by Kaitlyn Schmitt (email@example.com)
“How do I start a new organization?” Student activities professionals are often asked this question. At GW, there are nearly 500 student organizations, so it’s hard to imagine there are other ideas for organizations, but our students are continuously identifying new opportunities and unmet needs. In 2016, the Center for Student Engagement implemented a new robust process for organization formation. The completely revised process has allowed us to integrate developmental checkpoints with newly formed student organizations, contributing to greater success and sustainability of new organizations.
Prior to 2016, the new organization formation process was simple and informal: meet with a staff member from the CSE and submit a constitution and a roster. In general, if an organization completed these steps, they would gain recognition. Although the CSE reserved the right to decline recognition, without a formal rubric or set of standards by which to offer approval, we lacked the credibility and legitimacy to do so regularly. This led to the gratuitous approvals of redundant organizations and organizations which lacked solid strategy or leadership. Further, the informal nature of the process resulted in applications from students lacking the commitment and level of dedication required to start and run a new organization. The new process addresses this.
Throughout each step of the revised organization formation process, CSE staff and student committee members look for:
- Uniqueness. A new organization must be demonstrably different than every other organization on campus. Similar organizations compete for funding, members, event space, and other resources. In some cases, a student did not like the direction of an existing organization and so decides to start their own. However, that’s detrimental to both organizations. By having two of the same organization, they actually work against each other. In some cases, uniqueness is narrowly defined - such as various Christian organizations that are affiliated with different local churches - but it is important for organizations to establish uniqueness.
- Sustainability. Organizations are meant to continue from year to year. But there are organizations that peter out once the founders graduate - or even more tragically, when the students learn about university policies or other obstacles that make their vision challenging to realize. We want recognized organizations to be able to be sustained from year to year, so we look for organizations with clear structure, short-term and long-term goals, a robust action plan, anticipated challenges, and committed officers.
If an organization meets these two criteria, they are likely to be recognized and to be successful at GW.
Potential new organizations must first meet with a staff advisor from the Center for Student Engagement to discuss their idea and plan. When an idea for a new group sounds similar to an existing organization, the advisor prompts the students to consider how their group is different. In cases of clear overlap, we recommend they work within the existing organization. If they’re not sure, we recommend the new group meet with the existing organization to learn more about how their missions are similar or different and explore opportunities for collaboration. Sometimes, these groups don’t continue in the formation process because they have realized they can achieve their goals within an existing organization.
Beyond considering uniqueness, the consultation meeting also serves as an advising meeting. The group can learn from the advisor’s experience as they’re preparing to become an organization and start to understand how their organization would operate within university policies and procedures. The advisor discusses any potential challenges the organization may face and prompts them to think about how they might address those challenges.
2. Preparation on Their Own
After meeting with us, the students continue to develop their organization on their own. They finalize a constitution based on the constitution guide, solidify proposed activities and leaders, and prepare a presentation about their organization.
When they’re ready, students submit an application for recognition via OrgSync, GW’s student organization management system. If their organization is approved, the data in their application automatically becomes the organization’s profile in the OrgSync database. After a staff member verifies that the constitution meets the minimum requirements and they have held an initial consultation meeting, the group is scheduled to present to the New Organizations Committee.
4. Presentation to the New Organizations Committee
The New Organizations Committee is a group of 8-10 students who judge new organizations’ presentations against a rubric and make a recommendation to the CSE whether the group should be officially recognized.New organizations are given 5 minutes to present their idea, and then the committee asks follow-up questions. In 2017-2018, the CSE upheld every recommendation the NOC made.
By presenting to their peers, new organizations must refine their ideas and be able to articulate them. The presentation aspect adds legitimacy and weight to the new organization formation process. The NOC draws on their own experiences and their training to ask questions and ensure the new organizations are well prepared. Often, the students ask questions that staff members would not have considered, since they have a better understanding of the student experience.
The students on the NOC find this process rewarding. Their experience helps them learn about what sets an organization up for success or failure. Additionally, they enjoy seeing the diverse passions of GW students. One member of the NOC says she struggles because she wants to join many of the organizations she reviews!
5. First Year Check-In Via Provisional Organization Activity Portfolio
After an organization is granted recognition, they are considered on provisional status for one year. With provisional status, they retain all of the privileges of other student organizations. They are required to meet additional expectations related to programming and organizational growth.
At the close of the year, the new organization completes a Provisional Organization Activity Portfolio to report on their first year of recognition. The New Organizations Committee reviews the portfolios to ensure the organizations are flourishing. If there are concerns, the organization typically remains on provisional status but may lose their recognition. However, most organizations that are not flourishing after a year fail to complete the portfolio - making this a natural check-in to ensure recognized organizations are truly active.
In the last two academic years, the CSE has found this process to be very beneficial. In general, about 80% of organizations proceed beyond each step: from initial consultation meeting to presentation to recognition to full status. This means that the process is relatively easy, not too burdensome, and a reasonable, surmountable barrier for organization recognition. To see the data from 2017-2018, refer to the infographic below.
In developing and implementing this process, we have encountered challenges. We shifted to allowing organizations to register on a rolling basis, which presented challenges with pairing them with an advisor and ensuring they receive sufficient support. With the rolling timeline, creating expectations for provisional organizations was a challenge to ensure all organizations had adequate time to meet the expectations. Academic year 2018-2019 will be the first year of implementing provisional organization activity portfolios on a monthly basis, which will take staff and student time to provide good tracking and reminders. Communicating what provisional organization status means has also been challenging, since students sometimes misunderstand and think they are ineligible for privileges, even though they are not. Finally, the reduced staffing and lack of New Organizations Committee meetings during summer necessitates a modified process, where consultation meetings must be scheduled by appointment and the New Organizations Committee must meet the first week of classes for several hours to provide a decision to organizations before the annual organization fair.
Despite these challenges, the process has been an improvement. Beyond the data’s indication that the process is a judicious and not onerous, our staff have observed that new organizations are better prepared to face the challenges of founding. And ultimately, that’s our goal: to set organizations up for success.
Kaitlyn Schmitt is a Program Coordinator for Student Involvement. She oversees student organization training and development, including the new organization formation process.