Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Tip of the Day: Find Out What Your Membership Wants

Given that today is Inauguration Day and almost all political activity reflects this singular event, I began to think about how pro-liberty students are taking this day. Some are probably glad that America has reached a point where it can elect a black man to the highest office in the country, showing an incredible growth in civil liberties over the past two centuries. Some are probably saddened by what will surely be at least 4 years of government growth and authoritarian policies that will come with the Obama administration. And some probably feel a combination of both sentiments. What this got me to thinking about, though, is how there is no one answer to the question: "what should we as an organization do?" Here in D.C. it seems like the only thing people are doing right now is celebrating the inauguration, but that's not the only option.

It's important to listen to your organization's members, find out what they want to do, and do it. Don't try to impose a particular model of orgnaization on them. Have your activities reflect their interest. If your members want to watch the inauguration together, then great, do that. If your members would rather have a group reading of F.A. Hayek's The Road to Serfdom in memorium of today, then do that instead.

This point applies to far more than just Inauguration Day, though. This should be a guiding principle of your organization. If you hold events that people don't like, they won't show up, and the organization will die. If you ask members "what sort of events would you like us to hold?", though, and then follow through with those events, the members will not only be interested in what's going on, but they will feel empowered and more closely identified with your organization. If you find out that a student in your organization really likes Ayn Rand and would want to have discussions about Atlas Shrugged, then empower that member to put together a schedule/curriculum and implement it through the organization. If a new member really likes Austrian Economics and there is a professor at your school who works in the field, have the member invite the professor to speak and lead the event.

You may be asking yourself at this point, though, "How do I find out what my members want?" While you can always just ask people outright, this may not always get you the best results. So here are some ideas:
  1. At a meeting, list off 10 different ideas for things you can do and have members vote to see what they would like.
  2. Evaluate events after the fact to see if students showed up, whether they liked the event, if they'd like to see more of the same, etc. and go from there.
  3. Talk with individual students outside of meetings to get a sense of what makes them passionate about liberty. What they talk about is what inspires them, and you can figure out how to get them more involved as a result.
This point is analogous to a business serving a customer: you need to give the customers what they want or else you'll lose them. Your student organization is the business here. The students are your customers. Give the students what they want, or else the organization will eventually go broke.

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