make sure everyone is given a role and clearly understands the responsibilities that come with it. In the first year of a society, it’s unlikely that you’ll have to run an election for committee positions so make sure, from the offset, you assign people a role that suits their strengths.
It may be far in the future, but eventually you will have to consider who will form next year’s committee. Ensure that they know what’s involved in the planning and the time commitment required, and how to put themselves forward for elections.
Organise regular committee meetings
You don’t want to forget about the society once it’s set up, and that’s where meetings come in. They are essential for regular event planning, discussing future social ideas, and keeping tabs on societal activities. Meetings may include discussion through online group chats too, but these are an aid, rather than a substitute, to in-person meetings. Make sure you nominate someone to keep the meeting minutes and relay them to any absent committee members and the SU if needed- this keeps everyone up-to-date.
Regular meetings also foster amenable relationships between your committee members, and this is vital for the times when running a society becomes stressful. Each member deserves to have their opinion heard and respected, but don’t be afraid to challenge an idea if you don’t agree. It applies to society members too, they need an outlet to express issues or suggestions for the society, after all a sustainable society is one that listens to its members.
Promote your society
At first, society promotion is going to be your most vital task, you can’t start running socials if no one’s even heard of your society. The Fresher’s Fair is the first place to do this, where you can set up a stall alongside societies with similar interests. Stalls need to be booked in advance through the SU, especially if there’s a limited number, or if you have special requirements like power sockets or props. Create leaflets with a description and contact details for interested students and keep a selection of freebies handy – there is no such thing as too many free pens.
After the society fair, promotion will be less of a priority as hosting events for new members takes centre stage. You can opt for more low-key promotion at this stage. However, don’t make any assumptions here, not every student uses Facebook, so you still need a good mixture of posters, emails, and social media posts to locate your target audience. Include pictures in posters and online posts to catch people’s attention and keep emails informal and concise. If your committee has no assigned Marketing or Communications officer, you could organise a rota for each committee member to take turns promoting the society.
You’ll also require a dedicated society page on the SU website, but the SU will normally set up the basic template of this for you. Then, it’s up to you to make that page interesting and describe your society, committee members, and the membership fees clearly.
With any luck, and some elbow grease, you will end up with a reasonably successful and popular student society to be proud of, along with some very pleased society members and an extra brownie point for your CV.