Friday, October 24, 2008

Building the movement

An organization of individualists? It seems like a contradiction in terms. Those of us who are student leaders face the special challenge of leading a group of people who are, by definition, quite averse to being led. It’s like herding cats.

As libertarians, our target demographic is highly conscious of their self-interest, and young startup campus organizations often have very little to offer. I know plenty of people on campus who are sympathetic to our cause, share our values, but are not in any way involved with us, nor are they interested in doing so.

Fortunately, as libertarians we have the advantage of being highly conscious of other people’s interests, and are thus in a better position to cater to them. This consciousness should shape our recruitment strategy on campus.

It would be ideal if our organizations were full of highly skilled and motivated individuals, full-time students able and willing to volunteer their time and effort. But there's a big difference between the way the world should be and the way it really is. In my experience, talented individuals who manage their time effectively and are committed to a cause enough to volunteer their disposable time to it are very uncommon.

The reality for a startup campus organization is that basing our recruitment strategy on finding and keeping such individuals is not a sustainable one.

For one, they are low in supply: Most people lack that motivation and commitment, for various reasons, many of which are legitimate. Different people have different interests, values, and circumstances.

Two, they are high in demand: There are many competing demands on their time, and we have to ask ourselves how competitive we are compared to those other demands: Other causes, other organizations, other jobs, other things to do.

It may be better for us to think about ways that the average young person can join our cause, easy ways for less motivated and less committed people to get involved in a meaningful way. Certainly, full-time paid staff positions are neither necessary nor sufficient to do this, nor do we have the ability to offer them. But incentives matter, and we have to think hard about the costs and benefits that students will respond to. We have to think even harder if we are recruiting to fill leadership positions, which necessarily demand more commitment and competence.

These incentives will differ in all our different colleges, and a one-size-fits-all recruitment strategy is bound to fail. Fortunately, it’s not difficult to figure out what works. Look around you, ask your friends. What attracts students on your campus to volunteer for a cause or join an organization? What makes them stay on? Learning from the best practices of others is a good way to start, and the next is to implement and innovate on them. But that is a topic for another post.

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