Special thanks to Cole Morgan for putting this together. Cole has been a key organizer of many successful meetup groups in the Kansas City Metro Area (Kansas City, MO and Kansas City, KS)
1. Always remember this should be a fun experience and keep it fun. For me this has been the key to our groups.
2. Decide what kind of group you want to start. I emphasize ‘start with’ because this might change and likely it will with some experimenting. Do you want a social group, topics, speakers, educational or a combination? I help organize 12 meetup groups and each have their own category. It took a lot of experimenting with some groups and others have remained the same as their beginning.
3. Go to Meetup.com. Here you can buy a site at $72 for six months. With this you get two other groups if you decide to have separate meetups in your area. Or you could contact firstname.lastname@example.org and see if there are other people who are trying to start a meetup group as well and see if you can split the cost amongst each other.
4. What age group are you aiming for? My advice in the beginning is to include all ages. At the start ask everyone what they would like to see from this group. Welcome all suggestions. Remember, at no extra charge, meetup.com gives you two other groups. You can divide this as members talk about the possibilities of what kind of groups are needed in you area.
5. What will you name it? This can be tricky. This will depend on your demographics and how much in-the-face you want to advertise. Think about what is catchy to attract people who are surfing meetup.com. For example our successful KC Midtown FreeThinkers meetup (a social group) leads a lot of people to our other groups because they are curious about the word “FreeThinkers” even though it is obvious once you read the site we are a group of nonreligious people. Examples of other words instead of atheist or atheism (although we do encourage you to use atheist/atheism to help change the face of the word): Secular, Humanist, Free thought, Enlightened, or Bright(s).
6. What day(s) and time(s) of the month will you meet? We have success keeping the day (Saturday, Friday, Tuesday) always the same. Example: 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th Saturday of the month. This will also make it easier on down the line if you choose to use one or two of your other free groups. With our most successful group, Midwest Skeptics Society, four years ago we would meet once a month. When I moved it to every Saturday our membership went up. I think this was because I promoted it this way: ”You can always count on every Saturday something is happening for atheists.” Keeping a rhythm will help. 7pm works for us, but you will have to experiment with this.
7. Location. This is very important and it will depend on what kind of group you create. If it’s social then a fun place(s) will be a place to start. If it is more about topics/speakers I suggest you find one good spot the works -this also will require experimenting. Remember you are looking for free. There may be a trade off with an establishment like purchasing a certain amount of beverage/food if it is arestaurant/coffee shop. Libraries, schools or other state/city facilities may be an option. Remember keeping the day of the month, time, and the same location in the beginning will help.
8. Promotion: How will you promote your group? GET THE WORD OUT! Meetup.com, facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Tumblr, reddit.com, newspaper, radio, tv, street corners, fliers on cars – whatever you can think about is not wasted time. If it doesn’t work, move on, but don’t quit. Always look for the cheapest or FREE avenues for promotion. Coffee shops have bulletin boards for ads and papering people’s cars in public parking lots is a great way to advertise as well. Use catchy titles that will get their attention to want to read the information and put in on bright or neon colored paper so they can’t miss it. For example, we put up a billboard in 2008 for two months when that type of advertising began to be popular. It helped a lot. It wasn’t easy, but we stuck with it until it happened. Everything I have listed to promote your group we have done through the past 4 years. NETWORK: Make as many friends as possible in the media, make friends everywhere! The Topeka, Kansas group started by placing an ad in the newspaper and now they are VERY successful -a fun group of people who also put up a billboard. Contact Voss Visuals for help in any PR, marketing, printed material, and web strategy needs. They are THE design and printing resource for the atheist community nationwide.
A couple of helpful tips:
If there are other groups in your area like yours, or similar, contact them. Ask how they started their group(s). Promote their group and ask them to promote yours. If they are not friendly leave it alone and work on the friendship later when you are growing. Always be friendly to them, it will pay off.
Don’t give up. I know I have mentioned experimenting a few times, but that is what it is all about. If you really want this to work you can’t give up if one part of it is not working. You have to keep trying. This is for a very good cause or you wouldn’t be thinking about it.
Keep it simple. If you try to get too many opinions on down the line it will get confusing. If you try to create a board in the beginning it may make things difficult. Take charge and make things happen, but always keep the members in mind.
HAVE FUN! This is what it is all about. If you don’t think this can be fun, then don’t even think about starting a group. Groups can be very demanding and it has been for me, but as a whole I have kept it fun. I am not sorry for one minute I have put into these groups. This is my love. It is time for atheists/agnostics/humanists/skeptics to stand tall and be heard and make a community for all of us. Stay strong and good luck to you all.