Breathing life into either a dormant Psi Chi chapter or one that is merely suffering from inertia is a big challenge. This is especially true at commuter schools where students live off campus and work at least part- if not full-time jobs, leaving very little time for extracurricular activities. However, despite such obstacles, revitalizing a dormant chapter, such as the one the 2002-2003 officer corps inherited at University of Massachusetts Boston, is indeed possible. All that is needed are two things: 1) the expectation that members will want to participate, and 2) an organized, yearlong action plan.
As psychology students, we know that our beliefs and expectations about people affect our own behavior and the behavior of others. Thus, officers' expectations that Psi Chi members will want to participate in activities and fundraising events is a fundamental component of a chapter's success. This positive belief about participation sets the tone for how officers interact with each other and the members. In our own chapter meetings, officers did not merely explain but demonstrated excitement about Psi Chi's lifelong member benefits and research funding opportunities. We conveyed a sense of unity and community as psychology students who had worked hard to achieve membership in an honor society. And, we inspired our members to want to give back to our local community through fundraising events.
How did we do these things? Through our action plan. Because we believed that membership in Psi Chi was special and that members would want to participate, the officers were inspired to devise an ambitious action plan. Our first task was to organize and formalize the officers' roles. Each officer was given a packet that included a written description of his or her specific role. After some discussion as a group, these roles were changed to accommodate individuals' strengths and weaknesses. Reassigning tasks according to people's strengths and preferences allows the group to work together more effectively and efficiently without unnecessary conflict.
Once the officer roles were formalized, it was then necessary to begin organizing and formalizing other procedures such as chapter meetings and membership communication. Previously, new member inductions had been overly casual without much ceremony. A more formalized induction ceremony was needed to convey to new and old members that the chapter was not only organized but also stately.
For members to want to participate, they need to feel that it is worth their time because they are part of something special and unique. To do this, we turned to the National Psi Chi Chapter and found wonderful ideas for formal and informal induction ceremonies, which we then implemented. Because our chapter is at a commuter school and students' schedules are so hectic, we chose to only have six chapter meetings per year, mainly to induct new members.
To make up for the lack of more frequent meetings, the officer corps regularly communicated with the membership at least twice per month via e-mail. Members need to be kept informed of Psi Chi events and activities so they can continue to feel part of the group and can schedule time to participate. This can be done effectively through e-mail.
Like the induction ceremonies, these communications were also formalized. All e-mails were sent under the exact same format that included the official Psi Chi logo and chapter name in order to "brand" the local organization. The tone of the e-mails was always upbeat and expressed gratitude for member participation, which sometimes included naming specific members who had contributed significant time to planning events. All e-mails came from the officer corps as a whole. Demonstrating a united effort as an officer corps provides a team spirit of which members want to be a part.
Finally, all reply e-mails sent by members to officers were responded to in a timely manner. Members were especially grateful for this, as it reinforced the feeling that the officer corps cared about their thoughts and questions and that the organization was there for them. Our consistent e-mail communication with members eliminated the need for more frequent face-to-face meetings, and members never requested them.
Other action plan items included creating a Microsoft Access database for all member information so that alumni can be tracked and the chapter can keep in contact with them. Just because a chapter is at a commuter school does not mean that cohesiveness cannot be expanded beyond the years one is actually attending school. Additionally, a website was created to further promote membership interest in the chapter's activities. This included a member message board allowing members to post messages and questions to each other and the officers.
Both the database and website were action plan items that stemmed from the officers' belief and expectation that members would want to participate. Fundamental items such as these help to establish a community feel to any chapter and can only further its success.
Another action plan item included surveying members at the beginning and throughout the year to find out members' schedules, the best times to contact them, and activities for which they had an interest in volunteering. Knowing ahead of time what our fundraising events would involve, the officers gave members the option to volunteer time through a variety of activities. We then followed-up with these members and, having committed something in writing, most were willing to follow through on their commitment.
As part of the survey, members were also asked about their ideas or desires for other Psi Chi events. Asking members for their input again lets them know that the organization is about them and for them. Though not all suggestions could be implemented, we certainly did use some of them. For those we did not use, the officers still made sure to acknowledge the ideas and suggest that they could possibly be used in the future. Officers should always encourage, not discourage member input.
One of the suggestions we did use which came from the membership survey involved career information seminars. Because the Psychology Club at our school is involved with providing career information to its members, we decided to hold a seminar in conjunction with the club. Having events with the Psychology Club throughout the year allows Psi Chi to indirectly advertise itself to other psychology majors. It also ensures a larger audience for the seminar speakers.
This past spring, we had the chair of the Management and Marketing Department speak to our members about potential business careers for psychology majors. The event was very successful. The 40 or so students who came received some valuable information and had the opportunity to mingle with one another while consuming delectable refreshments. The chair of the Psychology Department also came and said a few words to show his commitment to Psi Chi and the Psychology Club, which further helped to demonstrate the importance of both organizations.
Some of the other major events Psi Chi held during the school year involved fundraising. Fundraising activities are not only a great way to give back to the local community, but they are also a great way to get current members involved and to advertise Psi Chi to potential new members. Our chapter planned winter and spring fundraising events. Both events were deliberately planned to encourage high member participation and were scheduled during our school's Winter and Spring Fests to maximize public exposure.
For the Winter Fest event, a toy drive for the Walker Home and School and a book/bake sale for the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center were planned. Members donated toys (150 to be exact), baked goods, and books. The baked goods and books were sold at the Psi Chi table during Winter Fest. Members volunteered for at least one-hour shifts to sell the goods. Over the course of three days, we managed to raise nearly $1,000-selling cookies and books! The members had a great time and seemed to enjoy getting to know another. And, despite the fact that finals were around the same time as Winter Fest, the members' commitment to volunteering was overwhelming.
After the toys and check had been dropped off to the adopted nonprofits, the officers communicated the appreciation expressed by the nonprofits to all the members. The officers also reminded members that such success could not have occurred without their generosity and effort. Members need to be reminded of the importance of their participation and how it has a direct impact on Psi Chi's activities.
Riding the excitement from the Winter Fest success, the officers decided to do something different for the spring fundraiser (remember, flexibility is important!). A "soft" raffle in which voluntary donations are requested in exchange for raffle tickets was planned with the goal of raising as close to $5,000 as possible-a much more substantial amount compared to what was raised during Winter Fest.
This fundraiser was expanded beyond the three days of the school's Spring Fest and tickets were "sold" (in exchange for donations) off campus throughout the month of April. However, the officers deliberately set aside nearly 1,000 tickets to be "sold" during Spring Fest so that Psi Chi would once again have a visible table at the festival, and so that members could volunteer for shifts in an effort to replicate the camaraderie and unity created during the Winter Fest fundraiser. Additionally, to attract people to the table, members supplied baked goodies they had either baked themselves or bought.
The most amazing aspect of this particular fundraiser, however, was the response we got from members when we solicited them for ideas about prizes. Several members got involved and two in particular were designated to head our Prize Committee. Their effort was absolutely astounding. These members, on their own, were able to procure such prizes as an IBM laptop computer, a gas barbecue grill, and two plane tickets to anywhere in the continental United States as donations from local merchants.
While one of these members went on to graduate this year, the other member was named the director of fundraising as part of next years' officer corps. This position was created after the regular officer elections in order to retain the talent of an incredibly active and valuable member. Again, for a commuter school, creating positions such as this is crucial for demonstrating to members that their contributions-especially exceptional contributions-are not taken for granted and are key to the chapter's success. It also helps to move the momentum forward to the following year.
Needless to say, because of the incredible prizes secured by our members and because of their commitment to "sell" tickets on and off campus, our chapter was able to raise $4,000! As far as we know, raising such a large amount is a first in our chapter's history. However, when we started planning this event, there were naysayers outside of Psi Chi who said it could not be done. Their claim was that our goal was far too lofty for a commuter school and that no one would want to participate. Fortunately, the officer corps was dedicated to their cause and their belief that it could be done and did not allow the naysayers to influence their decision. And, as predicted, the members stepped up to the plate and made it all happen.
Finally, to ensure a greater likelihood that all of the hard work performed this year would be carried into next year to keep the chapter thriving, officer elections were held in March so that the new officers would have plenty of opportunity to shadow the current officers. Not only does this give the new officers a chance to really learn the ropes by attending meetings and participating in event planning, it allows the energy of the current administration to be picked up by the new administration.
As the baton was officially passed at the end of the year, it was evident that the new administration was excited about what had been accomplished this year and that they were eager to continue the chapter's success into the next year. And, as the years go on, it is our sincere hope that this enthusiasm will continue to be passed down.
Reflecting back on what the University of Massachusetts Boston Psi Chi Chapter accomplished this past year, I am not only proud of our work and community contributions, but I am proud to have been part of such a dedicated team. We are proof that Psi Chi organizations can thrive and grow in commuter schools even after having been dormant for some time. All that is necessary are two key ingredients: positive expectations and an organized action plan. With these two ingredients as a foundation, everything else is primed to fall into place.
About the Author:
Laura Flores Shaw was president of the Psi Chi Chapter at the University of Massachusetts-Boston during the 2002-2003 academic year. She graduated summa cum laude from UMB with a degree in psychology in 2003. She is currently a career consultant in Pasadena, California, where she resides with her husband and son.
Spring 2004 issue of Eye on Psi Chi (Vol. 8, No. 3, pp. 24-25, 35), published by Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology (Chattanooga, TN). Copyright, 2004, Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology. All rights reserved.