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Organizing Your New Club
Starting a new club in high school can be a great opportunity, albeit one that involves a great deal of work. But even when you’ve put in this work and your new club is successfully established, your job is not over. There’s a lot more left to be done to ensure that your club will function smoothly, serve its intended purpose, and continue to exist and do good work in the long run.
In this post, we’ll go over what you need to do to get your club organized and functional once it’s established, including tips for building membership, managing money, and keeping good records for the future.
Starting your own club: the why and how
Here at the CollegeVine blog, we’ve posted previously about the process of dreaming up and founding a brand-new club. Our blog posts How to Start a Club in High School and Clubs You Can Start in High School go over all the details you need to know in order to become the founder of your own student group, devoted to a topic that’s important to you.
Starting your own club has a number of potential benefits for you and for your community. Personally, it gives you the opportunity to create an extracurricular activity that’s focused on your chosen issue. This can demonstrate your innovativeness, creative problem-solving skills, and leadership ability to college admissions committees.
In your community, your efforts in starting a new club can help to meet a need that was previously unmet, whether that’s as a community service group performing a certain job or as a social space where like-minded people can gather and have fun.
In the previous blog posts we mentioned, we’ve gone over the steps you’ll need to take in order to start your own club. These include deciding what type of club you want to start, determining community interest, finding a faculty advisor, and following any procedures your school may have for instituting new student groups.
Once you get past the mechanics of starting a club, however, you’re going to encounter additional and different challenges. You’ll need to start thinking about how to make your club functional and sustainable as well as interesting and useful.
Attracting attention and building membership
One of your early challenges in starting a new club will be finding members. After all, a club is not just a personal project focused on your own needs—it’s an attempt to form a group or community that will participate in certain activities together.
First of all, of course, you should talk to your friends, who likely share some of your interests and with whom you already have a positive relationship. Word of mouth is a powerful tool in building club membership. Encourage your friends and existing members to get the word out on a casual, interpersonal level among their other friends as well.
One strategy is to encourage current members to each bring a friend or two to your next meeting. People are often more likely to attend a meeting if they already know someone in the club and don’t have to show up alone.
Another place to start is with other clubs at your school that have a similar or related subject matter. Students participating in these clubs might also be interested in yours. Talk to the leaders of those clubs and start forming a relationship, which you might later be able to parlay into collaborations like co-sponsoring a visiting speaker or co-hosting an event.
Take advantage of whatever advertising opportunities are available. Ads in the school newspaper, posters in the hallways, and announcements during homeroom can all help to extend your reach. Make sure to include contact information so that people can get in touch.
You can also consider creating an online presence for your group, though you should read your school’s policies for social media use first. If you’re able to put together an attractive and functional website for your group, that can add an extra touch of professionalism.
Of course, when you’re getting the word out about your club, it helps to have a particular event to advertise. It’s a good idea to host an open-house-type informational meeting for interested students. They’ll learn more about your club while you learn more about potential membership.
At this meeting, and through other inquiries you might receive, you should build up an email list to distribute announcements and updates. Your school may have an established system for managing email lists, which makes dealing with these mass mailings considerably easier.
Having a long list of student email addresses gives you great power, but of course, with great power comes great responsibility. In short, don’t misuse your email list. Treat others how you would like to be treated, keep private information private, and remember that if your emails are too frequent or not relevant enough, they’re more likely to be ignored or deleted.
In this process of building your membership, you’ll likely encounter a lot of people with ideas for how your club should be run. Often, some flexibility can pay off. For example, minimizing scheduling interference with other popular clubs and activities will allow more people to potentially attend your club.
However, this piece of advice comes with a caveat: it is possible to be too flexible. It’s wise to listen to your members and their needs, but the truth is, you can’t please everyone or accommodate every schedule. Sometimes, it’s perfectly fine to stand firm and stick with your plan, even if some people don’t agree.
Delegating authority: creating officer positions
It’s natural for you to feel a sense of ownership over the club you’ve founded. After all, this project has been important enough to you to inspire you to think outside of the options available to you already and work to create an organization from scratch. You’ll always occupy a special place in the club as its founder.
However, it’s important that you realize that you can’t run a club entirely by yourself, even one you founded. A club is not a solitary activity, after all. Your club doesn’t exist for you to rule over with an iron fist; it exists to create a community of individuals who are motivated to work toward a particular purpose.
Not only is exerting total control over your club nearly impossible, it’s a bad idea for you and for the group. It’s generally too much work for one person to keep up with, and it limits your club’s potential by discouraging other engaged members from contributing their ideas and perspectives. Delegation, then, is an essential leadership skill. Officer positions allow others to take on responsibility for particular areas or tasks within the club.
First, you’ll have to decide what kind of and how many officer positions are appropriate for your club. This will involve getting input from all those involved in founding the club, as well as the approval of your faculty advisor or whatever adult is responsible for overseeing your group.
A traditional set of officer positions usually includes a president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer. Clubs might also have a historian to document the club’s progress, a social media manager or publicity chair to oversee your club’s online and community presence, or other special officers.
Additional roles that might be useful to designate depend very much on the type of club you’re running. On a Speech and Debate team, for instance, it’s often appropriate to have a Debate Captain, who is specifically responsible for maintaining a working knowledge of debate events, in addition to overall team officers. (You can learn more about what this means in our post A Guide to Excelling at Speech and Debate.)
Once you’ve decided which officer roles you need to fill, you’ll have to figure out how to fill them. Often, a vote by club members is an appropriate way to select officers, but for a club that’s new and very small, you might be able to successfully pick officers by consensus.
Your faculty advisor may also play a role in determining who fills what role within your club. You can make use of your advisor’s experience and insight to determine who is responsible enough to take on leadership roles and which role would be appropriate for which person.
Certain types of clubs already have an existing model for their leadership structure and procedures. For example, if the club you founded is a new chapter of a larger organization, that organization might require or suggest particular officer positions, election procedures, and other guidelines for distributing authority in the group.
Whatever process you use to select officers for your club, it should be both fair and specific, with clear guidelines for how voting should be conducted and how to tell who wins. Elections can bring out competitive tension, of course, and you’ll want to avoid personal conflict whenever possible.
Ensuring organizational stability
Once your club is founded, acquires members, and selects officers, your next task is to ensure that your club remains functional and stable as an institution. Since official student groups exist by permission of a particular school, this will first require you to understand your school’s policies for student groups. Breaking these rules, even unintentionally, could compromise your club’s continued existence.
Every school has its own guidelines and requirements, so carefully read your school’s student handbook and any other documentation they provide. This will tell you important facts like how to reserve space for meetings and events, what activities your club can sponsor, and how to manage your club’s financial resources.
As a leader of your club, you’ll need to put work into maintaining a good relationship with your school’s officials, who have the power to make or break your club. In your interactions with these administrators, always be respectful and polite, even when you disagree with their decisions or are arguing for a change in the rules. This will reflect positively not only on your maturity, but on your club.
The issue of dealing with your club’s financial matters deserves a special note. Obviously, handling money is a serious task, whether it’s in the form of managing funding from your school, controlling club expenditures, or working with fundraising for a charity. Whoever deals with money in your club needs to be a trustworthy and responsible individual.
Your school most likely has specific guidelines for how student organizations should deal with finances, which you’ll need to understand and follow. Since minors are limited in their ability to conduct certain financial transactions, such as booking a hotel room for a group trip, your faculty advisor will play a large role in managing your club’s finances.
Finally, even from the beginning, you’ll need to think about preparing your club for the future. Everyone wants to found a club that will have a lasting impact. If your club does succeed in the long run, however, future members will at some point want to find out more about its founding and early days.
Institutional memory is something that leaders of high school clubs don’t always remember to prioritize, but it’s essential if you want to build something that will endure past the end of your high school years. Keeping clear and complete records will not only help you keep your club organized in the short term, but also ensure its future.
Whether your club’s records and relics are digital, physical, or both, they should be kept in a safe location to which a few trustworthy people have access. Make sure that usernames, passwords, and other instructions are written down somewhere safe; you don’t want to create a situation where all your club’s records are locked in an account whose password no one can remember.
Google Drive, Dropbox, or your school’s own server are some digital options for storing your records, including images and videos. Your faculty advisor or student activities office may be able to help you find the best way to keep your records secure and accessible, both now and years from now.
Preparing younger members to serve as leaders in the future is another essential task for ensuring the longevity of your club. Make sure that they have not only the factual knowledge to effectively manage the club, but also the necessary skills to do a great job and help your initial brilliant idea become a long-term success.
Prepared students know that a polished extracurricular profile is essential when you’re applying to top colleges. Founding your own extracurricular activity is a great way to additionally show off your ability to think outside the box in pursuit of your goals.
Check out the following CollegeVine blog posts for more important information about extracurricular activities and starting your own club.
Looking for more help in identifying your goals and preparing for college? The CollegeVine near-peer mentorship program can pair you up with recent high school graduates currently attending top colleges who share your academic and extracurricular interests. Visit our CollegeVine Mentorship Program website for more information.