From climate change to gun violence prevention, many progressive movements are powered by student and youth activists. For student activists, college campuses provide the optimal space to connect with other students who have similar interests and come together to organize.
In our most recent webinar, “Partnering with Student Organizers: Strategies for Inclusive Impact," experienced organizers provided perspectives from both sides of student organizing partnerships. Dylan Sellers, National HBCU Manager at Campus Vote Project, works closely with campus administrators to empower student voters; Elijah Nichols and Shelby Adams are student organizers at George Mason University who regularly partner with nonprofits and advocacy organizations.
"Any time students get involved in something wholeheartedly, things change in this country. There isn’t a single movement in this country that hasn’t been led by young people."
- Dylan Sellers, National HBCU Manager at Campus Vote Project
The panelists shared the following best practices for high-impact partnerships with student organizers:
- Center the students. Organizations can easily let grants guide program decisions, but the best way to build an effective partnership is to let the work with students dictate which grants to pursue. Organizations should aim to learn the experience and needs of students on campus to create the best programming and ultimately cultivate an authentic relationship between both parties.
- Have flexible schedules to accommodate student organizers. Students juggle a variety of commitments: coursework, jobs, other extracurricular activities, and more. They may only have time to get involved with an organization outside of the traditional nine-to-five working hours, so it can be imperative for organizations to open working hours to evenings and weekends. Plus, organizations should look at the local academic calendars to keep track of ideal times to reach out to students — for instance, don’t reach out to students during spring break season!
- Set clear expectations. High-impact partnerships require clear communication. Whenever possible, organizations should be transparent about expected timelines, deadlines, and outcomes to set a foundation for what they expect from the partnership. Being upfront about what needs to get done will create a standard for organizations to treat students as partners rather than employees.
- Acknowledge perceived identities and presence. It’s essential to create a safe environment for everyone involved in the partnership, including students. Before reaching out to student organizers, organizations should take a moment to reflect on who they are sending to represent their organization and speak to students. For example, could the presence of a white representative affect the sense of safety for a community of students who have been routinely affected by racially-based violence?
- Hire and pay student organizers. Organizations should pay student organizers whenever they have the funds to do so. After all, student organizers are providing labor. Whether it’s a part-time employment opportunity or a stipend, students will be more willing to partner with organizations when they are compensated for their time — especially since they're juggling the work along with their coursework.
- Know the value you can offer. Organizations should be prepared to answer the following questions while building high-impact partnerships: What kind of campus are we trying to partner with, and why? What value will we add to that campus? A partnership with a community college will differ from a partnership with a large state school. Especially when communicating with campus administrators, organizations should research the best point of contact, fully understand their work, and highlight the solutions that the organization can offer to make their jobs easier.
- Don’t send mass emails, and do follow up. Like most people, students can spot a mass email from a mile away. For an authentic connection, organizations should personalize their outreach and invest the time to nurture relationships with the student organizations on campus. Plus, it never hurts to follow up.
- Stay consistent with your outreach. Organizations should conduct outreach to students in moments of need and rapid response, but shouldn't forget to be consistent in their outreach to communities on campuses. For example, Campus Vote Project invests time to stay on campus during election off-years to sustain relationships with the student population.
"Hope is so meaningful, and hope is so great, but if we’re not putting this hope into actionable methods, then that’s all it’s going to be, it’s going to stay hope. … Yes, we have that hope, but we’re ready to put it into action."
- Elijah Nichols, student organizer
For so many people, the work of organizing is personal. Each person will have their own unique story about how and why they began to mobilize, but organizers all share the same goal: to create a better future for themselves and future generations. Partnering with students is an essential part of reaching this goal, and organizations can start creating inclusive and impactful partnerships with the best practices above. Students possess an abundance of hope, belief, and energy — they’re eager to make a change, and they’re ready to start now.
"The work you do yourself is very much important, but when you come together with like-minded individuals, that’s when movements happen, and that’s when change is triggered."
- Shelby Adams, student organizer
To gain more insight from our guest speakers, watch the full webinar here.
To learn more about Impactive’s full suite of digital organizing tools, schedule a demo here.