Dave Muscato here again with more practical advice for running your group as successfully as possible. I have for you today some general information about group officer turnover, as well as one specific suggestion, which I will offer at the end of this article.
So, it’s nearing the end of the school year, and it’s time for your student group to elect new officers. If none of your current officers are graduating and all have been doing a stellar job, great! Re-elect them and keep up the good work.
But where many groups fall apart — literally — is when the one or two people who were really holding the group together graduate and move on. You’d be surprised how often seemingly-active campus groups have to restart from scratch every few years when this happens.
You’ve put a lot of effort, time, and resources into building and growing your group. Don’t let it all dissolve just because you’re leaving!
The question before us is, how can we help our groups stay strong when graduating officers are moving on? The answer is, it’s a process, and you must start early.
The first and most important priority is to go out of your way to get to know your freshman and sophomore members, as soon as possible. If you are President or Vice President of your group, it’s likely that you’re a senior or at least a junior, and you might feel like you have more in common when chatting with other group members who are your age. You must actively resist the urge to chat only with people you already know. Make an effort, additionally, to meet and get to know your new & especially younger members. This is not just for reasons of replacing graduating officers down the line, but generally a good idea for making your group a good place of community for humanists in search of a group to call their own.
If you’re graduating and are looking to replace yourself as an officer, you must go out of your way to cultivate relationships with people younger than you. It’s rare that freshman or sophomores will feel comfortable enough in their abilities to run for office, and even if elected, it’s equally rare that they have the experience and leadership skills necessary to carry out those responsibilities well.
Give brand-new members some time to get comfortable with your group as “regular” members, and to become comfortable with the college environment & identifying as a college student. Get to know them during this time. Hang out socially. Learn about their interests and form genuine friendships. You already have at least one thing in common — secular humanism — and humanist groups are an ideal place to make friends.
Ask specific members whom you think have leadership potential to help you with certain projects — for example, running your Ask an Atheist table, writing guest articles for your group’s newsletter or blog, giving TED-style presentations at your meetings, and so on. If your group sponsors an annual conference or hosts a guest speaker, tap your younger members as volunteers to help out behind the scenes. You will learn quickly whom you think would make a good officer in coming years, and on whom you can count for extra help when you need it.
Once you’ve identified whom you think would be a good candidate to replace you, take him or her aside, or even out for coffee or dinner, and have a chat about it. I can’t speak for all officers, but I can say that I never would have thought about running for office if the outgoing president of my own group hadn’t told me explicitly that he thought I would be good at it. It just never occurred to me. Sometimes a nudge like that is all someone needs, and if you can provide it to someone qualified but who doesn’t yet see it in herself, you’re on the right track.
The purpose of my article today is to make a suggestion to outgoing officers:
Write a short open letter, say 500-700 words, about your experience as a group officer, and how being an officer has made your life better and more meaningful. Talk about how you felt when you initially joined or started your group, how you started to become active in it, and how you became an officer. Talk about what it means for you to be leaving and moving on.
In your essay, encourage members who aren’t yet graduating to consider running for office themselves, and talk about why it’s important to be an activist for science, reason, and secular values. Then, publish this essay to your members, e.g. in your aforementioned e-newsletter or blog.
I did this myself on my group’s blog, and found the experience not only spiritually fulfilling, but I hope that it will stir an interest in running for office among our membership, too. We have twice as many people running for office this year as last year, and I see that as a great success!
Until next time!