Now that you understand the concept of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators, there are two factors that you must consider when designing your organization: your school’s culture and your organization’s mission.
Different schools appeal to different kinds of students. You’ll need to understand the general student population in order to tailor both your intrinsic and extrinsic motivator strategies. Over the years, I have found that schools tend to fall into four broad categories.
Vocational – These schools attract students focused almost primarily on securing a job. The focus on job training and placement is a critical part of their appeal. Student organizations should focus on developing skills relevant to employment, connecting students with professionals in the field, and other extrinsic motivators.
Pre-professional – These schools attract students who are interested in employment but enjoy a social culture. Student organizations should focus on skill development but also incorporating social events and other community building activities.
Liberal Arts – These schools attract students who are largely interested in learning for the sake of learning. Student organizations should focus on community building, social events, and forums for trading ideas.
Social/Party – These schools attract students whose primary focus is on joining a group of like minded peers and having a good time. Student organization should focus heavily on varied social events, lengthy initiations, and creating relationships across grades.
The organization’s mission and realization of that mission will attract certain types of applicants. The more your mission and activities align with the make up of the school, the more applicants you will attract. For example, the mission and activities of a student business consulting group would align well with a vocational or pre-professional school. On the other hand, a social society might align better with a liberal arts or social/party school. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have a consulting group at a social/party school or a social society at a vocational school. However, you may have to tailor your activities to blend with the culture of the school.
CS1: The Speech & Debate Team’s mission was to train great orators, debaters, and actors through practice and competition. This attracted individuals who were interested in the team for a blend of intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. There were newcomers who were extrinsically motivated to improve their public speaking skills and look good for law school. Then you had your high school veterans who loved Speech & Debate, understood that a great team would significantly enrich their lives, and were highly intrinsically motivated. You also had all the variations in between. The team had such a broad base of applicants because of the structure of our activities. Our primary goal was to accomplish competitive success through a desired but not necessary skill. Unless you want to become a professional public speaker, joining this organization did not directly lead to specific job placement. That being said, knowing how to debate and speak is vital for many professions including politics, law, and business. On the other hand, there was a rather steep competitive learning curve and a significant dedication required of all members. Our team had dues, practice and tournament requirements, and other significant commitments.
So, in order to nurture intrinsic motivation within our students, we needed to create an organization that was attractive to their various interests. For those interested in building their resume, we offered training workshops to develop specific work relevant presentation skills. For those interested in competition, we held practices and one-on-one coaching sessions. For those interested in a community, we held social events and led retreats. This diverse approach reflected the diversity of our members.
CS2: Consult for America was dedicated to promoting small business development in West Philadelphia through pro-bono consulting work. It’s the perfect example of an organization that attracts primarily extrinsically motivated students. The people who joined our group were generally either business students or people who were interested in business. Especially at the Wharton school of business, students tend to find employment in two main areas: banking or consulting. Given this, the fact that our organization had “consulting” in the name was a great motivator for anyone who was interested in pursuing such a career path. On the other hand, intrinsic motivation was low but not nonexistent. Our clients were local businessmen from the community and many resided in areas that would benefit from business development. That being said, the majority of our applicants expressed specific interest in developing their consulting skills.
The focus on external motivators was so strong in fact that our recruiting efforts corresponded with skills training. Our first information session would include a segment on case interview preparation, a necessary skill during job interviews. During information sessions without this training, our attendance was meager.
As the organization developed, we realized that the best way to keep our members invested was to hold periodic skills training events. Training on how to construct a resume and apply for jobs were very popular. Social events, in contrast, were not well attended. There were many members who were high performers and who, over time, were extremely dedicated to the success of the organization. But, the difference in culture between CFA and the Speech & Debate team was tangible. During Speech & Debate events, there was a feeling of family and connectedness. CFA events were cordial but rarely felt warm.
CS3: The mission of the judo club was to promote physical well being and self-defense through learning Judo. With all due respect to the sport, judo simply has close to zero application in pursuing a career (of course with the exception of becoming a professional martial artist or a masked vigilante). Attaining a leadership position in the club would almost be required in order to spin membership into something that could be reasonably used in a job interview. Not to mention, there’s a steep learning curve. I know from personal experience that it’s not pleasant to be slammed into the ground fifty times in order to learn how to fall properly. Especially as a beginner, you lose a lot, and sparring can sometimes be physically dangerous especially when two inexperienced players face off. Therefore, the members that stayed and joined responded primarily to intrinsic motivators. They had either done the sport before, or they learned to love the sport after they joined. In fact, I’ve never seen such a willingness to financially support an organization. Members would often shell out hundreds of dollars for equipment and gym fees. For recruiting, our main goal was to look cool, explain the vibrant social environment, and then wait as the majority of them dropped.
Essentially, due to the type of activity, we eschewed any attempt to employ extrinsic motivators and focused on community building. The individuals who stayed would often participate for their entire four years, and would almost always have an active presence within the organization. Our practices and social events were both well-attended. We worked to ensure that practices were friendly, sparring was respectful, and ultimately, that everyone contributed to set up and clean up. This created a community that bonded well over an esoteric sport.
The students that join your organization will react to different motivators depending, in part, on the influence of the school’s culture and your organization’s mission statement. You want as many of them to develop intrinsic motivation towards your organization’s mission as possible. They will only develop intrinsic motivation if they join your organization and stay for a period of time. You can use intrinsic and extrinsic motivators to increase the number of students that join and stay.