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The left has tons of student groups on the typical campus. Conservatives should have just as many -- if not more -- groups to win political battles on campus and beyond. A coalition of conservative groups on campus is a powerful force for change.
But many conservative students have never started a student group from scratch before and have no idea where to begin. This post will give you step-by-step guidance in starting an effective and enduring student group.
Step #1: Choose which kind of non-partisan, conservative group you want to start.
Is there one specific issue you are most passionate about? Or do you have great passion for conservatism in general?
Is there a specific issue where the left is very active and dominating the public conversation and the conservative voice is completely absent or in need of more strength?
Here are some examples of the kinds of groups you can choose to start:
- General conservative (e.g. Campus Reformers, Young Conservatives of (your state), or Young Americans for Freedom, Young Women for America, Network of Enlighted Women)
- General conservative newspaper that does investigative reporting
- Students for Life (pro-life)
- Students for Concealed Carry on Campus (pro-2nd Amendment)
- Collegians for a Constructive Tomorrow (pro-free market environmentalism)
- Love & Fidelity Network, The Anscombe Society, Ruth Institute (pro-marriage)
- Youth for Western Civilization (anti-racial preferences, anti-illegal immigration)
- Students for Academic Freedom (anti-liberal bias and abuse)
- Young Americans for Liberty (pro-free market and individual liberty)
- General conservative student government party
Step #2: Create and write out a mission statement and constitution.
If you want your group to be affiliated with a state or national organization, then your mission statement is the mission statement of that organization.
It is highly recommended that your group name and mission be affiliated with a state or national organization. This affiliation will provide your group with more credibility, institutional resources, networking, and internships/jobs opportunities.
If you don't want your group to be affiliated with any state or national organization, then you will have to write your own mission statement.
Your mission statement should be one sentence that describes the identity and ultimate purpose(s) or aim(s) of the organization. The statement itself should not include what you want the group to do. You should write a separate sentence about or create a separate list of what the group does to try to achieve its aim(s).
Consider carefully the objectives you wish your student group to have.
Good Example of a Mission Statement: "The mission of the Young Conservatives of Louisiana (YCL) at Louisiana State University (LSU) is to change LSU into an institutionally and culturally conservative campus, to increase the number of conservative regents, administrators, faculty, student groups, student leaders and activists, student government officials, alumni, funding allocations, scholarships, campus policies, classes, textbooks, media, speakers, events, programs, and discussions on the LSU campus relative to their liberal counterparts."
"To accomplish this, YCL will recruit and develop conservative student leaders, create and maintain an effective and enduring coalition of conservative student groups, create and maintain a conservative newspaper (hard-copy and online), introduce and permanently establish in the course catalog a for-credit course on Modern American Conservatism, help prepare conservative students professionally and practically to enter academia, use legal threats and action, create and maintain a conservative alumni association, expose and combat liberal biases and abuses (especially through video activism), and campaign for conservative political candidates."
The student group constitution should detail the basic hierarchical structure of the group and the processes by which leaders are chosen and removed and how decisions are made within the group. It should also include your mission statement.
Don't spend much time on the constitution. Contact your Regional Field Coordinator for a template and example of a good constitution!
It is highly recommended that ultimate decision authority be placed in the group leader (president or chairman) and that leadership succession occur through appointment by the current group leader.
Student groups that have one strong leader tend to be the most active and effective. This arrangement works because student groups are volunteer organizations. The group leader will have to work well with others, forge a consensus on decisions, and bend as necessary to motivate and activate other students. Student groups that function by strict democracy are typically weak, ineffective, and not very active.
The appointment process also better ensures that a principled, quality leader can choose another principled, quality leader to assume leadership.
If you have to turn in your constitution to the university administration, do not include specific action items in the copy that you give the university (they should not know your plans).
Step #3: Create a Facebook group and use Facebook effectively to start recruiting and communicating with supporters and members.
Your Facebook group should display your mission statement and personal contact information.
Step #5: Recruit in-person and expand the leadership as early as possible.
Click here for recruitment tips and techniques! Gather the names, emails, and phone numbers of as many supporers as possible.
As early as possible, you will want to identify and recruit at least one other person to be your second-in-command and help you do what needs to be done to get the group off the ground. It is harder but certainly not impossible to get a group started all by yourself.
Look for two crucial leadership qualities in potential officers: 1) enthusiasm for and dedication to the mission of your group and 2) the ability to work well with others.
Step #6: Consider filing for official recognition from the university administration. Do a cost-benefit analysis of the pros and cons.
It is usually in your best interest to jump through the administrative hoops to obtain the privileges of official recognition. These privileges typically include being listed on the university's website, a table in the student organization fair at the beginning of the year or semester, use of on-campus meeting rooms (usually at no expense), access to equipment and technology, and/or tables for tabling.
But in some cases, there may be no significant privileges to being officially recognized or the bureaucratic costs of being recognized (e.g. financial paperwork or getting advisor signature for everything) or of going through the process may be too high.
Most colleges and universities require student organizations to have a faculty or staff advisor in order to receive official recognition and all the benefits that come with it.
Click here to learn how to find a conservative advisor and the traits of a good advisor!
Step #7: Create and write out a tentative plan of action on a timeline for the semester or school year.
Make a note of all important dates from the academic and athletic calendar of the university as well as any anniversaries, special days, or holidays that have political significance for your group or your group's opposition.
Check out CampusReform.org's activism guide for the fall or spring semester!
Ask your Regional Field Coordinator for a template and good example of a plan of action timeline!
You will share this plan of action timeline with your supporters at your first meeting.
Step #8: Host your first meeting!
Make full use of Facebook, email, and phone numbers to get as many people as possible to this first meeting.
The very first meeting should be a mass meeting of supporters. This meeting is very important. It is an opportunity to turn supporters into dedicated and active members from the very beginning.
Dedicate a significant amount of time to getting to know personally everyone who shows up to the first meeting and allowing them to get to know each other. Find out what motivates them and how they can valuably contribute to your group.
Make a good first impression as the group leader. Be enthusiastic, organized, and inspiring. Lay out your vision for the group in terms of principles and plan of action for the semester or school year.
Getting to know and developing a working relationship or friendship with supporters is your priority, but if possible, use this first meeting to also brainstorm and plan out your first activism.
Click here for guidance on how to run effective meetings!
Step #9: Do your first activism!
Use this first activism to publicize your new group to the entire campus community, identify more supporters, and demonstrate your success to potential donors.
Do something very low-cost but attention-grabbing. Ideally, after this activism, everyone on campus will know that your group now exists and what you stand for.
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