This one is almost a no-brainer: In order to get students to participate in a group, it is always helpful to provide food. Keep in mind that there are two types of food: free food and cheap food. Both are important.
Let's talk about free food first. Free food gets people in the door. In weighing the cost-benefit of catching an early bus home or stopping by for a light dinner at an evening members' meeting, the free food always tips the scales in the same direction. Graduate students are notorious vultures: some of us keep close track of all of the seminars that provide food. For me, it is cardiovascular breakfast club Tuesday morning, medicine grand grounds Tuesday noon, pathology presents Wednesday afternoon and South Lake Union tapas seminar Thursday late afternoon. And those are only the seminars that pertain to my education! If your student group reliably provides pizza or subs at its evening meetings, you will develop a reputation for being a friendly place. For recruitment meetings, I like to mix it up. Pizza or sandwiches are nice, but something different will elicit positive comments and good feelings. A spread of Trader Joe's hor'd'oeuvres is popular and cheap. It's best if you put the food inside the room where you are meeting - even in the back. This keeps the vultures from flying away! Also, at public events (FOSEP holds monthly seminars), get snacks and coffee and your attendance will increase. And be sure to advertise that there will be snacks provided!
But where does money for this food come from? Securing cash for food is notoriously difficult for campus student groups - especially at public universities. At the University of Washington, the main institutional funding sources say "NO WAY!" for proposals for food. For the Husky readers, this includes the ASUW, the GPSS and the LLC. If you want money for food, you have to raise it yourself. Fundraising is a topic that I will cover at length in the near future, but for the purposes of this post you should know that when you ask for money, make sure you ask for money that can be spent on food. Or, if you ever get a donation of cash or check, be sure to deposit it into an account that can be spent on food. This can be set up through the school's budgeting system.
Free food is one way to get people to feel like your group is there for them. If it works for drug reps, furniture salesmen and job recruitment, it will probably work for your student group. The other important type of food is cheap food. This applies when funds are tight or when some of the group's leaders hold planning meetings. Chipping in $5-7 for gourmet pizza, takeout Indian food or the like provides the opportunity to create a congenial environment to get the work done. There is a reason families try to eat meals together and friends get together for dinner: breaking bread is an age old tradition that unifies individuals. On a more practical side, sometimes the best time slots for students meetings are in the dinner hour, at lunch, or even breakfast. In Seattle, getting coffee can even turn into a working meeting.
Cartoon by Adam York Gregory. Check out his other comics at The Flowfield Unity. This post brought to you by our friends at FOSEP. Other student organization tips can be found here.