One of the first, and most important, actions you must take when running a student organization is building and affirming a constitution, otherwise known as a mission statement.
Through vigorous debate and discussion, your organization’s mission should be crafted, amended, or re-affirmed each year. In large organizations, this process may be conducted by representatives. In small organizations, it may be conducted with the entire general body. As a leader, your goal is to facilitate input and guide construction. This is the first challenge of balance. Push your members to achieve new heights, but ensure your goals are realistic. Drive the conversation forward, but don’t take it over.
When building a mission statement, start by thinking about who you want in the meeting. If your organization has 10 or fewer members, all members should be involved. If your organizations has more than 10 members, you’ll need to select representatives who will provide insight and defend the interests of most, if not all, members of your organization. Since the majority of your members will need to ratify your mission, representatives should be respected members of the organization who have a broad array of ideas and constituents. Ideally, you’ll be able to divide your organization into sections. A small business consulting group might have the following types of members: data analysts, consultants, and project managers. A speech and debate organization might have different categories: speech competitors, debate competitors, acting competitors, administrators. Your elected and appointed board members should be included in the mission meeting; if there’s a section of constituents not represented by an existing board member, a member should be elected or selected who is knowledgeable about the interests of that section.
You should ask all participants to arrive at the mission statement meeting with a pre-written statement and a list of possible activities that are necessary to accomplish the mission. Before the meeting starts, you should send out an agenda containing areas that must be covered. Once the mission meeting begins, start with the points of consensus before moving to the points of contention. Members are more willing to compromise and negotiate once they’ve built a sense of camaraderie. Go through the suggested mission statements and identify common themes. Once you’ve gone through all areas where there is consensus, move on to the more contentious ideas focusing first on ideas that are either most popular or will affect the largest number of members. At this point, your role as leader is both to provide your own input and guide the discussion. Advocates and detractors should both be given time to speak and debate. Ensure that only one person is speaking at a time. A group of gobbling chickens is incomprehensible. So too are members who speak over each other. All member should be contributing. If needed, call on quieter members to give their input. If a discussion gets to a point where arguments are not progressing and members continue to disagree, make a decision, adjourn for another day, or call for a vote.
Once you’ve confirmed your mission, work to express that mission through actionable tasks. In other words, think about the day to day activities that your organization must pursue to fulfill its purpose and consider what a successful end state looks like. Note that this is different than outlining policies for the year. We will discuss the best practices for setting policies in a later chapter. The activities you outline to accomplish your mission will be broader and more permanent than regular team policy. Let’s consider an example:
Vision: A school where the sizeable majority to students have the confidence and ability to defend themselves.
Mission: To promote both the physical health and self-defense capabilities of its members.
Activities: Hold ongoing practices with a qualified coach; attend local and national tournaments; promote camaraderie through various non-practice social events.
Policies: Practices will be held twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7PM-9PM; the club will attend the statewide competition in February and the national competition in June; the club will hold one social event a month.
When determining the activities necessary to accomplish your mission, follow the same discussion strategy as the one you followed for creating the mission.
Focus on points of agreement to build momentum for progress and get members invested in the process.
Start with items that are either popular or impactful. Have people voice their opinions.
Manage the conversation and ensure that the discussion is clear and focuses on the topic at hand.
Involve members as necessary. You want input from as many voices as possible. A quiet member is not necessarily a member who agrees with what is being said.
Make a Decision/Call for a Vote
Now that you’ve agreed on a mission and activities, write it down! If your meeting involved all your members, then have them ratify by vote or signature. If your meeting involved representatives, schedule a meeting to present the mission and activities to the general body. Explain the final documents and any context regarding decisions on key elements. Finally, call for a ratification vote.
Once you’ve created your mission, publish it on your website, notice board, or other major information hub for all in your organization to see. Then, grab a bullhorn and a unicycle and ride around campus screaming your mission to the masses…if that’s your thing. In seriousness, your mission should be widely available and easily accessible. When you’re faced with a crisis and don’t know what to do, your mission will re-orient you. Remember why you exist and you will gain clarity on where you need to go.