As the San Diego Recovering Women’s Social Club grows and grows (over 400 members strong!), I am met with questions from other women (local and non-local alike) on how they can start their own meetup and ensure its success.
Over the last 18 months of facilitating the meetup, I have had so many lessons learned and there is so much to share about how to create, promote and maintain a meetup that one conversation would never be enough (unless it was over a very long, multiple course dinner and you were taking notes the entire time). So for the sake of time, I’ve decided to compile my step-by-step suggestions here for starting up YOUR very own sober meetup!
- Choose your platform. I highly recommend meetup.com app as the central point for your meetup. It is the best way to promote, organize and disseminate information. It is $15 a month to run a meetup – here, you are allowed 1 minute to complain, then 1 minute to reflect on how much you used to spend on alcohol every month. We are now moving on.
- Name your meetup! Make sure it encompasses who (women? men? both?) and what (sober) and where (city? county?). The more alliteration, the better: Seattle Sober Squad. Tampa Teetotallers. Duluth Dry Dames. Alaska Alcohol-Free Assholes. You get it.
- Set your official first event! I recommend doing this before any of the steps below because it will set your intention in stone. You don’t have to share it yet, but just making a reservation 1 or 2 months out will keep you accountable and excited and inspired as you go through the design and promotion of your meetup. You also definitely want something for people to see/RSVP to once you begin promoting your meetup. If they landed on your page – they are ready to meetup and don’t want to wait around for you to get your shit together!I started with mimosa-free brunch, and it’s been a mainstay for 18 months running (more on how to choose and reserve a restaurant/venue in #7 below). Other first-event ideas that are wildly popular: people like active things, like hikes followed by coffee/breakfast, or yoga (goat yoga was a huge hit here!). But before you start promoting, read below..
- Customize your meetup page. Here’s where you make sure the page looks eyecatching and has your first meetup posted (see #3). Having a main meetup logo/photo is essential. For the meetup app, you have to login to a regular computer to do this (you’ll be okay, just breathe). I recommend using the Typorama app to create your main photo and for future event promotion as well.Fill out the description of your meetup and be specific! People are riddled with social anxiety these days, especially once you removed alcohol from the situation – so be kind and spell it out for them. I also recommend a FAQ section here. Please see (and feel free to steal/revise) the description and FAQs I have gathered and posted on my SDRWSC meetup page.
Lastly, meetup allows you to create your own unique link – just do it. It makes it so much easier to share than telling someone “yes, ok, so just go to meetup.com forward slash x, r, 5, z, 1-1, L, k” or having to remember your link. meetup.com/SDRWSC. You’re welcome.
- Choose your tags/topics wisely – You get 15 “topics” to associate with on meetup.com. This will help in getting your group recommended to members who have similar interests. My tags include: alcohol-free, women’s social, support and recovery, staying sober without 12 step, sober, women’s networking, sober fun, sober fun, women connecting with women, women meeting women for friendship, sober friends, women’s support, recovery and fellowship, women supporting other women
- Set the ground rules. You will have to decide certain aspects of your meetup – do you want your meetup to be private? Will you require people to “request” to join? Have a profile photo to join? Are men or children ever allowed to join?I DO keep the meetup private to respect confidentiality as well as require “join” requests and profile photos, to help me identify them at the event and ensure the group stays female-only. Address these rules in your FAQ, if you’d like.
6. Promote! Where to share your brand new meetup? I posted in the San Diego Reddit (I bet your city has a reddit! – just mentally steel yourself against any internet-anonymity-charged weird/offensive commentary), any sober San Diego women’s facebook pages I could find, and in national, larger FB groups (like the private group, She Recovers) where I knew there was a large presence of women from my city. Lastly, I joined similar meetups (if they existed), and networked/promoted at those events. I also shared the meetup one-on-one with women I met in AA meetings (after the meeting, of course).
- Choosing & reserving events/venues. Picking a venue is important. First and foremost, pick a place that takes reservations. Trust me, just do yourself the favor. I start by picking a date that works for me, then use the OpenTable app to check out top rated brunch spots that have availability that day for 8-12ish people (sidenote: restaurants often cap the size of groups you can reserve on OpenTable, typically 8-12. If you anticipate needing more, you can always call the restaurant and ask).
Pick a place that isn’t too loud/boisterous, because people come to these events to talk and connect. Also don’t pick a fancy, silent-ass place where everyone can listen in as you regale the table with the tale about the time you drunkenly _________. Holding an event at a house isn’t as popular (in my experience) – people feel safe when they can google the menu, reviews and every corner of a venue before going. A person’s house is also very open-ended, lacking the safety of the predictable order-eat-pay-leave agenda of a restaurant.Also, look for external events that might be of interest to the group: paint nites, yoga gatherings, full moon circles, paddle boarding. If someone in your sober community asks you to share their event, by all means do so – but with discrimination. If it’s for a multi-level marketing type party, maybe don’t. If it is truly of interest to women in sobriety and supportive of your cause – go for it! You don’t want your audience to feel pandered to, or like they are constantly being marketed to.
Lastly, timing wise – I have found that people really enjoy morning, weekend events.
- Grow. As the meetup grows, you can continue to promote events on facebook groups or reddit. Eventually, as more women join and realize you aren’t a murderer or MLM scheme, “regulars” will emerge and membership will begin to grow by word of mouth. Be sure to post photos from previous events. People like to see that the meetup is of “normal” people who actually show up and enjoy the events. Start an instagram for the meetup (if you haven’t already) and use it to share future & past events. I started a story “highlight” for past events, so for women intrigued but skeptical – they could tap through a long story and check out photos/videos all the past events for reassurance. Also, as you grow – if you think it’ll make your life easier – get business cards made. They are like $10 for 500 at Office Max and ready in a day or 2.
- Collaborate, don’t compete. If another meetup already exists or if one forms after yours, don’t feel threatened. This is not about personal success – it’s about the common vision of women connecting in sobriety. If you see a new meetup just starting, join it, attend their events, and offer to cross-post their events on your meetup – and ask them to do the same. If a larger meetup already exists, don’t hesitate to still start your own; the more events, the better, and yours may have a slightly different flair. I’ve seen groups that focus more on outdoor or physical activity, creativity, casual coffee dates, book clubs, etc. There is truly something for everyone and room for us all.
- Don’t get despaired! I’ve had everything from 1 to 20 women show to an event. Do not take it personally – remember throughout, this is not about you. People are not coming to see YOU (so quit stressing about your hair!), and likewise, they aren’t bailing on YOU. I have found that regardless of the number of women who have showed, it’s always been the exactly right group for that exact moment.
You can do this! Be the change you wish to see in your own community, city, county. Contact me if you have any questions or need any guidance on how to get started.