Saturday, June 02, 2007

How to encourage more people to become active Humanists?

Jemma Hooper's of BHA GRAM Speech 2004

One of the most common questions I’m asked is why aren’t there more humanists in a non-religious country? Its depressing to note how much more popular today’s Buddhist event in the main hall is. From humanism not being fashionable to missed opportunities and a culture of not joining there are many reasons. A discussion in itself. I prefer to focus on what we can do to address this.

Groups are key to the solution because a local presence and activities are a good way to communicate and popularise humanism. But how can we all communicate our message more widely and more effectively?

Another key to success is meeting people on their own terms. We live in an age where people are bombarded with messages (how many did you see on the way here today?), have 20 minute attention spans and are more likely to vote on a reality TV show than in an election. Regret this by all means but realise it and begin to wonder how we can turn this to our advantage. Go with rather than against the grain. Add additional reasons to motivate the sympathetic to join.

A practical step for the BHA is to encourage our members to attend their local group. Hanne has outlined how we are sending new members details and redesigning our forms to find new local group members. Also, we can mail existing members on your behalf as we’ve already done for Chiltern & Bromley. I’d love to do the same for more groups.

Not that this is enough, we need to look outside the humanist pool. Like myself, there are many humanists out there who simply haven’t heard our message or have been discouraged when they enquired. To address this we are working on an outward looking marketing programme for 2005. I can’t say too much about this as its stile very much in development and I hope the Executive Committee will look kindly on it. This activity will increase the pool or humanists for your local groups and the potential for new groups.

Nurturing groups may well be a way to begin to reverse the problem with young people not becoming humanists. It appears to have been trendy in the 60s but not now and as we know, often past trendiness has a negative legacy. So, I’m delicately encouraging student groups in Sheffield, Exeter, Lancaster and London, with the hope that at least one may survive in this hostile climate.

Should Dorset Humanists attempt to nurture a student group at Bournemouth University?

Pitfalls to avoid include defining humanism too narrowly. Remember that not every soldier is in an elite unit, not all health workers are doctors. A successful movement needs a variety of people to ensure vitality and longevity.

Another pitfall is assuming groups will spring-up where there is a need. We are lucky in having a good network but there are obvious gaps like Central London, North Yorkshire and Liverpool. Two major population centres and a large geographical region unserved by a local group. I’m delighted to ask on our forms if someone would like to join a local group but its very damaging to then have no group to forward a person to. Until recently, the millions of workers in Central London had nowhere to go after work. I’m pleased to say that we’ve begun to address that with Central London Humanist Group. I hope to announce soon that we will have a North Yorkshire group too. Early next year I hope to repeat this success on Merseyside. There can be an even wider, even stronger local group network if we encourage people to start groups and put them in touch with each other to begin their membership.

Similarly, if you are a Liberal, please join the new Liberal Democrat Humanist Group and help us to balance the religious groups in their party. If you belong to another party, please contact us and we’ll help you to develop another political group.

A third pitfall, is marketing your group once and stopping. In the age of information overload, this needs to be an ongoing activity to build a relationship with the public.

In turn groups can help the BHA by encouraging your members to join us so that our voice in Westminster and Brussels sounds louder. Also, I hope you will support Family Network.

Has any Dorset Humanist been to the Humanist Family Network? What did you think of it?

Bring your children and grandchildren to York August 2005. This is another good way of reaching out to the wider community. We need to make their events a great success to encourage outsiders to want to be part of it.

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