Starting From Scratch
The most important step in organizing a new group is to identify what its mission will be. Groups associated with Americans United do not have to limit their focus to church-state separation. Determine what issues need to be addressed on your campus and in the community. Take some time to brainstorm ideas about what you want your group to accomplish and what types of action those goals will require.
Once you have an idea of the issues your group will address, try to find other students who will help start the organization. First, approach your friends and students who share similar interests with you. You might also take advantage of other student groups' listservs and send out an email recruiting interested students. (Mass recruitment is not necessary at this point; the key is to find students who are committed to starting and potentially leading the organization.)
In addition to student supporters, you may need to find a faculty member to serve as the group's advisor. If you know faculty members who support your organization's cause, approach them first. Even if they decide not to be your group's advisor, they may be able to suggest other faculty members who would be interested in the position.
Write a Constitution
After this core group of organizers has been formed, draft a constitution for the organization. This should be a formal document that details the purpose of the group, membership and voting criteria, duties of officers, election procedures, meeting information, and amendment procedures. An example constitution is attached for your reference.
Apply for Recognition
It is important to be officially recognized by the university or the student governing body that oversees campus organizations so that it is easier for your group to advertise, access university rooms for meetings, and receive funding from designated student funds.
Contact a student government representative or the Student Affairs Office to learn the procedures for being recognized. The process will usually require submitting your group's constitution, an application for recognition, a list of the officers, faculty advisor, and/or students who have pledged to be members.
When your organization gains official recognition, you should contact the Campus Organizer at AU to become an associated campus group (email@example.com). This is a brief process that entails completing a few short forms that will be used to document the issues your organization will address and the types of support you would like from AU. As an associate group, you will have access to AU resources and support.
OK, my group is organized, recognized by my school, and affiliated with AU. Now what?
Organize the First Meeting
At this point, you will be ready to organize your first open meeting. Contact the university office that oversees building reservations and reserve a room large enough for the meeting (well in advance to ensure availability). With the help of the other officers and your faculty advisor, set an agenda and develop a plan for publicity. You will want to advertise the meeting in a variety of ways (table tents, fliers, newspapers, posters, etc.) to reach as many people as possible.
The first meeting is the best opportunity you will have to encourage students to be active in your organization. Since the organization is new to the campus, be sure to explain what your mission is and what members can do to help achieve the group's goals. Inviting a guest speaker to the meeting is an effective way to gain publicity and to get students involved. Be sure to have a sign-in sheet for students to list their name and contact information. Do something to make the meeting fun. Organize an engaging ice breaker at the beginning and have a casual social at the end so potential members can interact.
Plan for the Future
After the first meeting, you will have developed a base of support on campus. It may not be very big at first, but with time it will grow. Your group should now focus on promoting activism and developing campus events to fulfill the organization's mission. You might want to consider co-sponsoring a speaker or debate with an already established group on campus to help build support for your group. You should contact Americans United when questions arise, or if you need help with programming ideas (firstname.lastname@example.org).