A Chapter will maintain relationships with its members and potential members, university administrators, faculty and staff, community members, political leaders, and more.
What types of relationships matter most to an SVA Chapter?
A Chapter will maintain relationships with its members and potential members, university administrators, faculty and staff, community members, political leaders, and more. These relationships are incredibly important to the success of the Chapter, and should be cultivated strategically, understanding that growth and development occur because of relationships.
What underscores all relationships created by Chapters is inclusion. The benefits of diversity and inclusion in student organizations stretch far and wide — affecting academic and social experiences, as well as having a direct impact on the future of the organization. The positive effects of diversity and inclusion enable Chapters to work with people from other races, ethnicities, and cultural backgrounds and challenges the views they are accustomed to. This leads to greater awareness, understanding, and acceptance of differing beliefs and customs. While those who serve in the military have experienced greater than average diversity in their every-day experiences, emphasizing inclusion within a Chapter allows for a two-way exchange of the benefits explained above. Not only can Chapter members gain a better understanding of others unlike them, but also teach others more about student veterans.
As a registered student organization, Chapters are most closely tied to the universities that support them. Because of this, Chapter Leaders should first develop relationships with those at their school that have a hand in either student life or the day-to-day of student veterans. When these personnel are on board the Chapter and its mission, both the identification and reach directly to student veterans on campus becomes easier, growing the pool of potential candidates through simple connections with the campus.
Chapter Leaders often run into the hurdle of accessing lists of student veterans due to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA, 20 U.S.C. § 1232(g)), which is a United States federal law that governs the access to educational information and records by public entities such as potential employers, publicly funded educational institutions, and foreign governments. This law prevents Chapter Leaders from simply requesting a list of student veterans on many campuses in the U.S. While a barrier, FERPA should not prevent Chapter Leaders from leveraging relationships on campus to gain access to these students.
Only a handful of potential relationships are listed below, but Chapter Leaders are encouraged to find relationships wherever they are on campus. Any relationship is a potential benefit in some way to the Chapter.
School Certifying Official
The first obvious stop in developing these relationships is the School Certifying Official (SCO). These are the university staff members who know and understand the student veteran population the best because it is their job to ensure that a student veteran’s GI Bill is processed correctly so that student veterans avoid the stress of that financial burden.
The SCO maintains, then, a list of active students currently using their GI Bill, including student veterans, reservists, National Guard members, and dependents. By solidifying a relationship with the SCO, Chapter Leaders can use that connection with active students to grow Chapter membership and convey important information.
Student Veterans Center Staff
For the Chapters at schools that are lucky enough to have a designated space for student veterans, a relationship with the veterans’ center staff is a must. These relationships provide space to post information about meetings and to hold meetings. They have connections with student veterans not using GI Bill—those with whom the SCO may not be familiar. While a member of the veterans’ center may be the Chapter Advisor, this is often not the case, and so a relationship with this group benefits by added support.
Student Life Staff
Many Chapters are governed by a student life office or a student affairs office. The staff of these offices are an invaluable resource not simply for helping to recruit student veterans, their families, and allies into the Chapter, but in engaging in mission-driven and student-centric programming. For example, the Office of Student Life at Tallahassee Community College “provides opportunities for students to get involved, develop/enhance leadership skills, and provides support services to assist students with getting the most of their college experience.
We strive to engage students in meaningful experiences through campus activities and events, student clubs and organizations, Student Government Association (SGA), leadership retreats/trainings, and volunteer opportunities.” Relationships with these offices help in identifying potential members, but also allow the curated programming for Chapter Members, and members of that specific university’s student body.
While not a relationship built for recruitment, having the understanding and support of the leader of your university can prove immensely beneficial. This kind of support can trickle down from the top office to other areas on campus so that student veterans are an integral part of the campus community instead of perhaps a separate group of adult learners. Additionally, the presence of the university President or Chancellor at a Chapter event may solidify the credibility and legitimacy of the Chapter to other groups on campus.
Administrators are not the only professionals on campus with their fingers on the pulse of student life on campus. Faculty groups, particularly if a veteran faculty group exists, are an excellent place to tell the story of student veterans on campus and dispel any misinformation and stereotypes that may exist about the population. Engaging with faculty groups can open doors for honors work, study abroad opportunities, or research opportunities that may not have otherwise been promoted to student veterans. Additionally, faculty with veterans in their classrooms may point them to the campus Chapter if they have a better idea of what the Chapter is and does.
Member Engagement and Recruitment
The success and stability of a Chapter relies almost entirely on its membership. The Chapter President could have a close relationship with the University President, but without a Chapter membership, without student veterans, their families, and allies participating in and benefiting from Chapter programming, there is no Chapter. Member engagement and recruitment is quite literally what sustains and grows the Chapter. Additionally, the social support that is provided by engagement with a Chapter is shown to increase graduation rates among student veterans.
There are many ways to engage with Chapter Members. No two Chapters are alike, so no two engagement strategies can be alike. Chapter Leaders must meet their membership where they are; that is, they must communicate to members to ensure relevant and effective programming as well as ensure that all members feel valued and encouraged to participate in Chapter programming and in Chapter Leadership opportunities as well.
Some Chapters have created a survey that is distributed every semester asking for suggestions or schedules or information on member families. This allows Chapter Leaders to create programming that meets the needs of their members and engages members on their terms to suit their needs. After events or at the end of each semester, some Chapters survey their membership regarding meetings, events, or engagement opportunities to get a feel for how they might be improved in the future. The programming section of this guide discusses those opportunities in further detail.
Chapter Leaders generally only serve in their positions for one term, and so member engagement and the encouragement of members to become Chapter Leaders are both crucial in the sustainability of your Chapter. From the beginning of their time on campus, student veterans should be exposed to leadership opportunities, from participation on committees to executive leadership positions within the Chapter. It may be appropriate for more robust Chapters to create a Chapter Leadership guide that describes each leadership position, including desired qualifications. This way, each candidate can complete necessary tasks and is ready to discuss their platforms with members when elections occur.
Member engagement does not end on campus. Your National Headquarters staff are available to work with, engage with, and support student veterans on every campus Chapter. While the most common avenue for engagement with National Headquarters are Chapter Consultations, members as well as leaders should be encouraged to participate in SVA’s Leadership Continuum Programming, described above. This makes for a more empowered, engaged membership and a successful and sustainable organization overall.
Without the continuous recruitment, a Chapter will fizzle and die. There are several ways to build a Chapter recruitment plan, and a solid start is to know and understand the enrollment path of student veterans to build relationships with those in the position of managing the steps involved. Many veterans are transfer students, having earned at least some college credit before or during their time in service. It may be simple, then, to leverage the relationship built with the transfer admissions office to have sent a welcome email or letter to every new student who has marked the “veteran” box on their admissions application.
Many Chapters have worked with their admission office, registrar, or student veterans center to establish a veteran-specific orientation. Whether a breakout session for veterans from a main orientation or a week-long, involved program that brings new student veterans together with current student veterans as well as allies and offices on campus, orientations are a great way to recruit student veterans. They also contribute significantly to the success of student veterans on campus.
Tabling or recruitment events are a great place to meet new student veterans and even those who had not engaged with the Chapter yet. To reiterate, though, recruitment plans should be live documents and are as different as each campus; they should be revised often and tailored to the campus culture.
Creating a recruitment pitch. Just like the value proposition, also known as an “elevator pitch,” given to potential Chapter stakeholders, supporters, and donors, a recruitment pitch gives a compelling snapshot of the Chapter that draws interest in a short amount of time. It should be brief, candid, and authentic. Its focus should be on the benefits of belonging—perhaps there are career opportunities with Chapter alumni or social events only open to Chapter Members—and the highlights of what membership means.
This should create a personal connection between the one presenting and receiving the pitch. Still, Chapter Leaders should align this pitch with their brand, discussed later, so that Chapter Leaders and members alike are all giving the same sense of an organization to which everyone would want to belong, regardless of personal touch.
Relationships with the Community
The Chapter should work to form relationships with organizations within the community. These relationships can take three forms: (1) programming relationships, where the Chapter participates or invites other organizations to participate in programming for members; (2) funding relationships, where the Chapter provides funds to or receives funds from another organization; and (3) advisory relationships, where the Chapter provides advisory services or receives advisory services from another organization. Obvious connections include Veteran Service Organizations, such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion. Team Red White and Blue, and Team Rubicon.