Setting up and running your own Sikh Society can be tough! The Sikh societies in our network have contributed their own ideas and advice, to help other Sikh societies flourish!
If you would like to contribute to this list, please contact us!
When starting a Sikh society, the most important thing is to get events going quickly, and that should be the first priority, but it is vital to get the administrative tasks done as soon as possible, to formalise the society, and to increase your reach.
Try to get registered with the university and/or student union as soon as possible. With this step, you’ll probably need to create a logo. Spend some time on this because it is difficult to change it, and it’s nicer to have long-term consistency. You should make sure there is not any Gurbani in your logo as it will be on everything you print, and you must make sure any Gurbani is treated appropriately. Once the logo is finalised (and approved, if necessary), social media pages should be created to start publicising the events you run and the work you do.
Running a society is hard work, so you should also create a committee at some point. It will initially be pretty informal, but as the society gets registered and fully set up, the committee will become more and more official. You should make sure the committee is not too big; make sure it is appropriate given the workload of the committee members and the number of members.
It’s really helpful to get some money in the bank to run events. Set up a bank account for the society (see your university/ SU rules for this if applicable) and apply for funding and grants from the university/ appropriate committee. There may be specific start-up funds for new societies, which you should take advantage of in the early stages of your society.
A Sikh society should have a balance of three types of events:
- Religious (e.g. paath, seva, parchar)
- Educational (e.g. talks, workshops, discussions)
- Social (e.g. meals out, games nights, bowling)
When you’re just getting started, it’s really important to run simple events that don’t take a lot of planning, and don’t require a lot of people to attend. Ideas can include:
- meeting regularly to do paath
- group trips to the local Gurdwara
- call in speakers such as ‘Basics of Sikhi’ and ‘Nanak Naam’
- meals out at local restaurants
When running events, make sure that you uphold Sikh values, such as not going to a restaurant that is based around alcohol, and making sure food and snacks you provide is all vegetarian,
It’s really helpful to look at any upcoming Gurpurabs and important dates on the Sikh calendar, and plan events around them. Particularly important dates include Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s Gurpurab, Guru Arjan Dev Ji’s shaheedi, Bandi Chhor Divas, Vaisakhi, etc.
One of the hardest parts of gaining momentum as a new society is increasing attendance to your events. The key to this is creating a strong social media presence, to reach out to as many potential members as possible.
The most effective social media platforms seem be Facebook pages, Facebook groups, and Instagram pages.
Facebook pages are a great way to create a public presence to provide information about the society and about Sikhi, in a variety of ways (text, images, videos, etc.). Also, Facebook pages let you create public events pages for any events that you run as a society. A Facebook group complements the Facebook page really well, and lets you have a private platform to share information, ask questions and reach out to members. This is especially helpful because only people approved by the group moderator(s) can view the content in the group, so it is a safer space for people to communicate. Members can also see who else is in a group, so it can help your members find other members on Facebook. and it lets you quickly and easily filter through your Facebook friends, so you can invite your members to events very easily.
Instagram seems to be more and more popular, so a presence on instagram is an invaluable way to find more members. It is also a great platform to reach out to people and organisations outside of your university, in wider Sikh spheres. On Instagram, follow other Sikh societies, and make an effort to share their events; they will reciprocate. If you have a specific event that you want a lot of publicity for, ask other Sikh societies to share it and they should be more than happy to help out.
Make a conscious effort to keep your Facebook and Instagram pages active and up to date, and reply to any messages promptly, as this will help to get your page higher up on search results and timelines, so more people can see the great work you do.
Funding the events that you want to run can be difficult, so it’s important to secure funding as soon as possible. The first thing you should do is see what funds, bursaries and grants are on offer by your university/ students’ union etc. Often, they will have specific support for new societies and clubs, and there is only a short window to make the most of them, so make sure you check out what’s available as soon as possible!
As your society gets bigger, you may want to host events on a larger scale, and funding becomes more and more of an issue. This is especially an issue when you don’t want to charge admission for the event, such as for langar sevas. A big help is external sponsors, whether they sponsor the society in general, or if they are just supporting a specific event.
To get sponsors, there is plenty of preparation to be done before actually reaching out to anyone. Make sure your society has a professional public image. This includes an active social media with appropriate and relevant content, and a consistent society brand. Having a big online presence helps, such as having your own website – if you’d like to join our network and have your own sikhsoc.org website, contact us!
Once your society has a professional public image, you’re ready to actually find some sponsors. You should only choose companies who have similar, or at least non-conflicting, views and aims as your society. This means avoid companies centred around alcohol/ meat, or with questionable ethics and business practice, etc. You should write a sponsorship proposal, and email it to them, explaining who you are, why you’re reaching out, and why they should help out. Below is a template of a cover letter that you can use to send to potential sponsors. Note that you may need to change some details or make it specific to your society/university, or the company that you’re contacting.
Dear [name of company/relevant staff member],
We write to you on behalf of the [university name] Sikh Society in hopes of forming a relationship with your company. Having read about your [relevant event], we would be delighted to work with you moving forward.
Over a century later it is our turn at the [university name] Sikh Society to pick up the mantle and use our platform at this university to create a space for the Sikh community here, and to embody the values of Sikhi in our actions as a society.
Over the course of the next year, we expect to have many events and projects with which we aim to promote greater visibility of the Sikh faith within [university name/town], and also provide a platform for Sikhs in academia. We see that there is a large absence of Sikhs who engage in higher education at prestigious institutions, and we wish to both encourage and celebrate the presence of Sikhs in these spaces. In addition, we also aim to host events that are able to further the discourse of Sikh history, philosophy and practice. We hope you are able to support us with this vision.
Our sponsorship options range from a [range of options] donation per annum which is used to fund our events and ventures. In return for this donation, we can provide perks such as including your logo on our branding (such as posters and hoodies), promotion on our website and publicising any events you run through our social media — providing access to our rapidly growing membership base and potentially members of the other religious societies we often collaborate with.
For further information on our activities, please refer to the attached sponsorship brochure which contains our highlights, upcoming events, and a letter from the president. It is only with the sponsorship of companies such as your own that we can seek to continue our operations and maintain the growth the society has seen as of late, and it would be fantastic to be able to say that it was with the help of company name here that this newly founded Sikh society was able to expand and truly flourish.
We speak on behalf of all of the society when we say that we look forward to initiating a fruitful, longstanding relationship with [name of company], and we hope to hear from you soon.
[your name]Treasurer, [university name] Sikh Society
Attach a sponsorship proposal to this document. It’s best to only send this document as a pdf, so the formatting and styles don’t get ruined. In your sponsorship document, you should include:
- Letter from the President (about the society, your values, why you’re contacting the company)
- Past events (biggest/most impressive events, include photos)
- Upcoming events
- Sponsorship packages (how much you want from them and what you’ll do for each amount – useful to have multiple tiers, and you can offer things such as putting their logos on your website, advertising their events, etc)
- Society social media
Creating society stash/ merch (such as hoodies) is a great way to improve your brand image and to raise the profile of your society. If needed, it can be an effective way to bring some money into the society too!
When designing your society stash, key things to include on the design are your society logo (this is the main thing that tells people it’s your society, make sure it’s big and clear!), logos of sponsors if applicable (especially if you’ve agreed this with them when they sponsored the society), and maybe even some personalisation, such as the name of the hoodie’s owner. It might be a nice touch to offer the option of having people’s names in Gurmukhi, however some people may not like this, so be sure to check with your members before deciding this outright. It is important to not include any Gurbani on the merch, as it will get dirty and will not be respected appropriately.
You should generally choose neutral colours, such as dark blue, or grey, so the hoodie doesn’t clash with anything, and it should match with the colour scheme used by the society. It is generally cheaper for all the hoodies to be the same colour, so this is something that should be planned and decided in advance. With elements like the logo, personalisation and sponsor logos, it is worth keeping everything in one colour, as it makes everything clear and easily legible, and helps to make sure the colours don’t clash.
When your members wear clothes with society branding, they are representing the society, and Sikhs as a whole. Make sure they are aware of this, and they behave accordingly when wearing the stash, and so should not be smoking, or drinking or in a pub/bar etc.
It is important to make sure your Sikh Society promotes the importance of mental health and wellbeing by ensuring your committee includes a Welfare Officer.
Mental health refers to emotional, psychological and social wellbeing, which impacts all aspects of an individual’s life and choices. The transition to becoming a university student can be more stressful for some than others, and although universities aim to support students as much as possible, not everyone is always comfortable seeking help from mental health professionals. Should a member of your society choose to approach your Welfare Officer for initial guidance, they need to be able to support them appropriately.
In general, the aims of this role are to provide members with mental wellbeing information, link them to the appropriate services and provide access to wellbeing related conversations and events. Some core values that a Welfare Officer needs to follow are compassion, patience, respect for confidentiality and good listening skills.
Most importantly, Welfare Officers need to remember that they are not mental health professionals and can only signpost individuals to the correct resources to the best of their knowledge. When putting together resources, think of specific themes that should be covered such as collating a list of support services designed for students affected by stress, depression and anxiety. This list is by no means extensive but key organisations and charities to note are the Samaritans, Mind, SANE and Student Minds.
Finding ways to reach out to your members may be difficult, but there are various events that can be adapted online in order to achieve the aims stated. Some examples you may wish to consider using are creating online study sessions for members to join for a chat to prevent them from feeling isolated and making sure your social media platforms are used to promote the importance of wellbeing. This can be done by creating your own personalised welfare posts or even sharing recent research findings from studies conducted around mental health by other organisations to get such conversations started. You may also wish to reach out to Sikh Societies from other universities to co-host events such as mental health workshops in the future.
Organisations such as Nishaan and Taraki can also provide more information and resources for Welfare Officers.
Where will you organise it? Do consider that many universities will not allow musical events in standard booked classrooms, and you may have to liaise to find an appropriate room. Most universities have a chaplaincy which often will be suitable. If your Kirtan Darbar is expected to finish later than regular events, ensure that the university is aware, as security may otherwise interrupt the programme. Try to find a room with a projector available for use, as you’ll be able to display the Shabad on screen, with software like Shabad OS.
Who will be doing Kirtan? Do you have any Kirtanis currently part of the Sikh Society? Do you have anyone who can play Tabla? If you have anyone who can do these things that are already part of the society, that’s great! Regardless, you may wish to also call in external Kirtanis. Make sure you get in contact at least 1 month in advance to confirm their attendance.
Sound and Recording
You don’t have to record the Kirtan, but it’s highly recommended! Do you know anybody that has recording equipment? In any case, it is always worth streaming the programme over Facebook or Instagram Live. Source a phone stand and power socket in advance! If you are able to, it is always worth setting up a sound system with microphones and stands – university chaplaincies often have this on-site and all you have to do is ask.
You’ll need to arrange for a vaaja, tabla, and white sheets to lay out, as a minimum. Often, Kirtanis will be able to bring a vaaja, but you must ask! It is also great to ensure that you’ve figured out how you’d like to display the Shabad for sangat to view in advance – check that you’re able to plug in your laptop beforehand.
Not a necessity, but setting the scene can help the sangat become more immersed. A room which can be darkened is ideal, and you may wish to acquire fairly lights to add to the ambience.
Work out all your timings for the programme before you send out invitations to external Kirtanis. The best way to do this is to begin by selecting the programme length and time range – on average, they last 3 hours and begin 5pm+. Once this is done, work out how many slots you can fit in – external Kirtanis will often take anywhere between 20-45mins on average, and it is recommended to offer a 30-40 minute slot. Do tell Kirtanis to arrive at least 30 minutes earlier than their slot – it can be extremely stressful if they have not arrived yet and a previous Kirtani happens to be finishing early. It is a good idea to allow for 1 slot’s worth of slippage, and thus, have a Kirtani from the society on standby to fill in any gaps in these cases.
Hype up the programme! Start advertising a month in advance, and let nearby universities know about it too. Remind individuals and groups at the end of the event about the Kirtan Darbar, and share a poster over social media. BOSS and other Sikh organisations will also share this for you, if you ask. If you are offering food at the end, make sure everyone knows about it!
Although not a requirement, try to arrange for some food to be served at the end of the event. It could be pizza, samosas, or anything you fancy! Try to get it from a place where all your prospective Sangat would be comfortable eating from. Very importantly, ensure other members of your team handles this on the day. Do arrange for a delivery time earlier than the end of the programme – Sangat will leave at the end if food is still on the way.
Things will go wrong! Kirtanis may finish early, finish late, arrive late, or drop out – all common scenarios. Food may not arrive on time. Try to have a backup plan for these scenarios. The easiest way of handling any Kirtani scenarios is to ensure you have a reliable backup on standby to fill in. You can leave out some smaller snacks at the end if food is on the way. Ultimately, do not panic, as there is always flexibility and a solution if you keep calm.
Organizing a Langar on campus can seem a daunting challenge, but you will find the effort you put into this seva is very rewarding. The opportunity a Langar on campus can provide for members to engage with the society, as well as the society to engage with the wider university community is invaluable. This aim of this guide is to give a list of things to consider when organizing a Langar, which can be the biggest event for a Sikh society in an academic year.
The first thing you need to decide is a date and location. Think about holding it where it is easily accessible and, on a date, when campus will not be empty due to a reading week etc. University unions and chaplaincies can be good locations. Try to fix a date at least three months prior to the event to ensure you have enough time to organise everything.
One of the first places to contact is a local Gurdwara, as they will often be able to provide facilities and food, as well as equipment such as plastic dishes and carpet rolls. If there are no local gurdwaras, try speaking to local soup kitchens or other faith groups, as when you try and explain what the event is; they may let you use their kitchen to prepare the food. If the venue does not have a sound system, this will be something you may need to organise if you want to play Kirtan during the event.
BOSS may also be able to provide display banners to put up for the event, as well as other leaflets to distribute to people attending. It can also be worth contacting local Sikh-run restaurants and businesses, as they may be able to help you by providing a dish for the langar or borrowing a van.
In terms of logistics, the main thing to organise is transport and sevadaars. If there are a few members of the society with cars, you may be able to manage with this. To make things easy, it may be advisable to hire a van for 2 days to move everything you need to set up the venue the day before, and then to move food on the day, as well as to pack up. Try and distribute the workload throughout the committee and sevadaars. Keep the members informed of what is happening and try and make seva opportunities as it will allow members to engage with the event.
At the venue, you will need an area for people to remove their shoes and tie rumaale, and an area where food is served leading to where they sit down to eat. It is also good to have a parchaar stall as people leave, where you can ask them what they thought of the event and talk to them about the concept of Langar and why we do it. The Basics of Sikhi ‘3 Facts’ leaflet is a good resource to help with this.
Finally, you need to think about how you will clean up and return everything in the state you found it in. This is important to maintain a good rapport with the university, as well as the organisations that helped you with the event, as this will allow future students to continue to run events and maintain good relations.
The Cambridge University Sikh Society run weekly Rehraas Sahib sessions on Friday evenings. Group reading is followed by a Vichaar session, which takes place for 30-45 minutes.
The term ‘Vichaar’ can be translated as contemplation and thought. During these sessions, open discussions stem from the meaning of each pangtee (line) in Rehraas Sahib.
There is usually a lead speaker, who reads each pangtee and provides a word-by-word translation. The lead speaker mentions anything significant (grammatically, historically etc.) and may ask an opening question. After this, the floor is opened to the sangat (congregation) for any questions or ideas, in relation to the pangtee.
Please find below guidance notes for the lead speaker.
Another format to run the vichaar sessions is to keep it completely open-ended. The sangat can then bring up topics that they’re interested in or any questions that they have, and a conversation will start to form around this.
Sessions are run in-person during the academic term, and/or on Zoom out of term. A sample schedule, currently followed by Cambridge University Sikh Society, is below.
Arrival: 6:00 – 6:15pm
Rehraas Sahib: 6:15 – 6:45pm
Vichaar: 6:45 – 7:30pm