Starting a Society
First things first, what is a student society?
American universities may have their frivolous frat houses and their salacious sororities, but the UK’s academic institutions boast their own brand of student-run organisations. These are known as student societies.
Basically, these organisations are run by students for students. The box-office smash, Old School, may have led you to believe that anyone can join a student society. However, this is far from the truth! Student societies in the UK are purely for student members only. Indeed, when you join a student society, it’s highly-unlikely that you will be engaging in a KY Jelly wrestling match with a divorcee known as ‘Frank the Tank’ or an octogenarian named ‘Blue’.
Some student societies are started with a specific purpose in mind (e.g. charity work), some are created to deliver a particular message to other students (e.g. religious societies), some are designed to facilitate sporting activity (e.g. football societies) and some are started purely for the purposes of socialising (e.g. real ale societies).
Starting a student society can be a great way to meet new people, have some fun and boost your CV. However, you can’t just start one just like that. You’ve got to go through the right motions and tick the right boxes first.
Here’s our guide to starting a student society. We hope it helps!
Step One: Get an idea…
Ok, this may sound a bit obvious, but it’s essential that your society is fresh, original and unique. You can’t just start another football society if one already exists. You’ll need to decide on the society’s name, its purpose, its main initiatives and the events and activities that you intend to provide.
One thing to remember when you’re developing your idea is that your society proposal must be approved by your university’s student union. Therefore, a society known as the Bunghole Scratch ‘n’ Sniff Society might not get accepted!
Step Two: Plan everything meticulously…
Like anything, if you’re going to succeed, you can’t just go storming into this like an absolute nutcase; you need to plan your society in great detail. You need a mission statement, an organisational structure and plan of action. Sit down, brainstorm all your ideas and then work them all into an initial scope document.
Step Three: Find some disciples…
To get your society off the ground, you need to garner a decent amount of support from your fellow students. Most student unions won’t let you even think about starting your society without a minimum number of members. You might need at least 20 or 30 people that are willing to become a member.
Make some calls, chat to your friends, start talking to random students in the union bar, start a Facebook group and basically do whatever you can to promote your idea and get other people excited about your society. Once you’ve got a bunch of like-minded people expressing an interest, you need to get all their names, student numbers, contact details and signatures onto a piece of paper.
Step Four: Write a constitution…
This is where you’ll get all your ideas, objectives, plans, values and protocols down on paper. Keep it simple, concise and all-encompassing. Ideally, everyone and everyone should have the right to join your society. Get together with your other members to discuss the constitution. This should be a collaborative process and the final document should reflect the beliefs and motivations of all your members.
Step Five: Appoint your dream team…
Choose a bunch of your members to take on important roles as part of your society’s committee. You could do this through a nomination and election process, or you could just take the lead and ask the people that you think will be the most effective and enthusiastic.
Step Six: Apply to the student union…
Once you’ve got your list of members, your constitution and your committee, it’s time to submit your application to your university’s student union. More than likely, your application will be assessed by a senior member of the union who is acting as some kind of ‘societies executive’.
You might get your proposal approved straight away or you might have to attend an interview, where you’ll be asked searching questions about your society and your future plans. Once you’ve passed the test, you will be granted status as an official student society.
Step Seven: Get a stall at the Freshers’ Fair…
Now you’ve got approval, you need to get more members. The more members you have, the more funding you will get from the student union. It can also be pretty satisfying to get a multitude of excitable and enthusiastic members flocking to your humble society.
When Ashton Kutcher started getting a few followers on Twitter, he didn’t stop there. He campaigned and promoted his profile until he had the first Twitter account with over one million followers. You need to adopt a similar approach to promoting your society!
The best place to start is the Freshers’ Fair. Get yourself a stall and try to attract as many impressionable first years as possible; offer free sweets, hand out free condoms, pump some big tunes out of a ghettoblaster or get a busty lady and a six-packed lothario to stand near your table (ok, maybe not this last one!). Get their email addresses and start messaging them about your upcoming events and activities.
Step Eight: Carry on the hard work…
When you’ve got a dedicated army of followers, you can’t just sit back and relax. You need to start organising events, meetings and social activities. People will have joined up for a reason, so you need to give them what they want. You should also keep your promotional efforts going; use social media, posters and your university radio station to spread the word. You could even pull some one-off marketing stunts.
However, please don’t do anything illegal! This would certainly get your society closed down and you might even get arrested. Take heed! Don’t cover the university in red paint; put on an impromptu ‘silent disco’ instead!
Step Nine: To infinity & beyond…
Once your society is established, just keep doing what you’re doing. Running your own society is a lot of hard work, but it’s definitely worth it! It can look great to potential employers and can give you immense personal satisfaction. Hopefully, when you eventually leave university, somebody else will continue to run the society and carry on the legacy that you have left behind!