Your club, your way: How to start a student group on campus

Dear Blogosphere, I'm going to divulge a secret about myself: I've always felt that I was meant for greater things than the simple hum-drum life of a U of T undergraduate student. I dream of having fancy business cards, a group of minions to answer to my beck and call, fanfare every time I enter a room, and a title like: "Supreme Ruler." Unfortunately, none of the clubs on campus seem to want me as the Supreme Ruler of their pre-established club. (If you read this, and decide that your club WOULD like to instate me as your Supreme Ruler, you should know that I like to have a fresh bowl of M&M's on my desk every morning, and I only eat the red ones.) But in the interim, what if I want to start my own club, where I can call the shots, I can create something new, and I can achieve the eternal glory that is President and Founder of a University of Toronto Club. Just kidding. (Kind of.) There are something like 450 recognized clubs on campus, and the number is steadily increasing. But U of T is a multifaceted, diverse, and well, HUGE, institution. Despite the amount of preexisting organizations, there's always more that can be done, always more resources to tap, always more sub-communities to create, ad infinitum. In case you're like me, and searching for eternal glory, or even just have a really great idea for an event on campus, a charity organization, or an identity group, read on. I went straight to the source at Student Life, speaking with Asim Ashraf, Coordinator of Campus Organizational Services, and Debbie Molnar, the Campus Groups Intern and co-founder and former President of the U of T Mature Students' Association, to get advice on how to start up a recognized club, where to find office space and funding, and how to make your project succeed. (EDIT: Christine Mitchell was the other co-founder of MatSA.) And because I like lists, I bring you:


(And become a minor celebrity in the process) 1. The first thing you'll want to do is WRITE A CONSTITUTION for your student group. For instance, if I wanted to start an Emily Appreciation Club, my constitution would entail the group's name, (Emily Appreciation Club),  a clear purpose or vision, (This club aims to service the university community by creating awareness of the achievements of third-year student, Emily), a definition of your membership (your membership MUST be inclusive of all U of T students, and can include non-U of T members), a list of executives (Emily, Supreme Ruler, ect.), a clear financial plan (Student Life holds the right to AUDIT YOUR FINANCES at any time.), election protocol (Will there be a yearly executive election? Who can vote in it?), and amendment protocol (Should you need to change your constitution, what are the official steps you will have to go through to make it happen?). (All of this information is available in more detail here.) 2. The next step is to APPLY FOR RECOGNITION THROUGH ULIFE. Use the constitution that you've already drafted, and submit it online. (YOU ONLY NEED TWO MEMBERS OF YOUR NEW CLUB TO APPLY. Any volunteers to help me start up Emily Appreciation Club??) Should you need help or guidance, Asim is available by email, and you can always try dropping by the fifth floor of the 21 Sussex Club House to try to solicit some advice. Recognition through Ulife does not provide funding. However, it does mean that you "officially exist," will be listed in Ulife's repository of student clubs, can take advantage of the free web space provided by U of T, apply for office space* in the Sussex clubhouse, and, most importantly, it is required if you want to apply for recognition through UTSU. (Which is where the money is at.) 3. GET SOME MEMBERS. You need at least 30 members to apply for recognition through UTSU, and AT LEAST 51% of those members must be UTSU members (i.e. full-time undergraduate students). So make some posters and start recruiting. I recommend Facebook campaigns, approaching strangers on campus, asking professors if you can give talks at the beginning of large classes, postering high-traffic areas, ask course unions if you can make an announcement through their list serve... Or, my favourite recruitment method, STAGE A FLASH MOB AT ROBARTS. 4. Once you've got a team of adoring underlings club members, and recognition from Student Life, apply to be recognized from UTSU. UTSU can provide long and short-term funding**, and has a whole slew of practical services that they offer to their recognized clubs. Recognition opens each year on May 1st, and closes on March 1st of the academic year. *To apply for office space, one of your executives MUST attend the Toolkit program and apply through the Committee to Allocate Student Activity Space. **To apply for funding, at least one of your executives MUST attend UTSU leadership training.

So now you've got a group. Awesome. Here's some more things to think about.

Here are some other things you might want to think about in your quest for eternal glory: 1. Office Space. No, not the 1999 classic comedy, the physical space where you can hold meetings, events, ect. For meeting hosting, your best bet is probably going to be Hart House. Only a few students know this, but any student can book a room at Hart House for free, by requesting the room two days before the desired meeting time. If you're looking for something more permanent,  you can try for an office at 21 Sussex, but space is limited. Asim suggested going through individual colleges, as there is often more meeting spaces available there. 2. Outreach. Are there similar clubs to yours that are already established? Consider collaborating with the more established groups on events and other programming. For instance, are you starting a creative writer's group? Consider reaching out to the Hart House Literary and Library Committee. A more established group will have more resources, and can also help boost membership and awareness. 3. Be creative when looking for funding. The biggest campus grant is probably the Hart House Good Ideas Fund, but Asim also recommended looking outside of U of T for grants. There are a lot of community groups interested in funding student initiatives. Keep your eyes open, and your ears to the ground! 4. Be responsible. It's easy to start a group, much harder to make it work. If you're going to do this, put your heart into it, and make sure that you're passionate about the club you're starting.

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