Programming is the “so what” of the Chapter. It is why members join and why Alumni contribute.
Programming is the bread and butter of a Chapter. Programming is not simply hosting events, nor is it simply offering opportunities on campus. Programming is the “so what” of the Chapter. It is why members join and why Alumni contribute. For assistance with event planning for Chapters, there is a checklist.
The philosophy of the Programs and Services Department at National Headquarters is one of experience and continual development. The Leadership Continuum begins when a student veteran joins a Chapter and continues through coursework, graduation, and as an alumna/us. We develop programs and write curriculum to deliver an impactful experience that enhances all participants, including student veterans, family members, allies, Chapter Leaders, Chapter Advisors, and others. The programming offered by National Headquarters is designed to build over the “lifecycle” of the student veteran, aligning with the organizational mission.
SVA’s strategy is to “act as a catalyst for student veteran success by providing resources, network support, and advocacy to, through, and beyond higher education” and we develop programs with this in mind.
The Chapter’s strategic plan will lay the framework for the types of programming a Chapter will offer. When developing Chapter programming, it is important to keep the Chapter mission statement in mind. The “so what” of Chapter programming should support the Chapter mission; ideally, all monies spent by the Chapter should be in support of that mission. Programming should also be developed to grow with the Chapter. Events that support three-to-four people one year may not be sustainable four years down the road when a Chapter is boasting over 50 members.
Programming development begins with a strategic plan that recognizes campus culture as well as membership interests and needs. Effective programming comes from the solicitation of ideas for potential events from members. This programming may span a wide spectrum of topics, from philanthropic or service opportunities to a Joint Services Military Ball to a veteran career fair to tailgating to group trips to a local park. The variety of programming offered by a Chapter will ensure all members, their families, and allies maintain interest and feel included.
Types of Programming
There is a myriad of programming opportunities for Chapters on campuses or online. The guide offers six separate categories for a starter list of ideas, however Chapter Leaders are encouraged to think beyond these lists, to engage with their members, and to create innovative solutions for engagement. Then, Chapter Leaders can bring those ideas to future SVA programs, such as the Regional Summits or NatCon to share their experiences and learn from one another.
Social programming is incredibly important. The social support offered through Chapter engagement has been shown to increase success outcomes as well as overall enjoyment of the college experience for student veterans.
- Many Chapters have found local restaurants who are willing to offer a space for Chapter Members to come together and enjoy a meal. Some of these restaurants have offered in-kind donations, such as food, drinks, meeting space rentals. It is important to develop relationships with community businesses when designing this type of recurring event.
- Tailgates and athletics. Many Chapters are active on campuses with a vibrant athletics community. Big football schools may be a great place to organize a Chapter tailgate. Again, building a relationship with the Athletics Department on campus or with the Alumni Association or Athletics Boosters organization may prove useful in this type of programming. Some Chapters have arranged “Military Appreciate Game” events.
There are three common types of meetings: regular Chapter meetings, ad hoc/planning meetings, and open meetings/town halls. For a successful meeting, set a date/time/space, announce the meeting through the member distribution list, circulate an agenda, and distribute a follow-up message.
Chapter Leaders should establish a regular meeting schedule at the beginning of each term to discuss Chapter business and plan Chapter activities, events, and programs. Records should be maintained for all meetings in the form of agendas and minutes. Most meetings will have similar components:
- Scheduling of meeting and reservation of meeting space.
- Initial announcement of the meeting day/time.
- Circulation of a draft agenda several days in advance of the meeting.
- Reminder announcement.
- Meeting, convened by Chapter Officer, following the approved agenda, recorded by note-taker or minute-taker; and
- Summary of edited minutes sent out to meeting attendees/members.
Meeting agendas will vary depending on the purpose of the meeting, however clear goals for the meeting are appropriate to set in place before the meeting begins, such as what needs to be discussed or accomplished and what is expected of each person in attendance.
Usually more frequent, regular Chapter meetings will be convened by the Chapter President at a regular time and place, follow a standard format, and provide a venue for the group’s discussion of Chapter programs and ongoing business. All Chapter Officers are highly suggested to attend regular meetings. Regular meetings have an agenda created and shared in draft form in advance so that Chapter Officers can make additions or amendments.
During the meeting, minutes are taken then shared by the Vice President of Communications or another designee. Transparency suggests that minutes and/or a meeting summary be sent to the Chapter Member list and that, even if closed to Chapter Officers, agendas and minutes are available upon request. Finally, regular meetings have a clear start and end time. Other student leaders, special guests, or campus administrators may occasionally be invited to regular meetings.
Ad-hoc and Planning Meetings
In addition to regular meetings, Chapter Officers will frequently call ad hoc or planning meetings. These meetings are called as needed and are typically coordinated based on the availability of attendees. Planning meetings that are held in a series for large events may use the agenda/minute format just as regular meetings do. These documents can then be used in regular meetings to report planning updates.
Open Meetings and Town Halls
Many Chapters will incorporate open meetings or town hall-style events into their calendar. Town hall style meetings typically address one topic, though the topic may be broad. For example, new Chapter Officers may host a town-hall style event in the fall aimed to introduce themselves and their plans for the Chapter to members, student veterans and other students, or to solicit feedback and ideas. Town hall meetings may also be called in response to an emergent national, local or campus issue—such as new policies for military students or an on-campus incident—when the Chapter believes student veterans would benefit from group discussion.
Veteran Resource Center personnel and administrators involved in veteran or military affairs may occasionally offer to give a presentation about educational resources and benefits. This may be effectively done in a town hall style format when and if Chapter Officers are convening and the session is designed around feedback and interaction, otherwise it might be considered a separate kind of event. A sample meeting agenda and meeting announcement can be found here.
In the lifecycle of a student veteran, many create a charted a path from their admissions letter to the graduation stage. In some cases, this path neglects the importance of engaging in the campus community until they are done and ready for the next phase of life. These students are successful in their classes, and with a higher graduation rate than their traditional peers, but often miss out on experiencing college and the value associated with building a peer network.
In the lifecycle of a student veteran, many create a charted a path from their admissions letter to the graduation stage. In some cases, this path neglects the importance of genuine engagement in the campus community. These students are successful in their classes, and with a higher graduation rate than their traditional peers, but often miss out on experiencing college and the value associated with building a peer network.
Often student veterans avoid engagement with their peers on campus because they are often older and carry more responsibilities. Student veterans are more likely to be married, have children, and hold a full- or part-time job while in school. It is up to Chapter Leaders to build the college experience for student veterans through programming that is accessible to them and that meets their needs. Sections above have already discussed programming as an overarching construct, explaining how to root programming in the Chapter’s strategic plan and how to design programming around the Chapter and campus culture.
Every event has a purpose, which is communicated by the event goals, which include the who, what, why, when, and where.
- The Who. The “who” of an event is the event’s audience. Generally, this will be the Chapter’s members, but can sometimes include partners, donors, university administration, other students or student leaders, and more. For example, the goal of the audience may be to bring together a diverse student population to learn about minority roles in the history of conflict at an academic panel.
- The What. The “what” of an event is the event itself. Whether the event is a general body meeting, an officer meeting, a panel discussion, a memorial ceremony, or a joint-service student veteran ball, the event type, a goal for event type is important. For example, the goal of the type of a networking event may be to connect student veterans with industry professionals for career placement.
- The Why. The “why” of an event is its purpose, and even a purpose should have a goal. If the purpose of the event is to increase Chapter brand, the goal may be to have an increase in non-member/new member turnout.
- The When. The “when” of an event is the timing or rough placement on the academic calendar. This is general when setting goals and will be refined during the logistics setting. The goal may be to impact new student veterans, in which case, the beginning of the academic year may be appropriate.
- The Where. The “where” of an event is its location. While the student veterans center may be appropriate for meetings, a more notable location might be more appropriate if the goal is to draw community member attendance.
Each of these goals contribute to the overall outcomes of an event and are important for consideration when beginning the event planning and before moving on to logistics.
The logistics of an event are what make it work; they are the pen to paper, nuts and bolts of success. There are many moving parts in event planning, and it is important to begin early with an event plan so that anyone who picks up the process can know what has been done, what is currently happening, and what is left to be done. An event plan is not appropriate for every event but is helpful for events that are larger in scope and have donors with expected outcomes.
Logistics include items such as setting a specific date (i.e., moving from “spring” to “March 15”), deciding if this is a weekend or weekday type of event, a specific time (i.e., professional event in the daytime beginning at 8am or a social event in the evening at 7pm), and a specific location (i.e., outside or inside, depending on weather and dress). More specifically, logistics include catering or food and beverage, invitations, music, speakers, place settings, equipment rentals, and so on. Each of these contribute to the event’s goals and so should be selected with intent.
Logistics are variable and at the discretion of the Chapter Leaders but are heavily reliant on the event budget – the difference between a sit-down dinner and open bar or buffet-style hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar. Campus culture should also be considered but can be dynamic. Changes in culture regarding alcohol or events should be monitored to ensure cultural appropriateness.
Communications and Marketing
For major events, a communications and marketing plan is an important consideration. It is important to get the word out early, even prior to setting up logistics. “Save the dates” are excellent tools to use to ensure potential attendees do not schedule other events and thus cannot attend the Chapter event. Marketing for events is all about meeting people where they are, and a plan that includes social media, email outreach, posts in an office on campus, or word-of-mouth will connect with a wider reach.
These are common outlets for event marketing in the SVA network as well as on a single campus. In Chapter communications about events, Chapter Leaders can take the opportunity to tell the compelling story of why the event fits into the Chapter narrative, how it aligns with Chapter mission, and how it will benefit attendees.
As important as it is to plan an event, it is just as important to review the event after it is complete. Although this may be a Chapter President’s only time planning the larger events before stepping down from their leadership role, the success and sustainability of the Chapter and the events they put on are made possible by keeping a running list of best practices. For example, best practices can include lists of, locations that have worked with the Chapter and locations that are a bad idea to repeat, types of events that gain attendees and types that are a flop on with the campus.
It is an option to figure out the total cost to execute the event, then simply weigh that against other quantifiable elements to determine a black-and-white “score” of the return on investment. There is quite a bit to consider when evaluating the overall effect of an event: brand recognition, networking, improving relationships, and more; are all factors that affect a successful event.
When it comes to determining whether an event hit the mark, Chapter Leaders can consider the goals of the event and then can look at whether they made the intended impact on participants. The following questions are a creative way to estimate impact:
- Did the event stimulate new discussion and/or thinking? A great way to track this would be to create a few event hashtags and encourage attendees to use it in their social media posts. That way, a thread of easily searchable information is created.
- Did the event provide new knowledge? Is membership or participation in other events, like general body meetings, increasing. Is it easier to have conversations because everyone seems to be on the same page in terms of student veterans on campus?
- Was there inclusiveness and diversity in event participants? The best communities consist of all different kinds of people, across gender lines, age demographics, racial designations, and levels of physical ability. Establishing a culture of inclusion can have a huge impact on both brand and event success.
- Was there quality discussion influenced by the event? Are people grasping the message and building on it to create new ideas?
- Did the event raise Chapter awareness and public profile? Ideally, there will be a spike in site visits or at event participants as well as social media traffic right after an event.
- Was the event contextually aware and/or appropriate? Did it live up to campus culture? Did it convey the message or story of the Chapter?
Delegation is a challenging skill to learn for many Chapter Leaders because ultimate ownership of a program, project, or event makes it difficult to hand over critical responsibilities. Many Chapter Leaders are so dedicated to a successful outcome, they have a difficult time turning some of these tasks over to others. If this sounds familiar, remind yourself that delegation is crucial to ensuring the best efforts are put into everything the Chapter does and prevents you from overloading your own duties. The below are guides to successful delegation.
Delegate early. Just as Chapter Leaders should start planning events early, they should delegate early. Making an effort to delegate tasks before any significant progress has been made avoids unnecessary pressure and allows for critical thought and creativity while planning an event.
Select the right person. Take into consideration the individual skillsets of your team and exploit their talents. Ensure that the person has the time to take on the responsibility and complete their respective task efficiently. Make sure the person has the resources, support and guidance to succeed.
Communicate the rationale and benefit. Identify the reason for the task and articulate how it will contribute to the overall success of the event. Whenever possible, explain how the task could benefit the person to whom the task has been assigned. For example, they’ll develop a specific skill, network with incredible people, or progress on their chapter leadership path.
Delegate the entire task to one person. Assuming ownership of the entire task promotes responsibility, increases motivation, and avoids ambiguity in accountability.
Set clear goals and expectations. Be clear and specific on what is expected. Give information on what, why, when, who and where, but leave the “how” to them. Always confirm and verify the task goals and expectations and be prepared to accept input from other Chapter Members.
Delegate responsibility and authority. Ensure that the Chapter Member is given the relevant responsibility and authority to complete the task. Let them complete the task in the manner they choose, their expertise is at work here.
Provide support, guidance and instructions. Point delegates toward the resources they may need to complete the task or project. Resources may include people they need to coordinate with including Chapter Leaders, crucial information or financial resources.
Request progress reports or updates. Chapter Officers should request to be updated on the progress of the task or schedule routine meetings and provide assistance when necessary. When requesting updates, try not to be intrusive, as this can be perceived as a lack of trust.. Open communication lines and regular meetings will allow for feedback to flow in both directions.
Provide constructive criticism to correct poor performance. If progress is unsatisfactory, do not take the project back immediately. Rather, Chapter Leaders can continue to work with the Chapter Member and ensure they understand the event and are taking full ownership of the task. Advice on ways to improve ensures accountability and dependability throughout the life of the engagement with the Chapter.
Evaluate and recognize good performance. Results should be evaluated more than methods. Chapter Leaders can analyze the cause of insufficient performance for improvements, but it is important to recognize successes as soon as possible. Chapter events are put on by volunteers—Chapter Members are volunteers— and so showing gratitude goes a very long way. Chapter Leaders can consider providing feedback on their assistance via a recommendation on LinkedIn or writing a formal thank-you note.