Starting a Chapter

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By: Veronica Dulin

In my past two years as a GenUN Fellow, I’ve seen the GenUN movement spread across the nation and new UNA chapters spring up on campuses from coast to coast. These chapters are the culminations of months of planning, preparation, and hard work undertaken by inspired individuals on campuses to realize their own unique visions of a UNA organization on their campus. Each group faces their own challenges in establishing their chapter, from finding membership, to locating funds and orchestrating their first events. I’ve advised students in high school, college, and graduate school on how to start a successful UNA chapter, and I’ve heard time and time again that the most overwhelming time in a chapter’s genesis is the period where the idea of a chapter only exists in the heads of one or two leaders. The mental and logistical barriers to creating a chapter from scratch sometimes seem insurmountable; I have a couple of pieces of advice to grind down these mountains.

1. Craft your pitch

Students often return from a UNA activity, national conference, or other event brimming with enthusiasm and confidence about tackling the challenge of starting a chapter. Those feelings fizzle out once leaders arrive at their campuses and begin struggling with the unwieldy idea of starting a new campus organization. Maybe they don’t know exactly what events their theoretical organization should sponsor. Perhaps they aren’t sure exactly what structure the chapter should have. Sometimes students are uncertain about what exactly UNA is if their experience with the greater organization is only fleeting.

My first piece of advice is to ask! You can’t talk to campus administrations or potential members about your organization if you only have a vague idea of what you are trying to create. Get in contact with UNA employees or other chapter leaders who first put you on the path towards running your own chapter, and ask these clarifying questions! Know that the UNA-Fellows and Youth Engagement Coordinator are here to help guide and shape your chapter, and we want to help perfect your understanding of UNA and your campus’s potential. Do research on the activities of other campus chapters and regional chapters to see how these are designed and what events they facilitate. Before you start recruiting and institutionalizing, it’s important to craft your first pitch about what the organization will look like, how it will fit in on your campus, what the benefits are for students, and brainstorm some potential events. Ask questions!

2. Get some help

With classes and jobs and other extra-curriculars, the founding of a chapter seems impossible to fit into the schedule of a busy student or small band of students. After your understanding of the chapter that you want to create has coalesced, it’s imperative to start finding other students to take on some of the burdens of leadership. You can start finding the skeletons of your executive board by gathering qualified friends and acquaintances, or posting applications or invitations to become a part of the leadership. Students are eager to assume leadership positions in organizations across campus, and gathering diverse experiences and opinions together can help strengthen your chapter. Meeting with campus administration regarding obtaining club status and funding is less onerous when you’re accompanied by another student who has agreed to serve as a finance officer and has taken on the responsibility of comprehending university policies. The prospect of advertising for membership and events is less intimidating when you have a communications officer waiting in the wings.

3. Hammer it out

Once your nascent executive board has gathered and confirmed their interest, it’s time to solidify your organization. UNA-USA requires that you have a constitution for your organization. You can look at our example constitutions and the constitutions of other clubs at your school to make sure that you’re in line with both university and UNA guidelines. Your new core officers can help tease out the constitution so that it can be presented to both institutions. Generally, you should have a name and mission, membership rules, the roles of officers, power transitions, finances, and requirements for meeting frequency.

Once your constitution is set, its time to recruit membership. UNA requires a minimum of ten members to be given status by UNA. Most organizations either stage their first event or have a general interest meeting that’s open to the student body, or roll these into one. It depends on your initial haul interested friends and officers. If you’re sparse on members at first, try preparing a presentation and advertisements for a general interest meeting where you can teach potential members about the goals or your organization, opportunities that UNA provides, and your plans for the rest of the semester. This is a great recruitment tool, and UNA has example presentations that you can look at.

I hope that this blog post has been helpful as assuaging some anxieties and provided some useful pointers! Remember that the GenUN Fellows and UNA-USA is always on hand to provide resources and advice!

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