A few tips on founding a club

Especially at a small college like MCLA, you might find that there is a need for a certain club or organization that doesn’t exist. You have two choices – suck it up, and move on, or go about the (sometimes) messy business of starting an entirely new club or organization on campus. 

I am a founder twice over, and strangely enough, my inspirations in both cases came over the summer. As an incoming freshmen attending the college’s leadership academy, LEAD Academy, in the summer of 2014, I noticed the college lacked a student-run film club entity, so I decided to take on the heavy task of making one the following fall. Granted I had no leadership experience at the time and had completely no idea what I was doing – between that fall and the following spring, the club had completely changed its mission from a film production club to a film viewing club – MCLA’s Film Club was ratified as an official SGA-affiliated club in the Spring of 2015, from which would spring a slow death peppered with periods of great activity and interest overshadowed by a scarcity of committed members, something I suspect will always pester the club and any current film clubs the college has because of the low-commitment nature of the whole thing.  

My second attempt at creating a club bore more fruit, and its end result is this very space itself. MCLA’s chapter of Her Campus existed before, and was looking to come back, and, hot off the heels of a semester as Editor-in-Chief of The Beacon, MCLA’s student newspaper, I devised a model that would be not only more flexible than the student newspaper, and more freeing, but grounded on a solid commitment to copy editing and accuracy. The base I established last semester was very much informed by my experience on the student paper – at the time, I was concluding my sixth semester on its staff (I’m now on my seventh) – as well as knowledge I picked up serving in a professional newsroom as a part time employee for, at the time, over a year. Here are a few tidbits I learned founding both organizations. 


1.) Your friends might not work out

When making a new club, you will need some sort of E-Board, which can be tough, because you friends are often the most trusted and reliable people you know at the time. And to some extent, that’s true, but not always so. It is important to seek out people who will not only work well with you, but are objectionably the best for the positions given. Especially since you are in college, give people chances – nobody is getting paid for this, so you have less on the line than in a real job – but also be wary of making exceptions and excuses for people because they are your friends. When running a club or organization, you have to always think what is best for the organization, and sometimes that means separating personal feeling and relationships from club activity. The one tip I would give in this area is: Avoid relying on your friends to fill out your club E-Board when you can; it’s like hiring your friends for a job. Again, sometimes this can be great, and even enhance your friendship, but more often than not, it just puts you in awkward situations better avoided. 


2.) Your organization is who is in it

This line I’m actually stealing from one of the founding sisters of my fraternity, but it is very true, for any organization. The success or failure of your club or organization depends on who you bring onboard, and what they bring to the table. You cannot run an organization alone, and oversight from other people is a good thing. They can save you from making an egregious mistake, they can inject new ideas and fresh passions into your organization, and when you get a solid group of competent individuals, you can delegate tasks in a way that the club is both very active and running smoothly – and the more people you bring onboard, the more things your organization can do. That being said, this notion can work in a negative way as well. Members who don’t do the work they signed up for, that flake, or even actively detract from your organization through their conduct must be reckoned with, or you risk losing valuable members of your club. 


3.) Don’t worry about a high second week drop-off rate

The fact of the matter is that most people that show up to even your first club meeting won’t stay on for the rest of the semester, due to high workloads, lack of interest, whatever. You have to assume that the majority of people who show up to that first meeting are just testing the waters, and depending on that meeting, they might just decide that your club is not for them. That is ok. That is normal. See the rule of halves. One thing I’ve learned in all my years as a club president and vice president is that those that flake or drop commitments so suddenly really weren’t much of a club asset anyways, and that if you have a good club mission and means of execution, paired with good leadership, you will always find that core group of people who will stick with you, who will help you run the everyday operations of the club, and who will (hopefully) take over the mantle of your club once you’ve moved on or graduated. 


4.) Seeing potential in people

As a club founder, and presumably the club president (though this isn’t always the place), you want to constantly be thinking of ways to build the club up, and that means you need to always be aware of the potential in your potential members and members for leadership positions. On a small college campus, you can almost always create leadership positions for those who are ready for them – the way I see it, the more people putting in good work for the club, the better – but you must always be wary of giving people too much responsibility, too fast, and try not to pitch people on too much – it might spook them, and you might never see them again. When you can, gradually give members of your club more responsibility and always keep in mind that you should be subtly training you club members, knowing that more likely than not they will have the opportunity to lead in the club. 


5.) Listen to your club members

The worst clubs I have been in were ones where the president acted like a dictator, and either refused to listen to others’ ideas, or who would half-listen, and strike down everyone’s ideas with half-logic, before moving on. Be sure to hear everyone out as completely and deeply as you can, and be sure to consider their point of view, even if it differs from your own. And don’t be afraid to admit when you’re wrong. You’re human, and we all make mistakes. A leader that is able to change his policies and views based off of valid points made by his following can always earn their confidence and respect, while a close-minded leader risks the club falling apart while its most valuable members leave. 


6.) Always keep it civil

Keep an air of professionality. As the founder/president, you set the tone of your meetings and discussions. You are the professional standard. When you act inappropriately, everyone thinks its ok to act inappropriately. When you lose your cool, even during a crisis, it will trickle down on those you’re leading, either causing paranoia or lack in confidence in you and your organization. That is not to say you have to be stone-faced, or not allowed to show weakness – in fact, the best leaders tend to be open and honest with their following – but you must hold yourself to a high standard when you’re in the highest position in your club or organization. 


7.) Seek help when you need it

You will not have all the answers, especially when you’re first setting up your club, and especially not when the thing is actually set up. Don’t be afraid to seek out others to learn things you yourself don’t know. This might seem like a no-brainer, but as a leader, it is up to you to come up with the direction your club or organization will go in. That is fine and dandy when you have a clear path forward, but you won’t always, in which case, don’t be afraid to consult the club. Remember, you club or organization is your greatest asset.


Mitchell Chapman is the Senior Editor for MCLA’s chapter of Her Campus, which he re-established during the Summer and Fall of 2017. He is the founder of MCLA’s Film Club, where he served as president for over two years. In addition, he is entering his seventh semester on the college’s student newspaper, The Beacon, where he has served as an A & E Writer, A & E Editor, Managing Editor, Editor-in-Chief, Features Editor and Business Manager respectively.