This year, three debating societies are celebrating their lustrums. For those unfamiliar, lustrums are five-year periods which allow a company, organization or in our case, a society to celebrate its birthdays. TU Delft Debating Club is celebrating its very first lustrum, Leiden Debating Union its third and as the oldest society of the Netherlands, Erasmus Debating Society is very excited to celebrate its sixth. Naturally, such big celebrations call for huge parties, from dinners, to galas, to lectures, to party weekends; societies are determined to celebrate in style.
Delft’s founding occurred on November 13, 2013 and it was on this date this year that the group got together at Wijnhaven. Wijnhaven holds a special place in the heart of the society, as it is there they head out for drinks every Thursday. Other plans include celebrating with other societies in a more formal manner, including a black-tie party since, as society’s president Cian Jansen says, “debating is best when there’s other societies involved.” The Club also has plenty of reasons to celebrate. Cian also notes that “In a couple short years, we grew from struggling to have a BP debate every week to having an amazing community of people that are present almost every week.” They are also lining up fantastic achievements at debating tournaments, from winning the Pro-Am final at Erasmus Rotterdam Open, to speaking in open finals at Roosevelt Open as well as having members CA and break at tournaments.
The second society celebrating its Lustrum is Leiden. Femke de Wijs, Leiden’s internal officer, says that she is excited for the Lustrum as it gives its members an opportunity to get together to “celebrate the fact that LDU is still providing us the chance to debate.” And what fantastic plans they have for the upcoming year for both their members and other debaters. To foster a more student environment, they are organizing multiple socials over the next year which will culminate with a super-secret party-weekend in April. Last month, the group visited Delft, went to an arcade and organized a pumpkin carving contest, all of which have been a huge success. That is not to say that fun activities will not detract from debating achievements – Leiden is lining up tournament wins left, right and center.
Lastly, EDS is celebrating thirty years of existence in May. Annemarijn Tamminga, the society’s president, says that it’s a big milestone and she is enthusiastic for the opportunity this brings to get together with other societies. This is also a big opportunity to also reflect on the fact that debating has been active for thirty years in the Netherlands, and look at what we have been able to do as the community. EDS has a lot of plans for its members and the debating community. They plan on organizing a dinner and a gala. Along with those, there are plans for an evening with lectures, and its members can look forward to a special edition of the society’s annual members weekend.
On the personal aspects, all board members are tremendously excited to be able to share their board experience with this milestone celebration. “It’s a big responsibility” says Annemarijn, but she’s looking forward to it. Femke also shares Annemarijn’s enthusiasm, by saying that she’s looking forward to getting to experience the year with new members (who are almost all new to Leiden) and do what they all love to do: debate.
Another amazing aspect of being on the lustrum board, Cian reflects, is the fact that they “still have a lot of people who were very important to the founding and early years of the club quite actively involved, which allows us to actually have them present for the celebrations.”
Whether you are a new or an old(er) debater, I hope everyone is excited for what is to come in the upcoming months! The Lustrum is the perfect opportunity for members and non-members to get together, and celebrate the achievements of the societies.
An influx of new debaters is crucial for the debating community in the Netherlands to thrive. As we have seen a general decline in participation of debating tournaments, as well as many debating societies indicating they are increasingly struggling to find new members, the Debatbond focused on how to get new members in the last board day. In addition, quite some societies autonomously organized sharing groups, so that best practises could be copied. A good opportunity for 720 to reflect on what societies have changed in their promotion plans this year and how successful they were.
In writing this article, I reached out to a couple of societies in the Netherlands to ask them about their introduction period. What stroke me in the responses I received was their general positivity. Most, if not all, societies were quite optimistic about the new member base and satisfied with their efforts in promoting. For instance, Bonaparte achieved an above-average member growth of over 20 new members this year. EDS was also quite content with their growth and the general interest in their societies, with both introductory workshops being attended by roughly 70 people.
Moreover, societies felt they put a lot of time in their promotion efforts. Cicero mentioned how their chair missed most of his lectures in the first three weeks because he was so busy with spreading the debating message, whereas Leiden also felt they spent ‘a lot of their time’ on promotion in the first weeks of their board year.
So far, an optimistic view on the new influx in Dutch debating arises. However, when looking at the participant numbers for the tournaments so far, one might question, at least, the participation of the new members in debating tournaments. Roosevelt Open, UCU Open, Trivium and Cicero all struggled with attracting the kind of numbers they did in the past. Striking was furthermore that UCU Open had to implement a Pro-Am final instead of a novice final due to the lack of novice teams. Given that tournament participation is quite a good proxy for society participation, I think it is important to be wary of these trends.
This brings me to the larger point of this article. The importance of introduction weeks for societies and Dutch debating in general is rather unquestioned I think. And although I am glad to here the success stories of societies, I think it is also important to be critical of what societies do well and what they can improve on. To start off positive, I think one of the best examples of a positive change made by a society this year is the change to being more inclusive and accommodating to international students by Bonaparte. They consciously reached out more to international students and tailored (part of) their message accordingly. As a result, Bonaparte was able to attract a far larger number of international students than last year.
Another positive marketing example is the society positioning of EDS, that specifically highlight themselves as one of the few societies in Rotterdam where English is the first language. By effectively comparing themselves to other societies, they cater clearly to a specific set of needs by a rather large student group in Rotterdam – and quite effectively so indeed.
Lastly, I think many societies did think carefully about some of the comparative advantages of debating societies, in the sense that many indicate to highlight the benefits of debating on personal development, developing skills that are relevant in the workplace and within academia, etc.
There is also room for improvement of course. Perhaps most importantly, I think that societies should be more critical about their marketing strategy and tactics. Formal evaluations of marketing efforts are not as thoroughly and often done by societies as one might hope. Many boards indicate they largely copied the marketing strategy that was followed in previous years, perhaps tweaking little things here and there. Although this is not necessarily a problem, it is easy to not innovate enough and improve the marketing strategy.
Furthermore, societies do not always have a clear idea of who they want to reach. Whereas some target international students specifically, others focus on particular sets of students (such as philosophy, economics or politics), or just on first-year students in general. I think that being aware of who you want to reach is vital in understanding how to convince them. Of course, societies shouldn’t just focus on one group (such as international students), but their ways of reaching out to these groups can be different in order to achieve more success.
When starting a Facebook campaign, you need to have a clear idea about who to target and why the campaign is effective. Many boards, my own board included two years ago, start Facebook campaigns, or similar marketing tactics, merely because it seems hip and new. Carefully thinking about which channels are effective is an important continuation of identifying the target market.
Lastly, my last observation is that many boards intensify their marketing efforts on the beginning of the year, but don’t specifically continue working on marketing throughout the year. I think that having a marketing plan that goes beyond the introduction period will force boards to be consistent in their messaging and increase chances of attracting members throughout the year.
Improving marketing is important for societies, and I think it is particularly a topic on which we can learn a lot from each other. The increasing exchange of best practises at Board Days or via Facebook is very useful for that very reason and I hope this will continue. For any other input or questions on marketing efforts, the Debatbond is of course very much willing to help you with any queries you might have!