November 2019 – Lauriane Lebrun, Marketing & Communications Coordinator
Whether you’re running a charity, a trade association, or a nonprofit club, if you aren’t getting students involved, there’s a good chance you’re missing out on a great opportunity. As Mia Moore of The Berkeley Group explains, helping to create “change in an organization, and seeing everything happen firsthand, fosters something inside a student. Whether it is pride in him/herself, a greater appreciation for the community they are helping, or an interest in the service the nonprofit provides, it is all beneficial to the overall mission of the organization they are involved in.”
According to Allegiance Fundraising, “millennials and college students donate the lowest amount on average,” so you may be wondering how a student membership program could possibly be useful to your organization. Young people generally can’t afford to pay much in terms of membership dues, and legal roadblocks can prevent minors from serving on a board of directors. But there are plenty of other ways student members can help a nonprofit, and reaching out to get them involved does not have to be a time-consuming or costly venture for your organization.
Benefits of Student Membership Programs
- New Ideas – According to Tracy Vanderneck of NonProfit PRO, “established and traditional boards may be very used to doing things a certain way. Having a young person come in with tons of new ideas, some of which may not be viable in a business sense, may seem like a time waster to some. We would argue that fresh thinking is often sorely needed in those nonprofits, and that the way the student presents their concepts can be coached by a mentor—a senior board member.” In other words, welcoming new perspectives may be just what your organization needs right now, so try to keep an open mind!
- More Volunteers – While many students lack funds to donate, they often have time to donate, especially with friends or for the sake of making new friends. By encouraging students to participate as part of a group bonding experience, your organization can become a social outlet, and gain plenty of manpower to support your volunteer-led initiatives.
- Spreading the Word – It doesn’t cost a thing for students to talk with their peers about your organization, share your posts on social media, or invite friends to attend an event. When you acquire a student member, you indirectly acquire their social network, as well, thereby reaching more potential donors and volunteers.
- Future Members – Ideally, your student members will develop a lasting interest in your organization and become full members after graduation. This isn’t a given, though – it takes personal, meaningful connections to retain student members into adulthood. According to Rachel, a college intern from Idealware, often “the emphasis placed on social media is too high when nonprofits try to reach younger audiences.” Rather, Rachel explains, engaging students should mean giving them the opportunity to take “tangible action” and to have “a voice in the organization.”
How to Get Students Involved
Okay, so you like the idea of student memberships… but how do you reach them and get them interested in your organization? Below are some ideas to help you get started.
- Work with local schools to start on-campus clubs affiliated with your nonprofit.
- Connect with fraternities and sororities at nearby colleges.
- Host events/classes that students can attend at a reduced rate, or work with local schools to see if they would be willing to pay for a group of students to attend one of your nonprofit’s events.
- Offer professional opportunities to students such as mentoring programs, internships, and networking events.
- If feasible for your organization, offer a small scholarship to student members.
For example, Lexian’s client, the NH Dental Hygienists’ Association, holds a student essay contest every year. The winner gets one free year of NHDHA membership. If the student is a graduating senior, their award can also be applied to their first year of professional (non-student) membership. “Student members are the lifeblood of your organization,” says Pam Delahanty, NHDHA Immediate Past President and Student Liaison. “They grow and sustain your organization. At NHDHA, we try to be present in the students’ lives throughout the year by bringing them seasonal goody bags, offering free table space at events for fundraising, hosting an annual luncheon, and running the essay contest.”
Another one of our clients at Lexian, the NH Occupational Therapy Association, has a student membership program and a high student attendance rate at their annual conference. “The students are the future of our organization and our profession as a whole,” Kerrin Gullison, NHOTA President, shared when I asked her about the topic. “Our organization is looking at ways to enhance student benefits to keep them engaged through partnering with their colleges, offering specialized continuing education sessions, and networking opportunities.”
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