Life outside lectures: how to make your university club great

So you’ve been elected president of your student society – congratulations. But what next?

The first thing you need is backup. You don’t want to take all the work on yourself, so meet with your committee and keep this going throughout the year. No need to sacrifice your degree; delegate the work to your team.

That said, it’s best to avoid becoming a mini dictator. Unless you want a mutiny on your hands, it’s a good idea to listen to your committee’s views. Set up a group chat where members can pipe up and discuss society matters.

Just like a successful country needs citizens, a society won’t last long without members. Free pizza and the promise of a hangover at regular intervals throughout the year are a tried-and-tested way to get people to sign up and show up. Gemma Paine, former president of the pole fitness society at the University of Sussex, invested a lot of money into making socials memorable – from air hockey to a Halloween pub crawl.

She also suggests creating branded kit or clothing. Seeing your members wearing the society’s hoodie or T-shirt around the campus is not only good publicity, it can create a sense of unity and belonging.

However, a large membership alone is not enough to ensure your society’s long-term survival. “It’s great to have people signed up and have them pay the membership fee, because that’s where you get your money from,” Paine says. “But at the end of the day if, by April, you only have 10 members turning up to things, then you’re not running the society the right way.”

Retention can be one of the biggest challenges of running a society. Unlike sports such as rugby or football, which students are already familiar with, the more niche clubs like pole fitness struggle to be taken seriously. The sport is difficult to learn at first, so once the initial novelty wears off, a lot of new members give up.

You need to do a hard sell of whatever member benefits your society does offer. Tell them exactly what they’re getting for their money.

As well as offering a low annual membership fee that includes the cost of the classes, Paine made sure there was a clear structure to the sessions. She says before she became president, members learned a party trick or two but nothing more substantial. Now the instructor teaches the skills and moves needed to perfect a whole pole routine, with members working towards a clearer goal.

If you want members to stick around, make them feel like they are part of something more than just a fun distraction. That’s why Tanita Lewis’s street dance society at Leeds University has a competitive edge when it enters and wins tournaments. “People want some form of recognition, something external to confirm that it has been worth the hard work. It’s definitely a case of getting a reward for everyone,” she says. “The whole experience of rehearsals and the competition bonds people. That’s what keeps them going.”


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