This was not about improving the digital experience. This was about improving the whole customer journey, the service design.
What is the Student Organizations Council (SOC)?
The SOC acted as an arm of the Student Government Budgeting Committee. It funded organizations who had not yet achieved major status according to established guidelines. It is made up of an executive team and seven Budget and Review Committee (B&RC) members. I was made president of the organization after serving as a B&RC member for a couple of years.
Defining the Problem
When I took up the role as president of the organization I was tasked with revitalizing it.
The membership was scarce. Only 5 organizations were regularly represented in meetings and that was because they had a member serving on the B&RC. Consistent attendance from non-committee members was mostly non existent.
Funding would often go unused, causing a mass rush at the end of the budget year to deplete remaining funds. If the Student Government Budgeting Committee saw left over money, they would happily re-allocate it for another use. Many times when organizations showed up for assistance they had to be turned away as they were not considered members of the SOC and thus not eligible for funding.
It was obvious to me that there was a large disconnect between what people needed, what we provided, and how we communicated that. Having been an executive board member of a small organization, I understood some of the difficulties these budding student leaders faced. I set out to understand the true purpose and service gap that SOC should and could fill.
How do our members currently view us and our services?
My research started with finding out the visibility of the organization and the satisfaction with our services. Not to my surprise many student leaders either knew nothing of the SOC's existence or were so frustrated with the process that they ignored it.
Executive membership in small organizations often changed at odd times during the year and transition of leadership duties were unheard of. Unknowing student leaders would instantly pummeled me with questions on the extent of help the SOC provided and what organizations needed to do to get that assistance. Those who did know of our existence unloaded their frustrations about the SOC being unreliable. About how funds may or may not be available for what was truly needed and whose rules and procedures were too confusing to be worth their time.
What do organization leaders need help with most?
The next step was to determine what pain points student organization leaders faced in their service to their respective organizations. Many were elected because no one else would do it. Others just had a passion to get others involved in their club's interests and spread knowledge and understanding for their causes. The repeating issue was that they did not know how or even were to go for help. They did not know what they didn't know about to even ask the right questions.
This lead me to think,
How can we position the SOC as an advocate and resource for new student leaders in their journey to build and refine their organization's membership and credibility?
Discovering a Solution
One of the rules governing funding was to maintain an active membership standing in the SOC. This required attending at least two consecutive previous meetings. The SOC only met once a month and the B&RC meetings which were every week at the same time did not count towards the requirement. This meant that organizations needed to think of and secure enough documentation to file for funding assistance 3 months in advance. This held true even for a small funds request like that for poster printing, the most common request. Most of the new leaders did not know how to plan events beyond guerrilla style outings with friends. Planning even 1 month out was difficult with their current experience as event planners.
My thought was to have the meeting twice a month instead to give more opportunities, however the meetings themselves seemed useless. You would show up and any organizations who received money in the recent past would give a 5 minute presentation on how their event went. If no one had a presentation the meeting moved on to the B&RC portion which would likely be just as short. This is not useful to others especially when there is not guideline of how to analyze and present on the effectiveness of your event.
The other problem arose from a core issue with a first come first serve funding system. Organizations cannot rely on funding. We did not provide yearly budgets for the small organizations so any major event would require tons of effort without any assurance of even partial funding.
Giving Real Value to Membership
Members must often miss their own club meetings to show up to the SOC. Though only one member of the executive board needed to show, this was still very problematic when the meetings provided no value. So my first step was to provide that value. I decided that what would provide potential and current members with the most value would be to provide leadership training and guidance for organizations to eventually gain major club status. This major club status, later known as tier A Organizations, would provide a dedicated yearly budget for their events.
I decided to turn each SOC meeting into a mini workshop covering a different topic based on expressed needs of the membership and general tips for organization success.
Let's not re-invent the wheel ...
Crafting all of this content for this is a daunting task for a small exec board. I also lost my vice president during this time so most of the work fell on me. I was doing this while also juggling a part time job and full time student enrollment status, so I needed as much help as I could get.
I've always felt that it is best to leverage established resources instead of creating your own when possible. After some searching I discovered the Student Activities office which had dedicated paid staff whose job was nurturing student leadership and success at the University. They had been running a leadership series that had abysmal attendance, much like the SOC's after the very first meeting of the school year.
We both had something the other needed desperately. Getting students to the SOC's first meeting of a semester was easy, after all were were essentially offering free money to money-less student organizations. It was consecutive meetings where membership plummeted. The Student Activities Office could not get students to attend any of their events no matter how much they advertised them. However any organization having attended a session would instantly appreciate and attempt implementing the wealth of information given to them.
Bringing up the ways we could help each other, I struck up a partnership with the Student Activities Office. They agreed restructure their leadership series to be held at our new bi-weekly SOC workshops. We both agreed that having a collaborative learning format instead of a lecture based format would best engage and support our members.The first half of the first meeting of the semester would go over benefits of membership and the rules and regulations during the first half of the meeting. The rest would be a shortened version of what members would get at consecutive SOC workshops. This would give potential members all the information they needed to apply for funding while showing why missing their own meeting would more than make up for their time.
We started with representing 5 student organizations, less than 7% of the total active organizations on campus. We had B&RC members who felt merely obligated to show up at meetings while hoping they would be cut short due to lack of proposals to vote on. We had potential members that would show at the beginning of the semester and almost never show their faces again.
Six months after implementing the solutions discussed above we had:
- 95% member retention
- Increased first day attendance by 260%
- Overall member satisfaction (non existent before this)
- Representation of over 80% of active organizations at each meeting.
Even some Tier A organizations began showing up to glean additional insights. This success did not go unnoticed. During the following Student Government budget hearings, held yearly, the SOC was able to successfully petition the Student Government for additional funds. Our yearly budget allocation increased by over 300% to $37,000.
The SOC was finally able to fulfill the purpose that I believe it originally meant to serve. It became the backbone for student organizations, young and new, to build lasting communities both within their individual organizations and across multiple organizations.