I work with a number of students who, at some point in their high school career, think about starting a new extracurricular club. On its face, this would seem to be an excellent example of leadership and an important contribution to the school community. And of course, when done correctly, it is. But any student seriously looking to found a school organization has to ask herself what the her true motivation is and exactly what need the club fulfills in the school community. I’ve seen too many students make noble attempts, only to be left with vague memories of luring peers to a first meeting with pizza, but then never really getting anything off the ground. Unsurprisingly, these new clubs quickly fizzle out, leaving the founders little to show for their work.
To avoid that, here are a few points to consider before embarking on such a journey:
1. Is there a true need for your club at your high school?
Obviously, it’s important and generous to offer a new opportunity for others at your school. Presumably, if a student wants to start a club, that means there is no other option to experience whatever it is that student hopes to launch. Maybe your school doesn’t offer debate or robotics or a cappella. Be sure to check with your activities coordinator or your school website to make sure that your school doesn’t already have that Japanese Culture Appreciation Club, Women in STEM, LGBT-Straight Alliance or whatever you believe your school is missing. Maybe it exists or it once did, and maybe there is already a faculty sponsor. Sometimes clubs go dormant, and here is a chance to revive one. Sometimes there are clubs that overlap with your idea, and it might make more sense to join the existing club with the aim of expanding what you hope to find more depth in. Do the proper research ahead of time to make sure you are able to meet a need that actually exists at your school.
2. Are you equipped to be a founding member of your club?
Once the need for your club is established, ask yourself these questions:
- Do you have the time?
- Do you have the sincere interests and/or talent necessary?
- Are you willing to do more than show up?
- Do you have the organizational and leadership skills -- or are you willing to develop them?
- Is your motivation genuine (i.e., is your goal to pad your resume for college or do you truly believe that your club will enhance your experience and others’ as well)?
If you can answer these questions affirmatively and explain to the administration or a potential faculty sponsor your reasoning, you’re ready to take an important first step.
3. Are there others who can help?
You’ll need others. You’ll need other students who are interested in not only showing up to that first meeting (with or without the promise of pizza) but who will stay on long after, perhaps even to help by taking on important leadership roles. You’ll need a faculty sponsor who has the time and interest to do more than just sign off on the proposal. Maybe there are similar clubs at neighboring schools, and those students can guide you through how their organization works. If you’re interested in starting a chapter of a larger organization (e.g., Model United Nations, Future Business Leaders of America, Best Buddies), contact its headquarters to find a staff person who can coach you through the necessary steps. Do you have buy-in from other adults who might help with fundraising? Make a list of all the people you need help from and see where you can find that help, even before you start making posters for your first meeting.
4. What is the timeline?
It might take months before your first official club meeting. Your school probably has formal guidelines on how to found a club. Those often include finding a faculty sponsor, writing a proposal, having enough interest from other students (in the form of signatures on a petition), and perhaps even securing initial funds. Be sure to find out exactly what it takes to officially start a club. Because the work may take a lot longer than you might expect, plan out all these steps over however many weeks it may take, including the summer months. If you're starting a chapter of a larger organization, then there may be even more steps and an even longer process. Additionally, even beyond the planning stages, it will make sense to create a calendar of events for the first semester or so after the club is established. What will your club actually do when it meets? How often will it meet? Weekly, monthly, quarterly? Do you need speakers? Do you need to arrange space? What about materials or media? These are all just initial considerations that all take time to plan out.
5. How can this club last beyond your tenure at high school?
Don’t be the first-semester senior who starts a club, has a few meetings, offers his friends some leadership positions that will “look good” for college, and then smacks it on his resume. Plan your founding in a way that allows you to leave a legacy, something you can leave behind that will enhance the lives of others. If you establish your club in the right way, you’ll be in a good position to find interested students who are younger than you and who can be groomed for leadership roles in your club after you graduate. The best contribution you can give to your school is one that will last well after you’re gone.
Founding a student organization is not done on a whim. It takes planning, relationship building, and hard work. When done well, it not only “looks good” for college but also can positively impact your school community for years to come.