Brandon Cestrone’s Tips for Running a Successful Chapter: Members Are Your Most Valuable Resource.

Running a successful chapter requires many things. For one, you need to know what characteristics good chapters possess so you can build upon their success. Second, you should understand the principles of leadership and apply them to running your chapter. Not only will this increase your ability to take your chapter from point A to point B, having the right skill set will make you much better at spreading the message of liberty on campus, thereby fulfilling your ultimate goal.

If you are running a chapter, or are on a leadership team, I have compiled a list of tips and principles that can help you in your activist adventures. These are the important recommendations I can give you after having the great opportunity and privilege of being the co-founder/president of the Slippery Rock chapter and Pennsylvania State Chair. I want to clarify that though I’ve practiced some of these principles well, I could have done a better job of following others. I am writing this so that you don’t make the same mistakes and blunders I committed. There are a ton of other handbooks and tips on how to run a chapter, but these are the principles I believe have allowed my chapter to flourish and will hopefully help yours prosper as well.

This is the next chapter in a series of blogs over the next couple months; this is the third installment. 

Before going any further, please read and commit to memory the Guide to Build an Effective YAL Chapter to fully understand how to represent your organization on campus. This blog is designed to supplement your master guide, not replace it.

PART THREE: MEMBERS ARE YOUR MOST VALUABLE RESOURCE. 

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”  ~ Henry Ford

These suggestions are things that you, as a leadership team member, should practice on a daily bases. The following laws of human relations can help you not just in running a chapter, but in whatever you decide to do in life. 

Moreover, it is your responsibility to keep your chapter’s tank full. NEVER let that tank dip near empty. Below are ways you can keep your chapter energized and ready for whatever challenges come your way during the semester.

Give honest and sincere appreciation.

Never miss an opportunity to sincerely praise someone—whether it’s a member of your group or a chapter president—for their work. Praise is a strong tool that motivates people to perform better. Do you remember when someone sincerely praised your work? What impact did it have on you? Thinking back, who are the people that have motivated you most in your personal life? They are likely the ones who gave you honest, positive words of encouragement.  Praise has changed the course of history. It should never be underestimated as a tool for motivating and encouraging people within your chapter and beyond. Remember, the praise you give should be sincere and honest. Don’t praise someone just because. Praise is something to be earned, which makes it that much more powerful. 

If it weren’t for the members of my chapter, the Slippery Rock Young Americans for Liberty would not have been nearly as successful as it was this school year. Thank you. 

Make an effort to personally know your members.

If you transition from being a group of friendly libertarians to a group of libertarian friends, your effectiveness as activists increases dramatically. Always attempt to understand where each member is coming from. Create personal bonds with them. Organize regular socials to grow your friendships. 

When a new member comes to a meeting, try not to appear “cliquey” with your veteran members. Make a serious effort to talk to new members more than anyone else. Make them feel welcomed to your organization and give them a reason to come back! Remember, more than money or materials, members are the most valuable resource your chapter has in its possession. Your focus should be on cultivating a welcoming environment for new people. 

Challenge your members.

If you expect very little from your members because “they aren’t getting paid; they’re just volunteers”, you will get just that: very little. People join your chapter to be challenged and grow. The more you challenge your members, they more they’ll want to be challenged. Actively seek to grow your members by giving them assignments, tasks, and specific goals. The more time someone invests in your group, the less likely they will want to leave. Get your members involved in the group. If your chapter is an investment for each member, they all want to see their investment pay dividends in the form of successful events.

Moreover, You will be doing a disservice to your members if you don’t challenge them.  Members need to practice being an effective activist now so they have experience if they go on to a permanent job in the liberty movement. With your help, your members can reflect back on the experiences and challenges that allowed them to learn and grow.

Set the bar and lead by example. 

If you aren’t tabling with your chapter, or you never show up for meetings, how can you expect anyone to take your commitment seriously? If you are on the leadership team, you are expected to take on additional responsibilities. You need to lead by example. Set the bar for others to follow. Work hard, and others will follow. Slack off and watch your chapter fall apart. Don’t expect someone else to pick up your slack. If you are on the leadership team, you need to take matters into your own hands. Don’t be afraid to set the bar high; you might be surprised what a little challenge can do to increase positive results.  Your work ethic will have a direct impact on everyone in your chapter.

Delegate Specific Tasks 

 It is important when organizing events, tabling, meetings, or anything else to assign clear, and specific tasks for everyone to follow. Without clear expectations, confusion can occur and team members can be unsure who should do what. It is your job as a leader to make clear what needs to be done, and what time frame it needs to be done in. Additionally, giving everyone an important task for an event or project will give them a sense of ownership and they will be more likely to complete their objective.

How do you do this? It is important not to just give orders. Instead give suggestions, not orders. For example Dale Carnegie argues never say, “Do this or do that, “ or “Don’t do this or don’t do that.” Instead, he says, ASK, “Do you think this will work?”  After completing a task you sould ASK, “What do you think of this?” Give members an opportunity to do things themselves. This allows people to correct their errors. They avoid resentment and this gives them ownership over their decisions. 

Coach and give feedback to your members.

Do you know what happened to that person in your group who, out of fear, couldn’t approach people and who nobody tried to help? I do, and that person still can’t approach people. So what have they learned working in your chapter? How have they grown? It is imperative to take a few seconds when tabling or at an event and show our shy member (let’s call him Bill), how easy it is to walk up to someone and say “Hi.” Watch Bill practice and share a few pointers.

Was Bill smiling? If he wasn’t, first gently tell him what he did well and then encourage him to smile next time.For example, you could say, “Bill, great job getting that student to sign up. You should bring out that beautiful smile of yours more often!” Now Bill is much more effective at tabling, and you have one more person on the front lines. This is just one example; there are many more scenarios that you will most likely encounter. Try to avoid the word “but”. For example don’t say, “Great job Bill, but if you smile, you would be more approachable.” This can lead to the person questioning the sincerity of the praise as only a lead-in to an interference of failure. 

Is Sarah good at communicating what free markets are? Does she get a little too emotional when talking about property rights? Don’t be afraid to discuss her engagements with students. Here is another way to indirectly coach someone. Say, “Sarah, I overheard your conversation. You did an awesome job explaining how capitalism  helps the poor. How did you think it went?” Here you can indirectly discuss how she did communicating liberty. 

There is a right way and a wrong way to give feedback. Make sure you know the difference by staying positive and not dwelling on the negative.

Encourage members to share their own ideas. 

It doesn’t really matter if their idea is relevant or eventually adopted. What is important is that you are cultivating an environment where your members feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and opinions. As a leader, you are responsible for making sure your members feel like they are benefiting from being part of your organization. One way to give them that feeling is to include them in the decision making process. Going further, you must be attentive to their suggestions and ACTIVELY LISTEN. This is a critical skill that many leaders often overlook. Remember, there is a difference between passive listening and active listening.  Active listening requires energy and focus to draw out what the other is saying. Passive listeners just absorb, but active listeners search for and process information. Practice actively listening and you will find yourself picking up on small clues and hints that you otherwise would not notice.

So let me ask, are you valuing your members?

~Brandon Cestrone 

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