I’ve had a pretty wonderful experience at AUB. What defined that was the amount of privilege I had in assuming tens of different leadership roles that each put an extra grey hair in my head.
90% of what I learned at AUB I did from co-curricular activities. This isn’t to undermine how rich my academic experience was however, only to highlight the massive amount of learning opportunity that being active in AUB holds.
Over the course of an electrifying three years, I’ve had the honor of serving on 7 diverse and highly active cabinets, partnering with countless other organizations, as well as getting elected to the USFC and pulling a massive amount of meticulous work from there. This process has allowed me to actively lead over 650 students in the process.
What follows is a brief list of things I learned and things I wish I knew when I was in your shoes.
- Build your club’s identity:
This is probably the most important, and most neglected aspect of work.
Without an identity, you and your members don’t know what you’re being active for. The more focused and specialized your identity as a club, the clearer the nature and outcome of your work will be, and the more motivated and empowered you’re going to feel.
One way to build your club’s identity is by drafting and voting on a mission statement and a vision statement. That identity is further solidified and legitimized by your subsequent efforts and initiatives.
- Develop a thorough organizational chart:
The next big thing you want to do after you create an identity and some milestones for your club is to carve it up neatly and effectively.
Based on the objectives you have, you’d want to divide up your members and assign leadership roles.
These leadership roles should be as selective as possible. This is for a number of reasons, but one I’d like to share is that, for better or worse, AUB students tend to take their work more seriously when they feel like they made an effort to get the position they were seeking.
There is a huge variety of interviewing and applicant attraction techniques that you can employ to your advantage. Generally, think about whether you want to interview in groups or individually, how you can structure the interview to elicit commitment and seriousness, and how to deliver news of acceptance or rejection in a way that encourages people to remain active in your club.
- Establish a chain of communication, not a chain of command:
Let’s be blunt. Being president, director, executive… within a club is a learning opportunity identical to that of your fellow team member. Attempting to behave in any way superior to your “subordinates” is unjustified and unhealthy for your image and your club culture.
What you want to do instead is to immediately disillusion yourself from your führer status. Even in the workforce, unjustified hierarchies and the attitudes that come with them prove poisonous to most organizations. Imagine how that reflects itself in a university club made up of same-generation volunteers.
Your colleagues who aren’t CEOs or presidents have remarkably similar credentials to you and could prove highly valuable in their feedback. Incorporate them. That being said, make sure everyone is primarily focused on their tasks; hence a chain of communication is established. Some clubs routinely survey all their active members by holding small and large meetings to discuss decisions or at least explain the decision making rationale. Such fair process is essential for the motivation of your members and being most informed and thoughtful in your decisions.
A crucial element in working in a volunteering context (and any context for that matter) is assuring a fair distribution of credit. In order to guarantee that, some clubs have a very clearly defined reward and punishment system. Others rely majorly on a trust and commitment culture. A combination of both is what proved most effective during my services.
What’s the best reward and punishment system? Depending on your club, you might want to ask the members that question directly. Setting these norms collectively improves everyone’s sense of commitment and identity and makes them accountable to themselves before you.
- Understand how sponsorship works:
I can write a dissertation on this piece of advice alone. But to maximize on the average college student’s attention span, I’ll make my recommendations brief.
Start as early as possible. Sponsorship takes a lot of time, patience, and maneuvering around shaky guarantees and unpredictable loopholes. An essential first step is to prepare a professional (and pretty) sponsorship package. AUB Outdoors and TEDxAUB over the years have designed exemplary sponsorship packages that you might want to get inspired by.
- Know how to approach the USFC:
The USFC isn’t a cash cow. Every single expense needs to be verified and justified. The USFC goes through several funding requests and other proposals per meeting and most often won’t bargain. So make your demands as minimal and detailed as possible. Prove that you made a tangible and (preferably) successful effort in securing funds from outside the USFC before going to it. Know how to pitch your cause to make sure it benefits AUB students.
- Nothing you do will be collaboration free:
Take your leadership role as a learning opportunity to sculpt and sharpen your professional and political communication skills. It will get frustrating plenty of times on the way, but remain focused and pragmatic in your approach. One inappropriate joke, a onetime loss of temper, or one lazily unanswered email can cost you and your club a lot.
Alternatively, a series of well calculated meetings and perfected pitches can be game changers and major accelerators for your work.
The knowledge that your work is built entirely on collaboration encompasses a number of skills that otherwise seem trivial. One of them is this: know how to hold an amazingly productive and engaging meeting.
This may sound commonsensical and easy, but it’s actually very difficult. How you manage a meeting can mean all the difference between your members or partners leaving a room clear and excited or confused and demotivated. Remember, all of your work depends on how committed and motivated your members are.
- Offer a variety of incentives for why to join and remain committed to your organization:
Depending on your career path, taking on provable responsibility roles in relevant clubs is a major career booster on your CV. That much is self-evident. What people often don’t realize is that your co-curricular engagement also directs your career path. That is not only a fact, it’s also a selling point.
Interested in consulting per se? Why don’t you join 180 Degrees Consulting or the Consulting Club?
I had seriously considered a career in consulting for myself. Becoming Training Director and working as a consultant and event organizer with 180 DC however helped me realize I like doing other things more. Identifying the things you don’t want to do is as important as identifying the things you do.
That being said, the benefits of being active aren’t limited to career paths. Remember, graduate schools that employ a holistic approach in their admissions want to see rising superheroes. The ability to show that you are a force of good for your community is becoming essential for a big number of scholarship opportunities as well. Even if you’re not the most concerned global citizen, going for these extrinsic motivators may very well turn you into one. I thought I liked community service when I first got active. By the time I graduated, I realized that I absolutely love it.
The final, and perhaps best, incentive is the deep and rapid social bonding you experience when you’re active. Socializing over hangouts and shared interests is nice and essential in college. Working on something you both find meaningful is the ultimate bonding experience. You connect with people on the things that matter to them, a powerful shortcut to getting close to people, and pick it up from their into forming social groups you continue to feel challenged, motivated, supported and impactful by.
None of these incentives, however, can work if you don’t provide the basics outlined above and if the said rewards aren’t genuine.
Everything I’ve said so far boils down to this point.