College starts in just another week or two, if it hasn’t started already. Once time has passed to get everyone settled in and to adjust to the dorms and the new classes, it’s time to start thinking about that first Amnesty International meeting of the year. It’s one of the most important meetings, since it will be the first impression for potential new members, and you want people to be part of your group versus other groups competing for their attention and time (whether related or not). Here’s what you need to do and to think about for that first meeting:
What You Want to Do for the Year
Have some plan for something to do i.e. an event or an issue, but leave it open-ended as well. You want new members to have some say and to feel like they can participate, instead of feeling like they have to do what the group leaders do. However, these are also new, shy, freshmen and sophomores who might want to test the waters and might not have ideas right away. Initially, you don’t want to rely on them entirely for ideas and risk looking like you’re not an organized chapter.
Tip: If you don’t have ideas, then present the possibility of attending your regional conference. The regional conference is an excellent event to create synergy in the group and to engage new members in the issues.
How You Present the Leadership Team
Or, executive committee, or group leaders, or whatever you call them. Presentation of the group leaders as well as the old members is critical, as you don’t want to come across as a clique or as something that isn’t open to everyone. You also want to come across as people interested in doing something about human rights, instead of a group of friends who are meeting to hang out. The latter will just drive away those who actually want to do something and don’t want to take the time to fit in and to play the social game.
Tip: A good way to present the leadership team is to make sure that they are part of the meeting, instead of at the front of the room or all together in one section of the room. This ensure that you folks are a part of the entire team instead of just the decision makers or the one who ultimately choose what issues you work and what events you attend/host.
Introduce Your Chapter and the Organization
Of course, there will be people attending this meeting who don’t know anything about Amnesty International as an organization. They also won’t know anything about your chapter, so you need to be prepared to explain both. This includes knowing the history of the organization, its mission, as well as a bit of history on what your chapter has done in the past (events, issues, even what typically happens at meetings). Most of the people attending may have heard of Amnesty International, or may just be interested in human rights, or may even just be interested in one or two human rights issues. This may seem boring, but it’s necessary because people won’t want to be part of something they don’t know anything about or that doesn’t align with their values or what they want to accomplish.
Preparing for the first meeting of the school year may seem like a lot, but it is the one meeting of the year that will be different from all the others. It’s the pitch to the new members so they return to the next meeting. It’s the meeting that will determine whether or not someone joins your group or decides to be part of a different activist group or in a different extracurricular entirely. It’s not a meeting that you want run extemporaneously.