SOS: RSO help needed

Student Organization Specialists helps Registered Student Organizations succeed, excel

Program Coordinator Caroline Murray (left) and SGA Representative Connor Thatcher (right) meet to discuss RSOs on Nov. 16 in the Office of Student Involvement.

Starting a new Registered Student Organization on campus can be a difficult task to undertake. 

Gaining and retaining members over time can be even harder. 

Organizations interested in making an appointment with a Student Organization Specialist may do so through the Office of Student Activities and Involvement webpage, under "Student Organizations." The SAI office is located in room 101 of the Bovee University Center.

Luckily for RSOs at Central Michigan University, there’s a group of students dedicated to helping with just that. 

The Student Organization Specialists (SOS) is a trained four-person team that offers support services to RSOs at CMU in the form of advising, workshops and consultations. 

New to campus this year, SOS is led by experienced student leaders who have previously held leadership positions. 

Specialists are trained in areas such as marketing, member retention, booking spaces and goal-setting.

“We saw that there was a need from RSOs who were struggling,” said Rockford senior Caroline Murray, the program’s coordinator. “Maybe they couldn’t keep members, or had poor retention, or couldn’t recruit members.” 

Part of the goal for SOS is helping each organization to define what success looks like for them. But the definition of success differs for each RSO, Murray said.

For some organizations, success could be having a large membership; for others, it could be doing more fundraising for philanthropies. Once the RSO has identified its goals, Murray will assign a specialist who will best fit the needs of the RSO based on their past leadership experiences. 

"I would never give Harry Potter alliance the same advice I would give the Future Child Advocates, because they’re very different," she said. "That’s the cool thing about our program: we cater to the individual program."

The SOS team 

Murray knew there was a need for SOS after serving for two years as the RSO Growth and Development Chair for Student Government Association. 

“Every week I was finding new challenges that RSOs were facing,” she said. “I was learning that there were a lot of problems that would be easily solved if they had an advisor looking out for them.”

The newly-created SOS team consists of Murray, Marysville senior Morgan Clark, Battle Creek junior Olivia Franklin and Oxford junior Casey Wright. 

The program coordinator position requires 10 office hours per week as well as consistent training throughout the year, Murray said. She holds this position on top of being a resident assistant in Larzelere Hall and Student Government Association Senate Leader. 

Other SOS team members hold six office hours a week. 

Although the program started this year, SOS services have already been requested by over 30 RSOs on campus thus far. Specialists have met with a wide variety of groups ranging from the Mental Health Alliance, to Pi Sigma Epsilon, to the League of Legends Club. Each organization has requested help in different areas. 

"We were kind of struggling at first," said Chesterfield sophomore Jasmine Alford, secretary of the Harry Potter Alliance. "Our specialist showed us how to book a room, how to organize OrgSync, gave us suggestions on how to do better advertising." 

Many RSOs have cited OrgSync's complexity as a struggle they've faced. 

When organizations request SOS services online, they must fill out the RSO's goals, things they need to improve and things they're doing well. 

For the Mental Health Alliance, an RSO new to campus this year, their main goal was navigating OrgSync and figuring out how to book spaces for meetings. Colorado Springs junior and Mental Health Alliance President Katrina Gallego said working with SOS left her feeling better about starting a brand new RSO.

"Just having someone I can shoot an email to if I'm having trouble is very reassuring," Gallego said. 

Refugee Outreach Collective President Julia Dobija went to SOS for tips on how to market her organization better and increase membership.

“We’re an education and advocacy-based organization, but that’s really difficult to do when there’s not a large refugee population in this area to serve, so we really struggle with membership,” the Trenton junior said. “It can be kind of difficult for people to connect with here.”

The group has about 10 students. 

Dobija said the greatest marketing strategy she took away from meeting with SOS was the concept of the “elevator pitch:" giving a 20-30 second spiel on the organization goals and why people may want to join. 

What is an RSO?

Murray described Registered Student Organization involvement as the “backbone” to a well-rounded college experience at CMU.

From learning time-management, to effective communication and leadership skills, students involved in RSOs can learn many skills that can go right on a resume. 

Aside from growing professionally, RSO involvement can also provide a relationship with the CMU community. 

“If students aren’t getting involved, they may feel homesick or their mental health may slide,” Murray said. “Our RSOs provide an essential connection to CMU.”

In order to form an RSO, students need a few things. 

An RSO must have at least three members: A president, vice president and treasurer. No experience is required, just a passion for their RSO. They must also acquire some sort of faculty adviser. That can be a residence hall director or a favorite professor. 

The Office of Student Activities and Involvement is home for information about all RSOs on campus.

Right now, there are 341 student organizations registered at CMU; however, this number is expected to increase by the end of the 2018-2019 academic year, said Dani Rossman, student activities assistant director.

That number represents all student organizations, club sports and Greek Life organizations that have registered for the academic year.

In 2017-2018, the year ended with 395 RSOs on campus. The year before that, there were 406. 

Once an organization registers with the university for the year, the office does not require any further involvement. The reason for that is because organizations are student-run, meaning students learn leadership skills themselves by checking in with the office and making sure they’re on-track, Murray said.

However, there are plenty of incentives for RSOs to re-register and continue involvement with the university. One incentive is Student Budget Allocation Committee funding, a service run through Student Government Association.

There is $150,000 available for RSOs this year through SBAC funding, which can go toward funding projects and conferences, said Connor Thatcher, SBAC chair. Organizations are eligible to apply for that funding if they are registered for the year and have a representative attending weekly SGA meetings.

The need for SOS

“Involved students are great to work with because they’re so passionate, but a lot of times because they’re so passionate, they become fatigued,” Murray said. “Our job is to fill in the gaps left by the fatigue.”

This is the pilot year for SOS, and the program was approved for four specialists. But based on the success of SOS thus far, Murray said she hopes to see the program rise and the number of specialists increase.

“With SOS, we have the experience,” she said. “We transfer that experience onto people who are really excited about their organizations, but just need a helping hand in figuring out how to be effective.”