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This Week (Group Starting Edition) - Elections

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Many groups when just starting off often ask me how, when, and for how long they should choose leaders.  There are many answers to these questions, so I am just going to focus on what I personally think are the typical group-starting experiences I’ve heard and deal with the most.  Many of you are probably already what we call the de-facto leaders of your groups.  You initiated contact with the SSA, requested a packet from us, and have done the majority of the organizing for the group thus far.  This is great (and I applaud you for all of your hard work), but at some point you’re going to have to initiate some type of formal system for picking officers or group leaders.  Here’s what I suggest, and what I see happen most often. 

First off, you’re going to have to decide what type of leadership system you want.  We have a broad spectrum of systems.  There are open democracies where members are open to run for and vote for leaders, there are groups that pass on their leadership titles to chosen members without elections (but with a way to rescind the decision should it be called into question), and a host of other hybrid systems in between.  This decision on which system works best for your group should be made by you and your members, but if you need advice or want our opinion on what you think will work best, go ahead and shoot us an email.

As a de facto leader, you should make sure that you have a few things in line before worrying about a formal leadership system, though.  For one, you need to make sure you have a clear and concise way of selecting your leaders and who can vote for them (if you decide to use a voting system).  This must be in your constitution, for posterity’s sake at least.  We have had many groups (mine included) who could not get rid of or vote in competent leaders because their constitution did not have any rules for it (mine didn’t have any rules for amending itself either!).  So, make sure to sit down and hash out some rules about elections and leadership positions that will enable your members (both present and future) to do what needs to be done.  This could be as simple as putting in a rule that a vote of no confidence can be taken against a leader who the membership thinks is not living up to his or her duties.  Make sure it is clear as well who are considered voting members and who are not.  If you require dues, make sure you keep track of who is paid so that they can vote appropriately.  Things like this can help to make selecting leaders more fair, faster, and easier than it might otherwise have to be.

Also make sure that you have clear-cut definitions of what the roles and responsibilities will be for your various leadership positions.  Some people genuinely do not understand that being president of a student organization is actual work and takes time and dedication.  Make sure to make this clear to whoever is running. 

Next, you have to decide when you’re going to hold elections.  There is no good answer for this, and it is really up to you and your group (if you need advice though, make sure to email me!).  A lot of groups (once again, mine included) allow their de facto leaders to remain as president and vice president for the year.  Of course, you can also do the opposite and have open elections right away. 

Once you have chosen your style of leadership, written it into your constitution, and decided who should lead this year, all I can tell you is to make sure and remember to have fun, delegate (if you need help with this, watch Lyz’s recent webinar on delegation), and work hard. 

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