Clubs Fair and Tabling
What is Tabling?
Tabling is when a university group sets up a table to promote their group to passing students. The most common time to set up a table is the Clubs Fair. Many universities allow groups to set up tables where there is a lot of foot traffic, such as near the cafeteria around lunchtime. The advice on this page focuses on Clubs Fairs, but most of the advice can be applied to other tabling opportunities.
What is a Clubs Fair?
A Clubs Fair, also known as Freshers’ Fair, Activities’ Fair, or Orientation, is an annual or bi-annual student extracurricular fair that most universities host. Usually held over a few hours or days at the beginning of the term, student groups can register to set up a table and talk to students who might be interested in joining their group. Many students, especially first-years, will be trying to figure out which groups to get involved with. Many university groups report that Clubs Fairs are the single best way to recruit new people to their EA group, so it is worth spending some time and effort preparing and attending.
Aims of Attending a Clubs Fair or Tabling
To get people to sign up for your group’s mailing list or equivalent. Some groups take this opportunity to gain as many sign-ups as possible. This approach prioritises quick interactions with as many people as possible, following the reasoning that it is hard to gauge people’s genuine interest at a Clubs Fair and optimising for sign-ups gives as many people as possible the opportunity to engage with the group further.
Read more about this approach in this forum post about Oxford’s Clubs Fair. This approach can work well in fast-paced, crowded Clubs Fairs. However, you want to avoid pushy pitches which can leave a bad impression. We want people’s first exposure to reflect the kindness and thoughtfulness that defines the movement. Each university has a different Clubs Fair atmosphere, so check out how other clubs are soliciting mailing-list sign-ups and make sure your approach doesn’t stand out for being too aggressive.
To briefly introduce effective altruism and give people a chance to interact with your group. If your university’s Clubs Fair is quiet or you are doing tabling at other times of the year, you will have enough time to have longer conversations. You could also try an engaging activity such as a Lightning Giving Game where participants receive money and must choose between different donation opportunities.
To invite people to meet for a one-on-one. Make a note of people who seem especially interested in EA when you speak to them, and either ask them if they want to have a one-on-on during your conversation or follow up with them afterwards via email to invite them for a one-on-one meeting. You could also include an option for people to sign-up for a one-on-one while signing up for your mailing list.
To encourage people to attend your first event. Aim to run your first event within a week of the Clubs Fair. Advertise it using posters, handouts, and in conversation during the Fair. Soon afterwards, send an email to your new sign-ups with the event details.
To identify other people who are already familiar with, and interested in, EA. These could be the most useful connections, especially if your club is new, as they might be interested in taking leadership roles. Follow up with these people with a one-on-one soon after the Fair.
To encourage people to apply for an introductory program or fellowship. Some groups have chosen to use Clubs Fair to advertise their introductory fellowship, rather than advertising the club more generally. This might be good for groups whose main focus for the start of the year is the fellowship, or for new groups that have chosen to start their group by running a fellowship.
Before the Fair
Find out what your group can do at the Clubs Fair. Seek information from your Student Union or other organisation that administers clubs. Find out whether your group can participate in the fair, what the fair involves, and whether they have funding for you to get materials for your table.
Book a table with the Student Union. If you have a large group, consider getting extra tables to make your stall more prominent.
Apply for money to cover costs. If your Student Union does not provide sufficient funding, apply for CEA’s Group Support Funding. You can include Clubs Fair costs within an application for General Group Funding.
Prepare a system for collecting sign-ups. You may choose to use paper sign-up forms which you type up later. If you do this, ensure you leave plenty of space for an email address, and that you check the writing is legible before the person leaves the table. Alternatively, you can use digital sign-up forms on phones or laptops, such as the in-built Mailchimp Sign-up form (see this example from Haverford EA), a Google Form or a Typeform. If you’re using digital forms, keep a few paper forms for backup.
Recruit volunteers to help out at your stall. Where possible, try to have multiple people at the table at once so that they can support each other, allow each other to take breaks, and talk to as many people as possible. Also, try to have some diversity among volunteers to make the group appear welcoming to a range of people. Scheduling your volunteers’ shifts in advance helps.
Prepare yourself and your volunteers. Volunteers should be able to succinctly and accurately describe EA and your group’s activities. Consider holding a volunteer-training meeting in advance to:
Motivate your volunteers by explaining why the Clubs Fair is so important
Explain what your goals are for the fair (e.g. collecting as many mailing list sign-ups as possible) and why
Offer an example pitch and give volunteers time to practise pitching to each other so they can receive feedback
Make sure everyone knows how to access the system for collecting sign-ups
Give volunteers some written guidance for them to take away and digest.
See this Example Handout from 80,000 Hours Cambridge for more tips for volunteers
Prepare materials for your stall. We suggest this checklist of items:
Posters and banners with the group name and a description of EA, since most people don’t know what “effective altruism” means. You can find links to posters and banner templates here, including suggestions on how to have vertical roll-up banners printed.
If your posters and banners include photographs or pictures, make sure to include images representing a variety of EA cause areas, so people with a variety of relevant interests could be attracted to your table. Make sure you figure out how they will be displayed beforehand in case you need to bring any extra items.
Stationery to put up posters and tape down flyaway materials. Sellotape, clips, and large pieces of cardboard can be helpful
Several fully charged laptops, tablets or smartphones for sign-ups
Paper signup sheets and pens if you’re not using devices or if you run out of power
Food and water for your volunteers
EA-branded T-shirts for your volunteers
Optional: Lightning Giving Game materials if you choose to run one of these games. These are quick activities that involve giving $1 (or a similar amount in local currency) to each participant to donate to one of 2-4 charities. This takes longer than a standard clubs fair interaction, so this approach could result in fewer sign-ups, but it is novel, and allows individuals more time to interact with your group members. Lightning Giving Games might be a good choice for universities with slower-paced Clubs Fairs. See our guidance on running Lightning Giving Games.
During the Fair
Approach people. If you’re aiming to maximise your number of sign-ups, you will need to attract people’s attention as they walk past your stall, rather than only speaking to people who approach you first. Calling out can feel awkward, but becomes much easier after a bit of practice. Read more about how to approach people in the pitch guides linked below.
Run the Lightning Giving Game with interested people if applicable.
Give your pitch.
Stay motivated. Make sure your volunteers take adequate breaks according to their needs. Some groups motivate themselves by keeping track of how many sign-ups or conversations you’re getting every 30 minutes.
While we are calling this a "pitch" like a sales pitch, it is best not to overly focus on getting sign-ups when you are interacting with people as this could cause you to come across as overly salesy. A better aim is to concisely provide enough information about EA and your group so that the person you are talking to can decide whether they are interested in learning more. While you want to paint EA in the best light, remember that EA won’t be for everyone and that’s okay.
A pitch has four components:
The opening catches attention,
the spiel summarises EA,
the sell shows listeners what your group offers, and
the call to action might encourage them to sign up.
Throughout the day, you can experiment with your pitch and see what works, what feels comfortable, and what best achieves your aims, whether that’s getting sign-ups or sparking conversations.
Below are some example pitches to get you started. In any of these pitches, if someone doesn’t want you to continue speaking to them, just say ‘No problem, have a great day!’ and move on to the next person.
Crafting a pitch
Have you heard of effective altruism?
Are you interested in doing good with your career?
We’re Effective Altruism X. We’re part of a growing social movement that’s interested in using evidence and reason to figure out the best way to help others.
Effective altruism is a global community of people trying to figure out how to improve the world as much as possible using evidence and reason. It turns out some ways of helping people are orders of magnitude more effective than others, so it’s really important to figure out what they are.
We’re Effective Altruism X. We run events about which careers, charities, and causes to get involved with if you want to maximise your social impact.
We’re from Effective Altruism X. Did you know that you have 80,000 hours in your working career - that’s huge, isn’t it? We’re about using that time to have the most positive impact on the world. Sound good?
Our group runs events all about this question of working out how to do as much as good as possible using evidence and reason. We run speaker events, workshops, and a weekly discussion group to help our members build plans for improving the world.
At the moment, almost no advice addresses how to choose a career that makes a real difference. Careers services don’t think deeply about impact. So our club puts on talks from people who’ve gone into jobs doing lots of good. And we hold more personal events like workshops and one to one coaching.
This coming week, we have [a cool-sounding event].
Call to action:
Would you like to sign up for our mailing list?
More Pitch Guides
Lessons from Running Harvard Effective Altruism, which uses a Giving Game
After the Fair
Thank your volunteers. Perhaps buy them food or go and hang out somewhere afterwards.
Follow up with your new sign-ups. If you used paper sign-up forms, type up the email addresses as soon as possible. Send out a welcome email informing them of the details of your first event, and perhaps telling them a bit more about the society.
Schedule one-on-ones. The sooner you do this, the less likely people will have become busy with work or other club activities.
More Clubs Fair Guides
Activities fair guide and resources by the Global Challenges Project