How to plan an outreach event

By Jim Lawrence, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin Stevens-Point

The first step to organizing a successful outreach event is to decide in what event your chapter is most interested. This could sound like a silly first step, but there may be some very good reasons for your choice. Any event is more meaningful when the organizers are connected to the reasons behind the event. For example, a member of my chapter had been directly helped by an organ donor. Our chapter decided to organize an event that brought awareness to organ donation. No matter what their experiences are, connecting chapter members to an outreach event will increase the level of passion and involvement in organizing the event.

Get recognition
You want to first get your chapter recognized by your on-campus student government for a few reasons. Student governments are typically in charge of allocating certain percentages of student fees to student organizations. This is your money too! But you will have to work to gain access to it. To be recognized by your student government, your chapter must be organized according to campus standards set by student government. Your campus already has many student organizations that are recognized. Your chapter can save time by modeling your chapter after these clubs.
Once your chapter is recognized by student government, you will have greater access to resources such as room facilities, travel arrangements (university cars and vans) and funding. You most likely will have to submit a budget to student government for approval. Funding can make or break your ability to set up any outreach activity. This point cannot be stressed enough. Be organized and have a thoughtful budget to present to student government. This budget should include what resources are needed for your outreach event.

Partner up
If you are new to the ASBMB Student Chapters program, you probably do not have a lot of experience in hosting outreach events. Fortunately, there are many resources available to help you out. A primary resource is to look for a hosting partner. A partner organization is likely to have extensive experience in organizing events like the one you hope to host. These organizations normally need willing, able people to fulfill their mission. That is where you and your chapter come in. You have lots of able members wanting to help.

Finding a partner also helps to reduce several levels of redundancy. Tasks such as advertising, recruiting participants and planning event logistics only need to be done by one of the partners. Divide tasks based on each partner’s experience in order to work more efficiently.

Make sure to not step on anyone’s feet. For example, if there is already a group organizing a campus-wide blood drive, do not host a competing blood drive on the same day. At minimum, potential participants will be confused, and turnout for both events will suffer. Bad will can be created by competing events, and this can potentially endanger your status with student government. No one wins in this scenario. If you join up with a partner, you can ensure the event is a success for everyone.

Finding a partner for your event takes a bit of work, but it’s not that onerous. You can start searching on the internet to find excellent leads on potential partners. If you are thinking of hosting a blood drive, the American Red Cross has very good information on partnership arrangements.

In some areas, the American Red Cross in not the best, local option for blood drives. Search for a local hospital that has a phlebotomy department. Ask if the hospital organizes any local blood drives or if they know who is the local agency in charge of such events. Whatever the theme or goal of your outreach event is, search for groups that have organized something similar as they will be the best sources of advice and resources.

Develop an action plan
Now that you have made contact with a partner, you need to initiate a conversation with them. Find out what strengths your partner brings and what your chapter can do. Determine who will be responsible for what and how to best move forward. Your chapter may have to say no to certain obligations that are not achievable. Be careful to not make promises without checking your chapter can feasibly accomplish the task. “Under promise and over deliver” has always been good advice. Make sure to keep accurate notes during the planning process, and keep track of what each partner has promised to deliver. These notes will be your action plan.

Set a date
The ASBMB Day of Service provides a flexible time frame for you to pick a date that works for you. Contact the ASBMB office for guidance on your event. The ASBMB can also provide promotional items and handouts for participants. Work with your chapter members to pick a date when many students will be on campus. Your partner may also have suggestions on when to hold the event.

Find a location
This may be more difficult than setting a date. First off, you must contact your school’s administration to secure a spot for the event. Most universities have locations for these types of events, but remember that other on-campus organizations will also want space for their activities. Think far in the future to be first in line and to avoid conflicting events and space constraints on campus. Any event will benefit from increased student traffic on campus. Student unions are a great place to reach many students. Science building atriums are also excellent public places for such events. Organization and advance planning is key to secure the right to use these spaces.

Your student government may also be able to help with this process. The chemistry or biochemistry department may be another resource in helping to reserve these spaces. Keep in mind that you will need access to more than just the physical space. Setting up the night before will require keys to the building. You might also need access to storage rooms and tables, clipboards, pens and signs for the event. These small details can be easy to overlook, but the event will run more smoothly if you take care of these things in advance.

Plan your staff
Once the specifics of the event are determined, you will need staff to run the event. As your staff is likely to be undergraduate students, plan a revolving set of people to man the event. When some students leave for class, a new group can show up to replace them. Overlap between staffers is certainly a positive thing. Develop a clear schedule of who will do what and what everyone’s role is for the event, including set-up and clean-up.

Making the event fun
Your event should be fun for everyone, participants and staff included. Prizes, stickers and tee-shirts are just some examples of ways to get people involved and to remember the event by taking something home with them. Posters can help explain and model the science involved in the event.

Follow up
Hold a follow-up meeting with your chapter and partner to discuss what worked and what did not. Ask if everyone found the event worthwhile and if everyone was comfortable with the amount of work involved. These important questions are the groundwork for the next event. Take good notes during these conversations, and use the notes at future organizational meetings. Chapter members will graduate so you want to make sure information is recorded and not lost.

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