"The simple fact is that God certainly intended to create a human being and that this nascent human being has been deliberately deprived of his life. And that is nothing but murder." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics, 1955.
Presented herein is a compilation of a variety of suggestions for programs that can be carried out by college right-to-life groups. Of course, other types of pro-life groups may find some of these ideas useful, but these ideas are addressed first and foremost to those on college campuses. Many of these ideas have been tried and found successful by college groups. In addition to brief descriptions of the program ideas I have tried to include comments on the utility of these suggestions.
This listing cannot be exhaustive. There are plenty of fresh, new ideas to be discovered. If you can't find an idea that strikes your fancy, get together with several of your group's members and have a brain-storming session. Something new is bound to come up. But it may first help to look over what others have done before you.
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"The life of every human being is sacred as the creation of God, and is of infinite value because he created each person including the unborn child." - Mother Teresa of Calcutta, India.
The following ideas are primarily concerned with building up the number of folks in your group, and keeping them active.
As in any small campus organization, membership is a fundamental responsibility of your officers. They must devote time and effort to getting new people involved in your college right-to-life group, and they must also give some thought to their own replacements. Who will take over when they graduate? Remember that college groups have a complete turn-over in membership every four years meaning that they will die off unless new members are sought out.
The president has the responsibility to see that this does not happen, but it also should be a concern of all the other members. Students should encourage their friends to join. All prospective members should be welcomed in a friendly manner - never discourage any interested person. And there should be several events each year aimed at gaining new members. In addition, the officers should pay some attention to encouraging the more active and interested new members to run for offices in the group. Generally, an active group gets the new members, and reciprocally, more members create a vital and busy group, so plan away!
Freshmen. Freshmen are your best bet for new members. They are generally highly enthusiastic, and at the beginning of the school year they have not yet committed themselves to any organization. Open to new experiences - and with fewer prejudices against the pro-life movement - they are eager to get involved. They are literally looking for you, but they won't join your group unless specifically invited. You must encourage them.
The Group Brochure. Your group can design a brochure specifically aimed at gaining new members. It should briefly tell people what your group is all about - give a short statement of purpose. List some of your more interesting activities. Take an upbeat approach. Don't disclaim or preach. The brochure is meant to attract interest in your group, so take care to emphasize your positive aspects. Marches, good will efforts, speakers, parties, and fund-raisers for charities generally make favorable impressions. It should list a couple of students' names and telephone numbers as contacts. Above all, it should contain an invitation to your first meeting of the school year.
The First Meeting. That first meeting, by the way, should include a discussion of an interesting topic, with an interesting speaker, and plenty of time to socialize afterwards. Food and drinks will make things more relaxed and invite new folks to feel at home. Usually, it will be necessary for the president to have a short speech prepared to explain the purpose of the group and whip up enthusiasm. One or two of those present for the first time will probably run you through the gamut of questions about where you stand in regard to contraception, rape, capital punishment.... Answer the questions truthfully and directly with brief explanations of why you take a particular position.
Don't forget to get everyone's name, address and phone number; a person who puts his name down on your list begins to feel involved. This may be the proper time to get new and old members to fill out membership forms, interest surveys, hand out membership cards, and collect dues if your group does these things (see below). Sign them up and keep them involved. Remember, it is important that your group strive to make a positive first impression.
Before The Semester Begins. It may be possible to contact freshmen before they arrive on campus. Remember the reams of information you were sent by the school after you were accepted? Check with your school's Office of Admissions to see if they will allow your group to put an invitation to your first meeting of the year in one of their mailings. You can even offer to stuff the envelopes for them. Or they may let you have a list of addresses; sending out your own letters can be expensive, but it is sure to get results.
Orientation Materials. Your Office of Student Activities will also be providing new students with some type of orientation materials. Make sure they have lots of your group's brochures to include with their regular materials, and that they are aware of the time and place of your first meeting, as well as the name of a person in your group to contact for more information. Make it a phone that answers, one with people to take down names and phone numbers.
Note:You should also make sure that any packets of information given to freshmen include a list of phone numbers to call for help with problem pregnancies - phone numbers of groups such as Birthright or your local Crisis Pregnancy Center. This is one of the most important things your group can do, not that you will gain any members from it, but it may be the difference between life and death by abortion for dozens of unborn children.
Campus Ministers. Your campus ministers can also be of great help in contacting incoming freshmen. Sometimes they too send out information to freshmen before the school year begins, and you can get them to let you enclose a brochure of your own in their mailings. Also, they frequently have their own weekly bulletin, and will be happy to put a notice in it for you if you ask them. Talk to them - they are usually among the most helpful people on campus.
The Freshman Orientation Fair. Our school, Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has an "Activities Fair" at the beginning of the Fall semester. At the Fair, each campus organization sets up an information table and tries to recruit new members. If your campus has a similar event be sure that your group makes a good showing. Freshmen are shy, in general, so have plenty of friendly and talkative people at your table. You may have to do almost all the talking, but be warm and outgoing, and smile, smile, smile!
This is a great opportunity to show off your group. A slide show or photo album of your past activities would be a nice touch. Select some of your best pieces of literature to hand out, being sure to include a written invitation to your next meeting or event (which shouldn't be more than two weeks away if you wish to keep people interested in your group - which you do), and be sure to get the name and address of anyone interested in the purposes of your group. Other possibilities for your group's table include displaying fetal models (borrowed from a local pro-life group) or showing video cassette tapes of pro-life movies such as The Silent Scream. You should be aware that the planning for any event like this will probably be done during the previous semester, so your group will have to think ahead if they want to be sure to be included.
Pro-Life Legacies. The adult members of the regular pro-life groups in your area may have sons or daughters that go to your school. Get their groups to put a notice in their mailings to their membership asking them to tell their sons and daughters about your group.
Younger brothers and sisters of group members are a legacy which you should not overlook. Be careful though. Younger siblings often resent being called "so-and-so's little brother" or "so-and-so's kid sister." Try to make them welcome in their own right.
Most of your new members will come from among the freshman class. Our group started out as nearly half freshmen. Don't neglect older students, though.
Upperclassmen. Many will come to your group because their friends bring them. Group members should feel free to invite their friends to meetings, trips to Washington, D.C., work sessions, and other activities, especially your group's parties. When prospective new members meet your group in a relaxed, informal atmosphere they can begin to see that pro-lifers aren't at all stodgy and rigid old nannies. You are ordinary folks, good ordinary people, and new members should have a chance to get to know you personally.
I recommend that every college right-to-life group have at least two strictly social events per year. Parties build group morale and give members a chance to get to know each other better. Try to get one of your members to agree to host a party in their apartment or house. Christmas is a good time. And make it a fun party, don't just sit around and drink. At some of our pro-life parties, we've sung Christmas carols, shown old Marx Brothers' and W.C. Fields' movies, danced, and made Tom McGinnis' world-famous rum eggnog. Use your imagination - I'm not about to try to tell college students how to throw a party!
Another way to attract upperclassmen to your group is to send notices of your activities to other organizations, like the College Republicans or the Philosophy Club, whose members are likely to become interested in your group.
Other than the above notes I don't have any special ideas to attract upperclassmen but you should put up posters, and put notices in the campus newspaper on a regular basis informing all prospective new members that they would be welcome at your next meeting. Keeping a high profile on campus will draw in new members, as will interesting activities. Theoretically, at least, the size of your group is limited only by the number of students at your school.
The more activities your group has, the more active members it will attract. This is true not only because it takes a lot of people to run a lot of activities, but because a lot of activity draws attention to your group and builds group spirit. Folks will feel that they belong to your group if they take part in its activities, not if they just happen to be on your mailing list. Keeping your members busy with interesting and useful programs will keep them active in your group.
All activities in your group should be planned with your membership in mind. This means not only that you must avoid programs which you do not have adequate manpower, but that you must keep in mind the interests of your group's members. Forcing an activity upon your folks about which they are unenthusiastic can hurt your membership and your esprit de corps. Your programs must be appealing to college students, which means they cannot be on the children's level. Nor can they consume too much time; college students are very busy folks. As I just mentioned, an occasional social event can work miracles to improve group morale. Top-notch programs and interested, active members are the hallmark of the successful organization. And there is always room for improvement.
The Group Newsletter. Sending out information on a regular basis is important. It keeps the group present in the minds of its members. Your group should have a well-written biweekly or monthly newsletter. The newsletter should tell of upcoming events both on- and off-campus which may be of interest to college pro-lifers. (This includes talks sponsored by pro-abortion groups - it is good to have some pro-life people show up at these things - as well as talks on topics such as medical ethics, genetic engineering, or care of the handicapped.)
You can make the newsletter a responsibility of your group's secretary, but it should normally contain comments by the president of your group as well. It can also tell what is happening on the state and national levels of government: What did the Supreme Court say today? How did your Congressman vote on this bill? Even if it appears that nothing is happening at the moment you can always send out copies of interesting essays or articles on right-to-life issues. When your newsletter contains timely material, such as the time and place of your next meeting, it is important that you get it out on time. If you can't get it typed on time, hand print it. It's better to have a sloppy newsletter than to have one arrive too late.
This, of course, requires keeping an up-to-date mailing list for your group - another responsibility for the secretary - and a good membership form can help. Postage costs can be cut on many campuses by taking advantage of free on-campus mail delivery, and by folding newsletters into blank sheets of paper, and taping them shut, instead of using envelopes. You can save time addressing the letters if you use photocopied mailing labels. Don't limit your mailings to just your membership. You should also keep your alumni, your donors, and other local right-to-life groups posted of your activities, as well as anyone else you think might be interested.
Sending out newsletters and information should continue even during summer break (which means you'll have to get summer addresses). Summer is an excellent time to provide your members with some of the longer articles to read, ones they might not have time to read during the school year. It is also a good time to make suggestions of positive activities that individuals can do, such as writing letters to their Congressmen or reading pro-life books. This keeps people thinking about your group, even in the midst of a lazy summer at the beach.
The Calendar of Activities. At the beginning of each semester your officers should draw up a calendar of activities scheduled for that semester. When planning a semesters activities, they should take care to avoid schedule conflicts. Stay away from big football weekends and holidays. You might also check with other organizations such as your program council and your campus ministers.
A copy of your group's calendar of events is a must for distribution to your membership. You can even make the calendar attractive enough to get people to want to hang it on their wall (where it will remind them of your upcoming activities). It could also include reminders of important dates such as the anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade and Doe vs. Bolton decisions (January 22nd), or quotes by famous pro-lifers such as Mother Teresa of Calcutta, India. Have an art major from your group design it for the best results.
Trips and Conventions. One excellent way to spark enthusiasm of new members and keep old members interested is to send them to pro-life conventions, trips, and meetings, especially youth and student conventions. The national March for Life is excellent for this. American Collegians for Life (ACL) ordinarily has a convention in Washington, D.C. in conjunction with the March for Life. And there are others. Send some of your members to these affairs. There they will meet other young folks who hold to the same beliefs that they do, and they will almost always come back refreshed and brimming with enthusiasm.
The Telephone Calling Tree. Setting up a telephone calling "tree" to contact members is not only a fast way to remind members of upcoming events, but helps members get to know each other. Another way to assure that everyone is contacted by phone is to establish a telephone calling committee, that is, a committee whose members are each responsible for calling so many of your group members.
Officers should feel free to phone or visit members in order to keep in touch. If you, as an officer, drop by a member's room you can personally ask them for help with the groups' next project, or personally ask them for ideas about what they would like the group to be doing, and they in turn will feel a greater sense of belonging to your group. Personal contact is the best way to keep members active.
Membership Forms. A well-designed, complete membership form can provide a resource for information about your members, it can help in setting up your mailing lists and phone-trees, and it can help to give your members a sense of belonging. Another important resource is the interest survey, which gives your officers an idea of the abilities and interests of the members. It takes a bit of work to keep them up to date, but the effort is usually worth-while.
Membership Cards. Some groups, such as Penn State Students for Life, have membership cards. This is a nice touch, and it lends to the "official" aura of the group. At the very least, it helps to establish group identity.
Dues. This also brings up the idea of charging a nominal dues, that is, charging dues one or two dollars a year as a way of making people feel that they have a stake in the group. The idea is not that you will make money off your members, but rather that, if they have donated a few dollars, they will feel committed to the group. Personally, I think that this is a good idea, especially if combined with the membership card idea, but the effort you may have to put into it may not make it worth-while.
The Group T-Shirt. Another way to build your group's identity would be to design a t-shirt for your group and sell it to the members. I haven't seen this one tried by a college right-to-life group yet, but I'm sure it would work out well if the shirt was well-designed. John Hinterlang of the University of Pittsburgh suggests that a tastefully designed t-shirt would give your group a sense of "presence" on campus and improve your public image.
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