On Wednesday Tom Kellogg discussed direction, ownership, and teamwork in Part 2 of “The Roots of Building a Secular Community.” Concluding the three-part series, here he looks at ways to bring people together, activities to pursue, and methods for financing your secular community.
Technology plays an essential role in managing and promoting an organization. A good website is great in that it showcases the group, but it’s not an absolute requirement. Facebook and other social media platforms are also good ways to get the word out, but I personally struggle with social media because I find it to be too “noisy.” Other great tools are Google Groups for creating closed email groups and Google Docs for storing and sharing documents online (similar to Dropbox). These are all excellent tools and should be utilized.
However, the ultimate software tool for organizing events and managing the details (what, when, where, and who will be there) is Meetup.com. In fact, many groups use Meetup exclusively.
With Meetup, the event host or organizer can schedule regular monthly, weekly, and individual events, as mentioned earlier. Events the organizer can schedule include: talks with guest speakers, monthly dinners at a favorite restaurant, regular coffee meetups, weekly luncheons, potluck picnics, book clubs, nature hikes, fun co-ed sports events, family-friendly events, classes on humanist or secular issues, music playing and concerts, visits to museums and art shows, movie nights (including YouTube video viewing), or events with other local groups.
Activism programs can include community service events, such as volunteering at soup kitchens or food banks. Food and necessities baskets can be made with donated items and given to secular charities. Highway cleanups are a good community event. If your area has an “Adopt a Road” program, you could possibly have a permanent highway sign put up with your group’s name on it. (Be sure to schedule cleanups at least twice each year.) Supporting local secular student groups and inviting them to your events is another great way to do community outreach. These activist programs can also lead to publicity and recognition for the group. Activism in support of separation of church and state issues is very important, along with support for LGBTQ and women’s rights issues. Events can be planned around these causes, such as going to rallies and marches as a group.
The most common way to schedule events on Meetup is to have them on a regular day and time of the month, such as a dinner on the third Tuesday at 7:00 pm, or lunch every Thursday at 12:30 pm, or a nature hike on the first Saturday of the month at 10:00 am. Certain regular events may not happen on the same day each month and can be scheduled independently. Individual or one-of-a-kind events can be scheduled as needed.
When an event is posted on Meetup, automatic email reminders are sent out to the members to announce it. Further reminders can go out one week before the event and/or one day before. Do keep in mind that individual members can turn off their email reminders.
Events should be scheduled with as much lead time as possible. Comments and questions about an event can be entered, such as coordinating rides/carpooling. Directions to the location are also entered.
Meetup can also handle credit card and PayPal payments for events that cost money, membership dues, donations, and event ticket sales. A link from your website homepage to your Meetup page (using a big Meetup logo to click on) is essential. It is also possible to create a feed from Meetup to your website for announcing events. Meetup costs around $150 to $175 per year, and one group membership allows for several different Meetup sites.
A Few Other Essentials
Networking with other local groups and national organizations is also essential. Most local secular groups really like to get together with other groups and share events. Getting to know other like-minded people is fun and educational via the exchange of ideas. This can also attract new members since many folks belong to multiple groups.
National secular organizations are important resources—organizations such as the American Humanist Association, American Atheists, Freedom from Religion Foundation, Secular Student Alliance, and the Richard Dawkins Foundation are a few. Attending national and regional conventions is also a good way to learn about the secular world.
Fundraising and donations are important to help keep the group going and growing. Membership dues, which should not be too expensive, are not enough to sustain the organization. Fundraising activities come in many shapes and sizes. A dinner with live entertainment and a silent auction is one way, but make sure to really promote it or not enough people will attend to even cover the costs. Fundraising is a whole other topic, and it is quite challenging.
Soliciting donations requires being bold, persistent, and thick-skinned. Ask for donations at every event, on the website, and on social media. One of the very best ways to get donations is to ask people individually. I have learned to always thank donors several times with emails, phone calls, or a small gift. I have also found that those who have donated recently are the most likely to donate again.
Booths at festivals and fairs are one of the very best ways to network and get the word out about your group. It can also be a lot of fun, and you’ll meet all sorts of interesting people, but it requires work and costs money. Make it a regular annual event at the biggest local events in your area. Make sure to have at least several persons in the booth at all times and do shifts of about two hours or what is comfortable. The more people who want to participate, the better.
Monthly newsletters are a good way to showcase your group and talk about upcoming activities as well as report on past events. Publish local articles and mention the accomplishments of group members. Write about national organizations and events, and expose separation of church and state violations. Write about causes and activism, and about networking with other groups. List contact information.
A newsletter is a lot of work, so don’t let just one person do all of it. Publish it online through an email list or group, such as Google Groups. Some people may still want a paper copy mailed.
The cost of attending events is a major obstacle for many people and can deter them from attending. Going to restaurants or movie theaters can be expensive, so have many events that are free or low-cost, such as doing potlucks or showing videos instead of going to theaters.
Family-friendly events geared specifically toward kids are extremely hard to get going, (unless the entire organization is set up primarily for parents and kids) and these events have the highest failure rate. I know from experience because what happens is that the turnout can be low, and the kids will usually be all different ages so they have a hard time connecting and making friends. The best way we’ve found to include kids in events is to add children’s activities to regular social events.
However, if a dedicated member really knows how kids tick (I don’t), they may be able to get a successful children’s program off the ground. One way to get started is to offer childcare at major events. For older kids and teens, a supervised hangout with cool stuff to do, such as listen to music and play video games, can work well.
Of course there’s more to discuss in terms of starting and building a secular community, but I hope I’ve provided enough to establish some strong roots.