Let’s be real, student organizations take a lot of work. And it’s not just because you’re setting up events, staging productions, selling tickets, pubbing hard, making snacks, taking photos, applying for grants, and a whole lot more. It’s also because every year, somebody new has got to learn everything all over again. Between senioritis, job applications, final exams, and occasional nepotism, if you’re on your way out, then managing a smooth transition is a hard thing to do.
And if you’re on your way in, then how do you set yourself up for a good transition on top of learning everything else about your job? And it can be stressful. After all, it only takes one bad transition to ruin an organization for good. So whether you’re passing the baton this year or about to ascend to the top of the student org ladder, here are 5 things you can do to set your organization up for success in the years to come.
1) Keep Everything and Keep it in One Place
When you transition, there’s a lot of things to pass on—the password to your Instagram account, knowing which restaurants have the most profitable benefit nights, and tips for getting money from your student congress.
But when you’re on your way out, it can be easy to let a few things fall through the cracks and be scrambling to think of what you need to pass on. So that’s why you should keep everything and keep it in one place. One way to do this is keeping a cloud-based transition document.
You can just open up a document in Google Drive and as the year goes by, jot down critical information like passwords to accounts you create and advice for the next person. Once a month or so, schedule some time in your weekly meetings for everyone to update their transition documents with new insights.
At the end of the year, all you have to do is share it with next person. If you have any photos, flyers, videos, or a constitution create a Google Drive folder and put everything in there.
Advanced users can even just create an institutional gmail account (like ASA.Communications@gmail.com) and store important documents in the Google Drive. Pass along the login information to the next person and they get passed everything you’ve done in the past year to learn from.
2) Start Your Transitions Earlier
A lot of student organizations fall into the trap of transitioning in the last month or so of the semester. But this timeline puts you on a bumpy road. Seniors won’t have the energy left to work on anything, final exams make scheduling meetings near-impossible, and if you don’t find the right person for a role then you don’t have time to look.
I recommend starting your transitions around the time of spring break. That way, you have enough time to find the best people and time for them to go ahead and start running the organization before all of the seniors dip out to greener pastures. Oftentimes you don’t know what questions to start asking until you’re in the thick of it. This let’s the new board get settled with a safety net in place before taking off on their own.
3) Create a Leadership Pipeline
Part of designing a sustainable student organization is building a solid pipeline to get students interested and involved with the leadership of your organization. Having people stay on your board for multiple years is a solid way to preserve institutional knowledge and grow your organization.
Generally, the best way to form a leadership pipeline is where interested students can see a clear next step to advancing in the organization. That could be as simple as going from being a general member, to being a team member, to being a team director, to being president.
One way to get students involved early and facilitate a smooth transition is to have apprenticeship roles in your organization. This could look like a First-Year Representative or an Assistant position, or any other role designed to help people get a foot in the door. These positions are always great to have, especially if you have a lot of seniors on the board.
Some organizations have staggered Co-Director/Co-President roles, where one person is a Senior and the other is a Junior. The Junior then becomes the Senior the next year and trains a new Junior. Sometimes this is implemented as President and Vice President. However, these are always tricky to pull off because a lot of students like to study abroad/go on a co-op for a semester.
4) Institutionalize Your Transitions Process
Chances are, your organization is a bit too nuanced to make a transition as simple as passing on a gmail password. You’re probably going to have to design a transitions process that addresses your organizations specific needs and that requires work. The easiest way to get people to actually commit to a strong transition is to make it expected, and to make it fun.
This could be an annual transitions retreat or event. For example, one organization I know of has a transitional retreat where the new board and the old board pass the baton. But it also acts as a celebration of the old board and each member of the new board is required to give a personalized gift to their predecessor. This is now an annual tradition and the old board is encouraged to participate because they are recognized. Besides, who doesn’t like a good personalized gift?
5) Build a Diverse Team
Just like any gene pool, an organization is going to survive best if it is run by a diverse team. And I don’t just mean this in terms of racial diversity, but in all kinds. Your team should be built to complement each others’ weaknesses and strengths. This means: Don’t build a team of just seniors. Don’t build a team of just your friends. Don’t use the same criteria to pick every member of your board.
Once I was on an Exec Board where one of the criteria used to select all of the positions was our ability to talk about systemic social issues. This wasn’t a random decision—executive board members would be expected to explain these topics to other members and assist in writing statements on these issues.
Our conversations were awesome and we all challenged each other to learn more and strengthen our arguments for our beliefs. But admittedly, a lot of people didn’t get very much done in terms of what our positions actually were. A strong team is diverse in experience and skill set.
Annual transitions can seem like a daunting task, but with a little bit of preparation, you can set your organization up for success year after year.