“No one will come if you don’t have lots of food.”
“Bribes work; it’s sad but true.”
“Donuts will go a LONG way.”
These quotes are actual suggestions from students who wanted to help one of their peers start a new club. In fact, every suggestion I read on this particular Facebook thread listed food or gift cards as ways to ensure that students would attend the first meeting. Maybe these young people were right. Maybe food is the answer.
Over the next few days, I couldn’t get that Facebook thread off my mind. Something didn’t feel right. This girl wanted to start a new club because she wanted to make a difference in her school and community. Yet, she had been reduced to begging people to show up and bribing them with food. Then, it hit me.
She wasn’t telling the whole story.
This particular club had the potential to impact the lives of students and other community members who were struggling. The initiative also connected teens in countries all over the world, so local membership would result in global change. But instead of sharing this information with her audience, the girl wasn’t telling them why it was important to show up. No one realized that through their attendance and actions, they could change lives. The value of the mission was getting lost, because the concentration was on the gimmick to secure attendance.
I understand. There are so many choices out there. Between service projects, clubs, athletics, arts, and academics, the prospect of hearing about a new club is just one more item to put on an already overloaded plate. But what if a student’s interest really did lie within this new club? What if this was the club that he or she had been waiting for? That student would never know if someone didn’t share pertinent information about the club’s actual mission or value.
I can’t help but wonder. In the effort to be the most interesting club on campus, or at least the one who offers the best food, have we lost our focus? Have we forgotten that what we do really does matter? The canned food drive feeds real people, the coat drive gives coats to needy students, and the clean drinking water campaign helps many people in other countries have access to better lives. When we put faces to names and people to the numbers, it becomes real. It’s not just another campaign or another club. It’s not just another hashtag to post on Instagram. It’s a real story to tell, and one that makes a positive difference.
I wonder if we are using old tactics to entice a new generation and then are confused when we fail. Maybe we need to step up our game when we advertise our meetings, activities, and campaigns. Maybe it’s time to stop the barrage of posters that advertise our event throughout every school hallway. Maybe it’s time to meet kids where they roam.
Matt Soeth is cofounder of #iCANHELP, a nonprofit organization that teaches students how to delete negativity on social media. Instead of only using posters to advertise a club meeting, he sends group texts using the website remind.com. He also asks students to tweet at an appointed time in hopes of reaching a larger population of students. Matt said, “My goal is to eliminate the excuse. I want kids talking and sharing. We did the posters, we did websites and letters home, and I still heard people say they did not know what was happening. I know kids have their phones with them and will always be checking what is going on through their devices. So, we work to create some buzz to get kids on board.”
Rather than relying on old ways, we need to get creative with new methods of outreach. Hang posters with questions that challenge students, such as “How many people in the world live without clean drinking water?” Include the tagline, “Hear the answer Thursday in Room 106 at 3:00.” Instead of traditional announcements over the intercom, make personal appearances in certain classrooms giving a 30-second “commercial” about the club. During the classroom visits, hand out cards that list highlights of the value of joining. Create a video and post it on Facebook and Vine. Take a photo and post it on Instagram. To draw attention to your cause, ask friends to share the videos, posts, and photos. Or create virtual campaigns and share them at an appointed time.
What if people are very interested in attending, but truly don’t have transportation? Can you Skype them into the meeting? What about hosting a Google hangout or Webex meeting?
Sales 101 teaches us that people will say “no” an average of five times before they say “yes,” but do we practice this same principle when we start a new club? Do we give up too easily and say we tried? It’s disheartening when you think you’ve done a great job selling your cause and don’t receive a positive response. Before you throw in the towel, look at all the angles. Why have people been unresponsive? Have you asked them why they aren’t attending? What could you do to combat their objections?
Tommy Calais, activities director at St. Agnes Academy in Houston, Texas, believes high expectations and clear, consistent messages are important in securing student involvement. “Setting clear expectations from the beginning of the year and keeping the students accountable to those expectations has been a big part of the success of our program.” His executive board reiterated this message in a recent meeting and also stressed that the advisor’s enthusiasm, personal connection with the students, and commitment to his or her advisory role are all important to the success of student activities. Without dependable leadership from adults and students, the students’ voices aren’t heard and their activities, both in planning and execution, aren’t as effective.
It’s definitely a new era in the student activities arena, and our attempts to engage students and their campuses need to change with the times. Ongoing evaluation of what is attracting students to certain activities and what is capturing their minds, hearts, and social media accounts is key to spurring the interests of a new generation of students.