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by A. Ivanhoe/The AS Review

Dear Ivanhoe,
How do you keep a club going from year to year?
— Concerned Club

Dear Concerned,
Your astute question highlights one of the biggest challenges for fledgling clubs in the AS: continuity. Every year the AS recognizes more than several new clubs, but even as those are born, others languish for lack of membership, organization and purpose. This is not a unique phenomenon. Startup business enterprises, non-governmental organizations, political groups and social gatherings of all stripes come and go every year. What is it that gives an organization staying power? Unfortunately, there is no infallible formula for turning a new AS club into an enduring, stalwart student institution. I shall, however, illustrate some of the mistakes that have, in my observation, doomed many an organization to languish in disarray and irrelevancy.

The Close-Knit Clique Club was doomed from the very start. Its membership consisted of a group of students who were already friends before the club began and they made no earnest effort to include other students in their activities. A large proportion of its membership had the same declared major and was set to graduate the same year. Needless to say, the club’s activities were so narrow in scope that even if a new student had joined the group from outside the requisite social circle, she would have found that they played like a big “in-joke” that she could neither appreciate nor enjoy. Eventually, the majority of the Close-Knit Clique Club all graduated and the small remainder of its membership lost interest in keeping the club going, so that was the end of that.

This club failed to understand the virtues of diversity and inclusiveness. Had they sought the participation of students with different backgrounds, majors and class standings, they would have found not only that they had bolstered the quality and scope of their activities with influxes of valuable new perspectives, ideas and connections, but also that they had augmented the quality of their experience at Western and built important relationships that would have proved invaluable to them later in their lives and careers.

In practice, even the club that has a focus on a particular discipline must be willing to ask itself how it could include students from outside its own discipline in ways that are meaningful to both the club and its new recruits. For example, Western’s Engineers Without Borders recruited students majoring in Spanish because they are working on a long-term project to build a laundry facility for a community in Guatemala. In fact, they welcome any students who are interested in helping communities in need, regardless of their aptitude for engineering, because they recognize that their project has value to students who have never taken an engineering class and that those students can also bring value to their project.

Another club that was not to foster an enduring legacy was the Poorly Defined Club. This group of students had a pretty good idea what they wanted to do when they started their club, but after they did it, they found that they had no consensus about what to do next. Some wanted to plan an event, while others wanted to form a discussion group and still others wanted to organize a trip. Since the club had never made clear what its purpose was at the start, each member’s ideas for the future of the club were as good as another’s. Unfortunately, their disagreement on the subject led to the fracturing of the club and ultimately its rapid demise as potential recruits were rightly confused about what joining the club would entail.

The founders of the Poorly Defined Club ought to have set out a clear mission for their club from the outset. A single sentence or a short paragraph would have sufficed to communicate to its potential recruits the reasons for the club’s existence, what the club values, what it does, in general, to support its values and what they should expect upon joining. A short, easy-to-remember name that communicates the essence of what the club does and represents can help brand one’s club as one worth remembering. Being able to explain clearly and briefly what one’s club does, in terms of both its overarching vision and its practical, day-to-day activities, will ensure that no one joins with misconceptions or illusions about what they are getting into. Having a short, uncomplicated document that can be passed along from year to year setting forth the club’s purpose and values, what it does and how it makes decisions, should help not only to stave off future discord but also to establish a reputation that a club can build upon.

The John Doe Club was in a precarious position because John Doe—its founder, president and chief organizer—seemed to have most of the ideas and do most of the work for the club. While Mr. Doe’s vision and ambition are admirable qualities in a student leader, his tendency to micromanage the club’s activities left little room for collaboration among the club’s members, whom he saw merely as worker bees in aid of his own goals. In doing so, he created such a cult of personality around his club that one had a hard time imagining the club without him. As a result, he all but assured that his club will not outlast him. If Mr. Doe had instead encouraged ideas beyond his own and fostered a spirit of partnership that allowed every member the opportunity to make meaningful contributions to the club, then he might have left behind a constructive and functioning institution rather than a flock of sheep in want of a shepherd.

Finally, there was the Go-It-Alone Club that had marvelous ideas but depended only on itself to see them through. It relied solely upon its own membership to achieve its lofty goals, which it managed for a time, but only to the level of mediocrity. It had a dreadful time juggling all the planning, publicity and fundraising for its events because, quite frankly, its members were all students whose time and energy were divided by their studies and their personal lives. When a prospective new member attended one of its meetings, it was so full of planning and procedural minutiae that she felt the club had neither a starting point nor a fun experience to offer. Not only did this daunted student decide not to join the team but the existing membership dwindled due to overwork and boredom. The Go-It-Alone Club had forgotten three important things: firstly, that the AS has a wealth of resources available to them, including publicity; secondly, that there were other clubs and AS offices that would gladly have offered their assistance on their projects; and finally, that students generally join clubs when there is the prospect of having a good time. The club that wants to secure a lasting legacy must become familiar with all the offices in the AS and what they do. It will find that a tremendous amount of work can be saved by allowing people—who are paid with money from student fees—to lend their support to its effort. The club must also look for opportunities to network and collaborate with other AS clubs and offices, and perhaps even clubs and organizations from outside Western, since it might find that those can offer new and better skills, resources and perspectives. Some clubs use online networking software, such as Facebook and Blackboard, as tools for communication within and among their organizations.

Finally, the club must never lose sight of whether it offers a rewarding experience to its membership. When a club becomes chiefly procedural it loses the ability to attract and retain members. Some clubs have separate meetings, one reserved for the banalities of bureaucracy and procedure (generally attended only by elected officers and diehards) and another reserved for social functions like discussion and brainstorming, where even the newest recruits feel welcome, have opportunities to contribute and, most importantly, have a good time.

I will only add to the foregoing to emphasize that one’s fellow club members are people of greater depth than their club identification may imply. It may aid one’s pursuit of continuity to commit to occasional gatherings for the express purpose of simply “hanging out” and learning about one another, perhaps quarterly. Moreover, try to make it tradition to do this at least once during the summer, even though many members may be unable to attend, in order to reaffirm a sense of camaraderie and purpose for the coming year. When one tries to recruit fresh faces in the fall, one must make sure to introduce oneself to new students, sharing something deeply personal about one’s motivation for joining the club and trying to discover common values and glimmers of passion. If sincere, this common ground is the sturdiest place on which to build strong working relationships and abiding friendships that, when it comes down to it, are far more important than any AS club will ever be.

—Ivanhoe

Things Every Club Should Know

Student Activities Advisor Casey Hayden suggests that each club should keep a slim binder of general information about the club and AS resources to pass along from year to year. This information will be of great help to future club leaders, who can hit the ground running without having to reinvent the wheel every year. Here is some of the most important information to pass along:

Student Activities Advisor Casey Hayden (VU 431)
Assistant Director of Student Activities Lisa Rosenberg (VU 425A)

The AS clubs gurus with the knowledge and wisdom all clubs should seek.

AS Publicity Center (VU 411) — http://publicity.as.wwu.edu/
The place to promote your club and its events.

AS and VU Web sites
Resources — http://www.as.wwu.edu/clubs/resources/
General Forms — http://www.as.wwu.edu/clubs/Request Forms — http://www.as.wwu.edu/business/Reservation Forms — http://vu.wwu.edu/reservations/People — http://www.as.wwu.edu/directories/