10 Steps to Starting a Successful AmeriCorps Alums Chapter
Today’s guest post comes from Allie, one of the co-founders of our Oklahoma City Chapter of AmeriCorps Alums. Allie Sheldon was born in Florida and received her bachelors of arts degree in Anthropology with Honors from University of Central Florida. Allie moved to Oklahoma City and began serving as an AmeriCorps member at the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits. Following her year of service Allie became the Special Events Coordinator at the Oklahoma Zoological Society.
One of our newest local chapters in Oklahoma City had their first informational meeting in May and Allie shares with us her 10 steps on how to start and lead a new Alums chapter.
- Get Support – Get the support of your local Community Service Commission office. They will help you contact alums, arrange meetings and maybe even supply some funding to the chapter. Also, they can print things for you like fliers and surveys and act as stand-ins on monthly Chapter Leader calls. Make sure they are behind you even before you apply to become a chapter. You are the Chapter Leader but you do not have to do everything on your own.
- Expand Your Alumni Pool - Don’t forget about programs like Teach for America, AmeriCorps Vista, NCCC and City Year. Alums of all of these programs can join your Alumni group and the more the merrier, especially when starting a chapter. There may be people living in your city that did not serve there but have relocated to the area.
- Tweet – Create a Twitter account. Follow the national Alums chapter @AmeriCorpsAlums, @TeachforAmerica, @AmeriCorpsNCCC. AmeriCorps Alums is really good about retweeting and spreading the word about your events. Also follow local organizations where members are working and other groups alums would find useful (@OppKnocksCareer, @Idealist, @TFACareers). Follow other Alumni chapters and read what they have tweeted to get ideas for what to tweet. Put your Twitter name on all of your fliers and publications.
- Facebook – Create a Facebook page and spread the word to your friends who are alums. Make a few other people admins so they can invite their friends, too. All admins can add or delete content and can even delete admins so be careful who you make an admin. I recommend the Community Service Commission staff (if they are willing) and one or two trustworthy people who have a lot of alumni friends. Include your Facebook address on all of your fliers and publications.
- Don’t Overdo It – Don’t worry about creating a blog, newsletter or anything more labor intensive than Facebook and Twitter right now. Focus on getting followers on Facebook and Twitter first before branching off into other realms. You can create a sub-page for your chapter on the AmeriCorps Alums LinkedIn page if you want one more way to connect.
- Update the AmeriCorps Website – As a Chapter Leader, you are the admin for your chapter’s page on the AmeriCorps Alums website. Make sure you update it regularly, especially once you have events planned. You can also email all of the alums that have registered in your area through the website. This is a great way to find alums that may have recently relocated to your city or who you cannot reach through Facebook and Twitter. Keep checking as alums register all the time.
- Plan an Info Night–Make sure you plan enough in advance to have time to spread the word and get RSVPs. Pick a place where everyone will fit comfortably, where you can be heard and that does not charge you to use the space. If you have the Info Night at a restaurant or coffee shop, let the Alums order and pay for their own food or drinks. Explain the expectations of membership and the purpose of the chapter. Capture everyone’s name and contact information to start building a database of alums and contact them soon after the Info Night to keep them engaged. Create and distribute a survey during the Info Night. You want to find out what focus your alums have and what they expect to get out of membership in the alums chapter.
- Brainstorm – During the Info Night, brainstorm what your first event should be and also ideas for future events. Remember, during brainstorming no idea is wrong so write everything down. Come with a few ideas of your own to start things off. This will avoid awkward silences and get everyone’s ideas flowing. When you decide what your first event is going to be, have people volunteer to help plan the event. Get names right now while interest is high and make sure you actually ask them to help you plan the event.
- Keep it Casual – Don’t worry about having officers and bylaws before the Info Night. You are the Chapter Leader so it is your responsibility to lead the Info Night and disseminate information to the members. Keep the Info Night low key and fun; don’t overwhelm the alums at the first meeting! Having an Events Committee is a less formal way to involve people and for you to get help with planning the next few chapter meetings and events. The people who are dedicated and want to become more involved will naturally emerge as your chapter does more activities. Once your chapter is up and running, you will want to form committees and/or elect officers.
- Build a Chapter You’d Want to Join – Finding Alums can be difficult. You don’t need hundreds of chapter members right away, just a few dedicated members willing to help and the chapter will expand with time. This year’s service term is coming to an end which means a whole new crop of alums will be ready and waiting to join your chapter. Like I said before, you are the Chapter Leader but you don’t have to do everything. Make sure to have fun and build a chapter you would like to be a member of.
What do you think of Allie’s list? What other helpful tips would you suggest?