Editor’s note: The following guest post was written by Christian Knapp ’14, president and co-founder of the The Williston Political Awareness Club, one of the most successful student-run clubs on campus this year. The club regularly had more than 30 students in attendance and hosted debates on such topics as welfare reform, fracking, and inequality in public education. On Monday, May 19, Mr. Knapp presented his senior project, “The Next Big Thing for Clubs at Williston: The Unveiling of a New Resource that will Help Clubs for Decades to Come.”
By Christian Knapp ’14
According to political scientist Robert D. Putnam, the participation of American adults in civic organizations has been declining for decades. I believe civil society in high schools has faced a similar decline over the past few decades. We have no shortage of capable leaders and capable participants for student organizations. However, we do have a shortage of information to help students form and operate clubs. I have been unable to find a single book in the eight million volume Five College library system that provides thorough guidance for students who wish to run a student organization. To help fill this information gap, I completed a senior project over this past trimester that included a series of workshops on running student organizations at Williston. Additionally, I wrote a handbook titled How to Run a Successful Club.
For my workshops and my handbook, I drew upon my experience as the freshman class president, political club president, and founder and editor-in-chief of the school newspaper at my previous high school. As many Williston students will recognize when they read the handbook, I included many of the methods I used to make The Williston Political Awareness Club successful. I made countless mistakes in each of these organizations. It is my hope that this document will help student leaders avoid making the same mistakes that I made. In addition to my leadership experience, I conducted 17 interviews of students, faculty, and administration about their involvement with student organizations. Finally, I completed research in 22 books and scholarly articles, on topics ranging from leadership to marketing.
The handbook contains numerous resources. It includes all the forms and guidelines club leaders will need to operate their club. The handbook describes how to reserve rooms for meetings, open an account for the club at the Business Office, and complete other day-to-day operations. Most of the content in the handbook explains the methods I recommend using in order to run a spectacular club. Below are a few specific insights I offer regarding running a successful student organization.
The handbook begins by going over “the fundamentals” of running a club. It is essential for students to know what the objectives of the club are, why those objectives are important, how they will achieve them, who will help them achieve them, and when they will have achieved those objectives. Without knowing the answers to these questions, it is impossible to run a great organization.
Later in the handbook, I cover marketing where I stress that details matter. I go over how everything from how poster placement to email formatting can make a big difference when it comes to getting students to attend events. I also argue that the most effective way to attract students to a club event is by actually talking to them. You read that correctly. In a world of Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, the best way of convincing a student to do something is by having a real, in-person conversation with them.
In my section on leadership and organization, I assert that the hardest working individual in any club should be the Vice President. I fundamentally believe that the Vice President must be the one to manage the club in order to allow the President to lead the club. In the final section of my book, I address the issue of continuity-that is, making a club last after the leadership team graduates. I offer pro’s and con’s on methods for electing a new leadership team. I also assess the benefits and costs of different degrees of institutionalization of clubs and organizations.
If I were to pick out a single point from the entire document that is essential to know, it is that the number one reason why clubs and organizations fail is complacency. The moment a club stops stop trying new things and pushing itself in new directions is the moment it begins to decline. I believe the same is true for our generation as whole. Our generation—the one critics believe is the laziest and most entitled in United States history—has the potential to be the next generation that is referred to as “greatest generation.” Our biggest challenge will be overcoming complacency. Poverty, climate change, and global political instability are all dwarfed by the issue of complacency.
As I prepare to graduate in only a few days, I would like to take a moment to encourage all young people to take the time to push their boundaries, try something new, and avoid getting into a routine. The best clubs and organizations are the ones that avoid formulaic procedures. The same may be said about people.
My handbook can now be accessed for free at www.christianwknapp.com/clubs