If you are anything like me complex social issues don’t make you want to pull the covers over your head and hide. Rather, you instinctively know that we have the collective power to make change in our lives and in our interconnected communities. You have a gut feeling that solutions are out there waiting to be discovered.
As a Community Development Manager for Girl Scouts of Western Washington the source of my passion is connecting people with opportunities to make our world a better place. We promote girl-led leadership and volunteers are absolutely vital to the organization. I am always on the lookout for innovative solutions and college campuses are full of them. With the correct preparation and planning nonprofits can successfully tap into the vibrant community of students who are interested in plugging into your cause. To show you what I mean I’d like to share an example of a successful college engagement project and why it worked: Campus Girl Scouts.
Igniting the passion of Girl Scout alumnae and girl advocates, Campus Girl Scout clubs consist of college-age men and women who may or may not have children or an established connection to Girl Scouting.
Clubs can take whatever path members design, whether it’s hosting on-campus Girl Scout events, helping local troops, designing programming, or all of the above. Participation allows for creativity, community involvement, mentorship, and most importantly, building girls of confidence, courage, and character who make the world a better place!
What I did and why it worked
Clearly identify a need students can tackle. Before you approach colleges know exactly what you need from them and what you can offer in return. Make it easy for students to help by anticipating questions and barriers. Focus on why there is a need and leave room for students to come up with the solution.
Campus Girl Scout Clubs meet our need for additional programming, support for troop development, and girl mentorship. In return we offer behind the scenes access to nonprofit work, letters of recommendation, internships, training, and more.
Leverage existing networks. Fortunately, I am an alumna of three local colleges/universities. I started by talking to faculty who I had worked with in the past. Don’t know anyone at the college? If someone in your network has connections ask them to introduce you to relevant departments/faculty. If that doesn’t work introduce yourself to the department that organizes student engagement such as Campus Life, Service Immersion, or Service-Learning.
Earning faculty buy-in of your project before you reach out to students is beneficial because you will have a champion with access to university resources to help get the project off the ground. Our Campus Girl Scout champion connected me to other staff who are passionate about our mission. She also sent out all-campus emails to help recruit students and promoted the project behind the scenes.
Offer clarity, guidance, and coaching. We are all busy but students have unique constraints that nonprofits should keep in mind. Most students are juggling multiple projects, assignments, timelines, and schedules. Chances are they are passionate about your cause and want to give you a lot but may not have realistic time management expectations. By knowing exactly what you need, what time and resources it will require, and the skills a person needs to accomplish the project you will save yourself a big headache later.
When launching Campus Girl Scouts I made sure to lay out the expectations clearly and in writing. We followed up with on-campus training opportunities and connected club members to multiple staff and volunteers who could provide guidance. Coaching is a great benefit to students who may just be starting out on their career path.
Celebrate success! If a student-led meeting goes well let the facilitator know that you noticed. If a client has a positive interaction with a college volunteer let them know! Take pictures of students in action and encourage them to post it on social media. Know your volunteers and how they like to be recognized and remember to enjoy the short time we have together.
Campus Girl Scout clubs are now popping up at several colleges and universities in the Northwest and their impact is vast. They’ve mentored girls, helped build new troops, hosted on-campus events, organized a screening of the powerful film ‘Girl Rising’, become camp facilitators and so much more. Their fresh energy and perspective greatly impacts our staff, volunteers and girls. Build your college engagement project today then step back and watch it grow!