Thinking of good event programming is already a difficult task. But, it’s even harder when it involves busy college students with short attention spans. Depending on factors like the budget, the member attendance, and the advisor’s approval, it’s tricky to organize and execute a successful student organization event.
As a former president of two different student organizations (see this post on How To Win A Student Org Election), I spent two and a half years planning events for college students. Looking back on all the programming I planned, I remember some major flops that were pretty embarrassing.
But, other events were a big hit at the time and helped attract more members in the future. Since there’s little value in you hearing what events flopped, besides some funny stories, here are my 13 best ideas to get college students interested and engaged at your student organization event.
1. Free food
This is a no-brainer, right? Promote free pizza or Jimmy John’s sandwiches at your event, and you’ll lock in the semi-interested people plus those who otherwise wouldn’t have come. Your regular members will also appreciate the gesture, and be more willing to come to future events.
2. Helpful speakers
Listening to a professor lecture in a general requirement class that you have no interest in is one thing. But, hearing a speaker give helpful career advice can bring audiences who pay attention and ask insightful questions.
3. Famous speakers
If your organization has the money for it or if you can work with your university to bring a high-profile speaker in, people will come to see someone famous. Even if this person isn’t related to their career, the speaker’s message will most likely be cool and relevant to life. Plus, the chance of snapping an Instagram picture with this celebrity can be too good to pass up. I’m kidding about Instagram, kind of.
4. Member networking events
Sometimes all students need to show up and get involved is an organized networking event where members get to know each other. Whether you split into small groups, talk in the speed-dating format, or something else, students will love the opportunity to become friends with like-minded individuals.
5. Alumni networking events
Similar but slightly different to number 4 above, bringing in alumni related to your organization can get a high turnout. Members will appreciate your effort to make networking easy for them, and often times the alumni are happy to come and give back because it makes them feel good and important.
6. Off-campus trips
Off-campus trips take more planning than bringing in pizza, but if done smoothly they produce a high return. Some of my favorite events as president of Pre-Law Society were the law school trips to North Carolina, Washington D.C., and Virginia.
7. Partnership with a restaurant/bar to raise money
Partnering with a restaurant or bar to bring in customers while your student org takes a percentage of the profit is one of my favorite fundraisers. You not only get your members involved, but also the other students who visit when you tell them to support the cause. This route is also an easy way to raise money for another event on this list.
8. Community project
Something like a bake sale is an example of a productive event that gets your members interacting with one another as they also assist the community. Find a way to give your money or time to a local community organization, like the homeless shelter or animal shelter, and everyone will be feeling good afterward.
9. Puppies and animals
Number 9 on this list but number 1 in our hearts, bringing in puppies to release your members’ stress is never a bad idea. I found that this event is always a hit, and especially around midterm and final exam season.
10. Panel question and answer session
Bringing in guest speakers is great, but usually they only leave time for a couple of questions at the end, with your members wanting to learn more. So, instead of having these guests give a speech, have them introduce themselves and then give your members the floor to ask questions from the start. Another option is to get some seniors in your organization as the panel, and let the underclassmen members ask questions related to school, grad school, career, etc.
11. Mock events
Are you in a pre-professional or career-related student organization? Do mock events with your members to both improve your skills and have a good time. For example, if you’re in a business fraternity, do mock interviews, mock venture capital funding pitches, or mock elevator speeches. Your members will like the practice and opportunity to get out of their comfort zone.
12. Athletic events
Almost everyone can relate to sports, so scheduling an athletic event like flag football, ice skating, bowling, or volleyball will be fun. If you have the budget for it, a student org golf outing sounds like a blast, at least in my opinion.
13. Ask the members
You don’t have to spend the entire time your student organization meets to do this, but it’s a good idea to give your members a list of programming ideas and have them vote on it. Then, they will know their voice holds weight and is accounted for in the organization’s decisions.
Readers, what student organization events for college students do you enjoy the most? What would you add to this list? Tell us what gets you to go to student organization events, and what turns you off.