Chapters are the lifeblood of SVA. Chapter Leaders provide effective management for their Chapter, and advisors are a vital asset to a Chapter for university support.
SVA is made up of Chapters on campuses around the country and world. While the staff at the National Headquarters office, located in Washington, D.C., is responsible for network-wide programming and services, advocacy, and research, the Chapters create the “boots on the ground” impact that is so crucial to the enhanced experiences of veterans in higher education. National Headquarters welcomes potential chapters to apply to join the national network and contribute to the mission of SVA. This section describes the benefits, the minimum standards, and the application for participation. The focus thereafter is on the roles within the Chapter. Chapter Leaders provide effective management for their Chapter, and advisors are a vital asset to a Chapter for university support. These leadership roles are important to the success of your Chapter, allowing for continuity and long-term success. Just like any other student organization, Chapters require support from the university administration and faculty to meet the potential impact a Chapter can bring.
The Chapter network grows relationships like none other. Built on a camaraderie established through military service, the connections made through the Chapter network are rich and meaningful and they have positively impacted a generation of student veterans already. Chapter membership offers a unique access to this global network of like-minded student veterans, families, supporters, and allies in programming, advocacy, research, and more. Chapters are also uniquely positioned to benefit from guidance from the nation’s top individuals in various industries.
Through affiliation, Chapters and their members have access to the following resources, opportunities, and programming:
- The use of the SVA name, seal, logo, and branding in accordance with usage policies to demonstrate the Chapter’s affiliation with a global network of student veteran success.
- Access to the opportunities provided to Chapters via strategic partnerships, including programming, internships, events, certificate programs, webinars, scholarships, and careers.
- Access to leadership and professional development curricula and programs, including Washington Week, Regional Summits, the Leadership Institute, NatCon, and other programs developed with SVA partners, such as the VFW-SVA Legislative Fellowship.
- Engagement in online networking and support forums, including the Chapter Leader Forum (Facebook) and the Student Veterans Professional Development Community (LinkedIn).
- Advocacy support related to student veteran issues on campus and at the campus, local, state, and national level. Campus support includes connecting Chapters with local networks, working with campus administrators, and providing resources that support working with student government. On a national level, support includes direct policy advocacy for various relevant legislative issues.
- Access to the Chapter Toolkit to be used as a guide when applying best practices for managing your Chapter.
The founders of SVA believed student veterans already paid their dues through their sacrifices of serving in our nation’s military, and this continues to guide the SVA philosophy to this day. There are no dues or fees associated with SVA membership. Individual Chapters may enact due or fee policies on their own but are encouraged to avoid any policies financially inhibiting any student veteran from membership and participation. Chapters should check with their institution of higher learning before implementing any dues or fees to ensure practices consistent with the rules of their university.
As a student group that is tied to both the university (or college, or school) as well as your National Headquarters, Chapters must meet four (4) criteria for charter:
- Be a registered student organization
- Have a set of governing documents
- Have a set of (at least one) elected student leaders
- Have a faculty/staff member serving as Chapter Advisor
Registered Student Organization
A prospective Chapter must be a registered student organization (RSO) at their accredited institution in accordance with that institution’s policies, regulations, and procedures. The process of becoming a registered student organization may vary on each campus, so Chapter Leaders are encouraged to contact their university’s Student Life or Student Affairs office for more information.
Becoming an RSO ensures that a potential Chapter has a structured and public relationship with their accredited institution as well as institutionalized connections with other student organizations on their campus. It also formalizes the Chapter’s rules and responsibilities in accordance with their university’s regulations. Official student organizations also often have access to unique resources, including funding, which might not otherwise be available.
Chapters are required to have a governing document (e.g. bylaws, constitution) that provides official guidelines on what the Chapter is, how it is managed, and more. As an RSO, institution policies often guide how this document is crafted and what is required to be enumerated within. It is recommended that, during the Chapter Leader turnover process, an annual review and revision of the governing document is also done to make amendments and ensure all Chapter Leaders are familiar with the foundation of the organization. It is also recommended that governing documents include at minimum:
- Chapter mission statement
- Membership eligibility requirements
- Chapter Officer positions and position descriptions
- Election procedures
- Meeting requirements and procedures
Of particular note, while membership eligibility is often laid out by the institution, National Headquarters has found through experience and research that the highest performing Chapters are the most inclusive. It may feel natural that a student veteran organization be exclusive to student veterans, but this practice takes away from the growth and impact that the Chapter may have on its members as well as the school on the whole. Inclusion of nonveterans in leadership positions can at first be an uncomfortable thought, but nonveteran students have their own, individual set of skills that can prove necessary in a Chapter Leader or Officer. Diversity and inclusion have shown to lead to a truly world-class chapter.
Governing documents should be crafted under the guidance of the accredited institution and should meet all requirements laid out by said institution.
At minimum, the Chapter must have an elected President, but your institution may require additional leadership roles or may have another name for this position. Leadership responsibilities include, but are not limited to, the following areas:
- Ensuring that the Chapter is properly reporting membership and Chapter information to National Headquarters.
- Coordinating membership recruitment, Chapter Officer installation/transition, and Chapter meetings.
- Being familiar with the Chapter’s constitution and/or bylaws, membership requirements and Chapter reporting procedures.
- Planning Chapter events and promoting SVA on campus.
- Encouraging the Chapter’s attendance at university functions.
- Communicating effectively with the active membership, the university, community partners, and National Headquarters.
- Setting and evaluating Chapter goals annually.
The exact organizational structure, definition of roles, and responsibility of Chapter Leaders will depend on a variety of factors, including the size of the Chapter and the scope of its mission, any relevant school or campus policies, and individual Chapter preferences and individual skills. The suggested leadership positions described in detail below are designed to mirror the executive leadership roles at National Headquarters for ease of guidance and assistance. Position descriptions are described in the Chapter Officers section.
Chapters are required to have at least one school staff or faculty member who has agreed to serve as the Chapter Advisor. While some Chapters operate with minimal input from their Chapter Advisor, these Chapters are missing out on one of the most impactful relationships the Chapter can have. Chapter Advisors are the link between the Chapter and the school administration. Suggested Chapter Advisor responsibilities include, but are not limited to:
- Facilitating communications between Chapter Leaders and university administration.
- Being available to assist Chapter Officers in membership recruitment, Chapter Officer installation/transition and Chapter meetings.
- Assisting with Chapter events and communications.
- Assisting the Chapter in setting and evaluating goals annually.
The most effective Chapters cultivate excellent relationships with their Chapter Advisors. To maintain this relationship, it is important to communicate with your Chapter Advisor clearly, effectively, and consistently.
Selecting a Chapter Advisor
Chapter Leaders should consider a faculty or staff member who has or is willing to acquire knowledge of the institution’s student veteran and military-connected population. When selecting an advisor, adhere to the requirements of the institution as some may stipulate specific expectations for who may fill that role or what that role entails. It is also possible that the Chapter will have multiple staff or faculty advisors – a university advisor appointed to student organizations by the school and a Chapter Advisor selected by the Chapter Leaders.
The Role of a Chapter Advisor
Oftentimes, the role of the Chapter Adviser is established by the accredited institution to which the Chapter belongs. Where not explicitly outlined, this role should be designed under the guidance of applicable university policies. The first meeting between the Chapter Leaders and a Chapter Advisor is to establish clear and mutually-agreed-upon expectations and prioritize regular and clear communication. Chapter Advisors maintain continuity where Chapter Leaders turnover generally every year by overseeing the Chapter Leadership turnover process discussed below. The role of the Chapter Advisor can be as involved as much or as little as the Chapter Leaders desire.
The selected advisor is recommended to act as a mentor and connect the Chapter within the institution, providing guidance within the Chapter as well. The advisor is also recommended to maintain contact with National Headquarters and be available to attend events such as NatCon and Regional Summits. A Chapter Advisor is invited into the role by the Chapter and serves at its discretion. Apart from the authority conferred by their professional position as school employees, Chapter Advisors hold no authority or executive power over any aspect of Chapter operations, programs, or membership.
Chapter Advisors who also serve as Veterans Resource Center staff, VA work-study managers, or other military- or veteran-related capacities brings a wealth of expertise and institutional knowledge to the role. In such cases, Chapter Advisors should make every effort to keep their roles distinct, and this distinction should be communicated to student veterans, Chapter Leaders, and as appropriate, other school staff or faculty.
Many Chapters have alumni advisory committees or boards. These positions are created to support the Chapter through mentorship, continuity, and leadership guidance. The person invited to this position aids in Chapter advisement but does not replace the requirement for a staff/faculty advisor. These positions should not be considered active members of the Chapter.
Chapter Contact Information
Chapters must have, at minimum, one point of contact. All Chapter Leader contact information is requested, though not required, to effectively communicate with the right Chapter Leader for the right purpose. Chapter Officers may also encourage all individual members to sign up to receive updates from National Headquarters. Personal contact information is never shared widely and is used for internal communications only.
A prospective SVA Chapter must first establish the group with SVA National Headquarters Application on the SVA website. The information below will help facilitate the group in getting started on the path to establishing a student veteran organization, and sustainable success. Once these steps are completed, groups will be ready to apply for Chapter membership.
Step 1: Identify Your “Why”
To establish a healthy organization, it is important to understand the purpose of your chapter along with the key elements of creating a student veteran organization, and the best practices for managing a Chapter. SVA’s summer program, the Regional Summit, holds curriculum created to serve as a guide for these initial steps. It contains guidance on establishing a mission statement, creating a strategic plan and budget, as well as helpful advice from our National Headquarters executive team.
Step 2: Connect with the Community.
Chapters connect student veterans, administrators, community organizations, and other student groups. Connecting with these stakeholders will help gauge interest and gain support for Chapter mission. Tap into existing networks on campus to raise awareness of the student veteran experience and the group. Forming a healthy relationship with school administrators can also help in the long run. Chapters are also required to identify a Chapter Advisor. This role is described in detail above.
Step 3: Establish a Network.
National Headquarters requests two points of contact: the “Chapter Leader” (generally the Chapter’s president) and the “Chapter Advisor.” These are the points of communication between National Headquarters and the individual members of the chapter.
Although SVA only asks for these contacts, we like to connect with any in officer positions or those seeking an officer position. The programs offered at the national level are designed to elevate the management of chapters from each position of leadership. Internally to the chapter, we recommend organizing a roster or contact list for all chapter members, as well as contacts on campus and neighborhood communities who have expressed interest in supporting the group. Creating these channels to facilitate a network will help streamline communications within the student veteran organization.
Also, during this phase, the group should be applying for recognition as an official student organization on campus. All SVA Chapters must be recognized as an official student organization on their respective campus. Every institution is different, so connect with Student Life administration—or other office, appropriate for the institution—for specific details on how to complete this process.
Step 4: Set the Standard.
To further streamline organization activities, it is important to create a governing document, such as a constitution or set of bylaws. This is a prerequisite to becoming an official Chapter and will also establish the structure within which the student veteran organization will function. The governing document should include information on the scope of the organization’s mission, as well as details on membership requirements and meeting frequency. The content of governing documents will vary by campus but reviewing these bylaws will be useful in drafting the organization’s own unique document.
Step 5: Apply for SVA Membership.
The application will be reviewed by an SVA team member and a decision sent within one-to-two business days. Upon approval, a welcome email will be sent to all three points of contact with some useful information and resources. Apply here.
Delay in assigning Chapter status
Certain circumstances may delay or preclude the registration, such as:
- The institution’s accreditation is suspended or unstable.
- There are numerous or repeated cautionary flags on the institution listed with the Department of Veterans Affairs.
- The student veteran(s) seeking to register is/are also, and primarily, staff of the institution where they are seeking to register a Chapter.
- There are already existing Chapters at the institution/the particular campus.
- Application forms are incomplete or inaccurate.
Maintaining Active Chapter Status
To maintain active status, an SVA Chapter must abide by registration requirements and remain in good standing with SVA as well as its accredited institution. Chapters are requested to complete and submit an annual update form reflecting any changes to leadership and contact information on the SVA website as well as update SVA National Headquarters annually on their RSO status and newly elected leadership.