Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Campus Group Doing the Small Things Well

My first "atheist" activity was a debate which was co-sponsored by Campus Atheists and Secular Humanists, now Campus Atheists Skeptics and Humanists at the University of Minnesota. Since then, I have tried to go to events when they are interesting and financially supported the group on occasion, because CASH has some great resources available to them that other local atheist groups do not. For example, predictable meeting spaces, easy access to market ideas, a large population of people who may be primed to find an identity and/or make the world a better place, volunteers who can meet more frequently and opportunities for funding and grants which don't exist for non-student groups.

While CASH has tons of benefits available to them, the leadership has gotten off track at times. It can be easy to take all of these benefits for granted, especially getting funding from student service fees which eclipse funding other atheist student groups receive around the country. It can also be easy to fall into the temptation to "phone it in" despite working hard to organize a few larger events during the year, weekly events can be daunting and it is easy to throw another game night or pizza party, week after week, simply because of apathy. Some people are great at being accountable and others need more motivation. This should be a lesson to other student groups: non-students are watching!

Student group leadership changes each year, which I think is a great thing, even though you can be throwing the dice and having to live with whoever was convinced to devote a ton of time to the cause for the next semester or year. Since I've been following CASH, I have seen some great leaders graduate and move on, some not so great leaders thankfully moving on to things they are better suited for. Over this last year, I have seen a better focus on making CASH a great organization, rather than just a group of friends who like to hang out and use student service fees to buy pizza.

Here are the things CASH has done well over the last year:
1. Had regular communication. When CASH wasn't as great, one sign was a lack of communication. Their website or Facebook pages were rarely updated and when they were, it was often the day of the event, or the day before. For someone who isn't on campus, or for people who like to go to interesting events, it's really important to know these things ahead of time. It also shows you care about the events you're planning.
2. Had a variety of events. While I hate on things like South Park night, or game night and prefer discussion and speakers, if you only have one type of event, you'll alienate people who like the other events.
3. Supported the diversity of opinion among atheists. Atheists aren't some unified front with total agreement on every issue, particularly about what role should atheists have in making the world a better place and how to accomplish those goals. If we can't even speak with each other about things we don't agree on, how are we ever to convince non-atheists to support causes we value?
4. Learning lessons at conferences. The Secular Student Alliance holds a number of leadership conferences each year. While some students can use this as an excuse to goof off and skip speakers, CASH's leadership, at least some, got a lot of value from the speakers and talking with other student leaders.
5. Bridging the summer gap. I received an email from Jeff Mondloch at the end of June. That has never, ever happened before and was great to see. In the newsletter, he let people who live in town, or take classes over the summer, that CASH is already planning for next year (awesome) and put out a notice about am interesting non-CASH, but atheist-related event people might like to keep them interested.

From a non-student, but avid supporter of a student group, I'd like to let volunteers of student groups know that communication matters, reaching out to the local, non-campus atheist community can be a great way to get funding, if you need it, meet interesting people with different experiences. Also, know that what you do matters. If you're heart isn't in it, or your priorities are different, work as hard as you are able to, even though you may not be getting paid, because what you do matters. If you can't find that good balance, work hard at grooming someone who can help you or replace what you are doing. If you dread going to another meeting to plan the next event and you try hard to come up with excuses, think about passing the torch. Also, don't be afraid to ask community leaders for help. While non-students can be busy, they may be motivated to support your cause and ease some of your burden.

I know I usually write about things as a rant, but I'm happy to report that CASH is doing well and I look forward to the next year.