by Ray Girn
Our newspaper, The New Intellectual, pays for itself in subscriptions, advertisements and donations. Our other funding is basically a result of proceeds from events and membership fees. The Toronto Objectivist Association is beneficial because they allow us nominally to co-host some of their events in exchange for booking a room. Still, none of our funding comes from them. We just have a lot of members and fairly good attendance at events. You have to note that the University of Toronto has 60,000+ students, and that there are three other major universities and numerous colleges within driving distance, so comparably I don’t know if we’re much better than most clubs.
That being said, we were able to have numerous major events last year, even when our total funds consisted of maybe $150 (from 15 members paying $10 each). A large screen video projection of a lecture, for example, cost us $65 to rent, plus photocopying costs for the posters. We did that twice, drawing around 50 people at $3 each, I think, making approximately $75 dollars profit each time. We also had a live event that ARI for which ARI covered most of the expenses. Having the ARI-sponsored event was good for us. Since ARI helped foot the bill, we broke even money-wise, but the real value is that a lot of local students in other universities and even high school came out to the event and got interested in our club.
I think that time is much harder to come by than money. If you can get 20-30 man-hours to prepare for an event -- say 5 people at 5 hours each -- and use those hours productively, you will be successful. I don’t think funds would be an obstacle at any school. The time any one of us can put into a club is fairly limited, which is why it's important not to waste it.
Let's start a discussion on this list of the specific ways of maximizing the time we invest, starting with an identification of the precise goals we are trying to achieve.
In my opinion, a successful club has two main elements:
With respect to (1), it doesn’t really matter how big the club is, as long as there are a few other students whose company you enjoy and with whom you can further your learning of Objectivism. Focus on making yourselves great, i.e. on actually improving yourselves, whether by studying the virtues of Objectivism, doing Dr. Peikoff’s courses in “Objective Communication”, “Logical Thinking”, etc. You will develop morally and intellectually, and others will be drawn to your self-centeredness. As a result, the club will really grow in quality, regardless of its growth in quantity.
In the case of (2), the goal is to make others aware that Objectivism exists -- not to explain it to them, just to let them know that it’s out there. I think the most effective and least time-consuming way of having a presence on campus is a club newspaper and one large event per semester. If you can’t have a newspaper, then maybe you can have posters. Posters may not draw people to events, but they do get noticed. See my comments on booths below.
With respect to our socials last year, we usually first listened to half of a “History of Western Philosophy” lecture each Friday evening and then went out to a local pub. There were 8-12 of us and enough variety in interests that we generally had a fun time. The key to our success, I think, was that a network of friendships developed, so that people start doing other things together, going to movies, etc. The good thing about regular socials is that every few weeks someone new becomes integrated into the network. The bad thing is that if you don’t really enjoy the company of the people with whom you’re spending the evening, it won’t work.
I don’t have much advice on advertising, since I know of nothing that consistently and clearly works. If anything, I would try to get your events announced in class. The only other thing that has led to some success for us are booths. On our campus, student clubs are allowed to book a table in the foyers of a few main buildings. Booking a booth for three hours in a busy area, covering the table with Ayn Rand books and ARI pamphlets should get you a few dozen signatures for a mailing list. It is also a great opportunity to promote an upcoming event. I think that regular booths are a really good way of attracting attention, especially if there are two or three fun, well-spoken people manning them.
One thing to keep in mind is that you’re just as likely to attract interest by displaying how you think, act, communicate, as you are by the content of Objectivism. Don’t pander to polemicists. Students, especially younger ones, are starved for examples of hind-mindedness and moral ambition. If it exists in you, slowly but steadily the right people will recognize it and be drawn to it.
Once you do have a handful of people and a set of goals, the key to being active on campus is division of labor:
Everyone can work on everything. But if each task is officially assigned to one person, and his job is only to do that task well -- which shouldn't take more than a few hours a month -- the club will function smoothly.
The exception is the President -- unfortunately, I can't see any way around the fact that the President will have to put in a lot of time. If the club's President doesn't love running the club, i.e. doesn't get personal value from seeing other members develop and Objectivism grow, then it will be difficult to have a large club. The success of the club really has to matter to you -- a challenge to yourself that is an end in itself. If there isn't at least one person like that, then I think you're better off forming a small group with an inward focus, e.g. study groups and socials, and letting anyone interested on campus do the work to find you.