College-based groups recruiting locals

Michael A. Chance mchance at
Thu Feb 23 16:28:33 PST 1995

Fionna writes:

>     Another part of the problem too, could be a lack of peers in a 
> given area, or older (ie someone who has played for say more then two 
> years) members.  A prime example is Shadowlands.  We have no peers, 
> and we are just far enough away from other larger groups (Ravensfort, 
> Bryn Gwlad) that we don't have much interaction with any peers living 
> there either.  By far, most of all the newcomers we get are freshmen 
> college students, who are usually short on time (because of school), 
> and money.  The other problem, is that they are also fairly transient 
> as well, we don't have a large "stable" population.  There are really 
> only a handful of us who are year-round residents, and there is only 
> really one person that I know of that's been playing long enough 
> (time-wise) to have achieved a peerage.  Which also brings up the 
> problem that student s come to school, start playing SCA here, then 
> leave 4-5 years later (if they don't flunk out sooner).  And, for 
> some reason, we have never had much success getting newcomers from 
> the "local" (ie. non-transient) population.  I don't know what 
> solution there is to the problem "we" have, or if there is anything 
> that could be done, even with the laurels help.  Any suggestions are 
> certainly welcome. 

Certainly, as others have pointed out, permanently resident local
members are vitally important to a largely college-based group.
However, I regret to inform you that there are no easy solutions to
the problem of how to attract and retain "townies", as we refer to
them here in the Midwest.  If you're serious about trying to recruit
locals (in addition to the college-based folks), prepare yourself for
a multi-year project which will require a lot of time and effort.

What follows is the Mikjalheim/Hasslehold Grand Recruiting Scheme.
We've never manage to fully implement the total plan all at once, but
the various pieces from which it was assembled have all been
successfully tried by various groups with which we've been

First, you need to develop a presence in the local community that is
something other than that of "another campus student group".  This
means educational demos.  Volunteer to do fighting, crafts, history,
etc. demos for various Scout groups, school classes, community centers,
etc.  The trick here is to seriously downplay both the SCA-specific
aspects of what we normally do (avoid SCA unique terms for things,
don't mention our award structure, etc.), only do passive
recruiting (give info about the SCA only if asked), and play up the
real history of the Middle Ages and Renaissance.  These kinds of demos
require some careful planning and co-ordination, but the dividends are
enormous.  The Barony of Three Rivers has been doing these kinds of
demos for over 15 years now.  As a result, the SCA's reputation in the
St. Louis area is truly sterling.  A kook like that guy in El Paso
trying to go into a police force here with some crazy story about the
SCA being a bunch of Satanists would be laughed out the door.  I doubt
if there's a police force in the St. Louis area who doesn't have
at least one officer who's seen us do a demo for their kid's Scout

Another way to develop a positive local presence is by having the
folks in the group that can teach an art or craft to volunteer to do so
at the local community center or YWCA/YMCA.  This can reap double
benefits - good PR for the SCA, and a potential source of new
recruits.  Remember, though, to "soft peddle" the SCA when teaching
outside an SCA context, and stick to passive recruiting.

Once you've begun to get a positive rep as something more than just "a
bunch of college kids" (which can take least 6 months and sometimes as
much as a couple of years, depending on what the current view of the
SCA is in the local community), the next step is advertising.  You can
start advertising immediately, but you probably won't get much
response until the community view of the SCA becomes more positive
(from the viewpoint of the resident locals).

Start advertising your general populace meetings in the local
(non-campus) newspapers.  Many papers will offer free ad space to local
hobby groups, and the SCA has the added plus of being an educational
non-profit.  Check out some of the smaller radio stations, and the
local TV stations for the possibility of free on-air ads, as well.  Get
the ads in at least monthly, although weekly is better.

Make small (about 8 1/2" by 11" size) posters, and get them put up in
every public library, community center, YWCA/YMCA, and other such
places as you can manage.  And don't just stick to the immediate town
where the campus is located, also try to get them in similar places in
the other towns within about a 30-45 minute driving radius from the
campus (or wherever you group holds it's meetings.  You'll also need to
provide these places with small flyers or "business" cards, that they
can give out to folks who might be interested, and regularly re-visit
to make sure they still have a good supply.

The final step, once you've gotten the beginnings of a good non-campus
based group of folks, is to move to doing recruiting demos.  These are
demos specifically designed to recruit new members by showing off what
the SCA does.  Some places where you can do these are church bazaars
and fairs, county fairs, school activity days, shopping mall
promotions, neighborhood festivals, and other similar events.  Again,
you need to modify what we do for public consumption.  Be sure that
the fighters, dancers, musicians, etc., understand that they're
entertainment.  Concentrate on the showy side of what we do, and don't
get bogged down in the SCA-specific aspect of our activities.  It's OK
to "script" the fighting portions, to make sure that the best pairs of
fighters go out together, people work with their best weapons systems,
etc.  It's even fun to try to "pre-set" the outcome of a few fights,
to do some schtick for the crowds.

Be prepared to hand out _lots_ of flyers at these kinds of demos, and
be sure to have a "I'm interested - contact me" sign-up list.  And be
_sure_ to give those follow up contacts, preferably within a week of
the demo.

The next part is very important.  Your PR efforts will almost certainly
start bringing folks.  You MUST have activities that they can get
involved in _immediately_.  Be prepared to quickly help new folk to
make medieval clothes, get involved in various art and craft
workgroups, explain what happens at events, etc.  You should have at
least 2 or 3 complete sets of loaner armor, if your group currently
has a fighting practice.  These don't have to be anything spectacular
(in fact, it's probably better if they're a bit grungy looking - if the
new fighters are really interested in continuing, grubby loaner armor
is an incentive for them to get their own), but you really do need to
be ready to put more than one new person at a time into armor.  Put on
a regular series of "local" events (like Bryn Gwlad's Tiny Tourneys or
a local feast), and get the new folks involved in preparing and
organizing it.  Hold regular "newcomers" collegiums - a Saturday
mini-event with beginner-level classes during the day, and perhaps a
potluck feast in the evening, with music, dancing, etc.

As I said at the beginning, this is a multi-year effort, and requires
a lot of hard work and dedication by a lot of folks in the group.  Don't
discouraged if there doesn't seem to be any immediate effects.  But
the long-term rewards are a stable and vibrant group, well prepared to
support the high turnover rates from the campus recruits and to meet
the challenges of the future.

Mikjal Annarbjorn
Michael A. Chance          St. Louis, Missouri, USA    "At play in the fields
Work: mc307a at                             of St. Vidicon"
Play: mchance at

More information about the Ansteorra mailing list