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Sunday, March 5, 2023

Student-led initiatives: Tips for starting and sustaining a university organization

Create and grow a successful student organization. Find a co-founder, define your goals, and launch the organization with funding and student involvement.

Student organizations are the backbone of university events focused on students themselves. After all, who can understand a student better than a fellow student? Extracurricular activities led by a university organization can enrich your university experience. Student events vary among organizations, but their goal is the same, enrich a student's university life and foster student engagement. Organizing or participating in such activities can open new opportunities to those who dare accept the challenge. Founding a new student organization, however, is the biggest challenge and achievement of them all.

I studied for a combined bachelor's and master's degree at the Instituto Tecnológico de Buenos Aires, one of Argentina's top engineering universities. That university is known for having the most student organizations. After participating in an existing student organization and not being satisfied with the student organization leaders and their actions, I decided to create my own. It was one of the best decisions I made during university. The organization, nowadays, is one of the most respected and prosperous on campus. This post outlines my experience as a founder and how we created a prospering and successful student organization.

How to get started?

The first step is to find a co-founder you can trust. The key to success is to start this journey with someone organized and determined to create a prospering organization. The process is tedious, so having someone to lean on and join you in the student government eases the load on you. In my case, my best friend was up for this task. We decided to tackle this together.

The next step is to define the mission and vision of the society. Identifying what you want to achieve via student activities and why you should be a recognized student organization is necessary. Leading a group of people without knowing what you want to be is impossible. I had the opportunity to open a branch of the world-renowned IEEE Computer Society, so we had the following:

  • Mission: "Spark interest and spread knowledge about technology-related topics."
  • Vision: "Complement academic training using current tools and technologies to train better professionals."

The last step is to find a faculty advisor and register the organization at the university's student services. Find an advisor that can vouch for you and your society. Investigate how your university deals with this kind of student affairs. Prepare a statement on how your student club differs from other student organizations and what campus activities you will host.

In my experience, this was one of our biggest hurdles. There was an existing student group with a similar goal to ours, the one I had quit recently. The caveat was that our mission was a more comprehensive statement, and we were open to all kinds of members. Both the university and the head of the Software Engineering university department saw our organization as redundant. After getting the support of the Electronic Engineering department's director and extensive meetings with the university officers, a new organization was born: IEEE Computer Society ITBA.

Launching the organization

Once you have a registered student organization, a few things are required to be an active student organization: funding, an event, student leadership, and student involvement.

Student leadership is easy to get. You and your co-founder are the initial officers of the organization. Student involvement is harder to obtain. Not all students want to participate in extracurricular activities, and most of those who participate do not want to organize them. Find your close friends or classmates and offer them to start working with you. Show them that, eventually, they will be student leaders in your society. Gather motivated people that don't struggle with student life, so they will have time for any event you want to organize. A student involvement fair is a great activity to seek recruits; check your event services for those dates.

Define the first event of your society. This event will be the official launch of your new organization. Start small and organize a talk. Create an event you would attend and use your society's connections to find an engaging speaker. You can even check the staff directory to ask professors to participate. Book any space on your campus and ask other student organizations to share your event. In general, there is a collaboration between student organizations. Bonus note, take into account the 30% rule. Out of all potential attendees to an event, roughly 30% will come. Consider that when reserving a space on your campus.

Funding is necessary for the long-term operations of your society. Even though you won't require it at first, it should be on your mind from day one. Leverage advisor resources and your student organization members to get contacts for potential sponsorships. Companies invest in student organizations as a way to gather recruits.

How to grow the organization?

The first step in growing your student organization is to be organized and collaborate with other registered student organizations. Continuously creating events and student organization workshops will improve your presence on campus.Fundraising and recruitment will keep your organization running in the long term.


Even though student life is full of activities, your organization should have weekly meetings. During these weekly meetings, foster communication and team-building, and have each member describe what they collaborated on that week. It will increase participation in your organization.

In addition to weekly meetings, you need to have weekly meetings for the student government association of your society. Meet with the directors and discuss how the operations and long-term plans. It will be a great form of leadership development and improve your leadership skills.

A clear division of tasks is necessary. Create groups within the organization according to your needs. For example, we had the following groups: Logistics, Media, and Fundraising. It will allow the members of your student organization to focus on their interests, increasing member retention and specialization. Implement an agile methodology like SCRUM or KANBAN to organize the affairs and kickstart each group.

Transparency and freedom of information are essential in a successful student organization. Implement an organization-wide knowledge base in Notion (free using most student emails) and provide access to everyone in the society. Organize it using the KANBAN format and have everyone store their progress there. Members will know what other members are working on, increasing the interest and your overall organization and visibility.


You cannot expect students to be part of the organization for years. They will participate in other student organizations or activities during their student life. Your organization needs new members on a yearly or semester basis.

Your organization should host a publicly-available recruitment process where anyone from your university campus can participate. Show potential members what they can achieve in your student org and why they should join you. As a co-founder, you should host interviews, standardize interview questions, and vet candidates. For example, I designed interview questions and hosted interview rounds. I identified the future co-founder of POAP as a great potential member and brought him into the organization.


A successful fundraising department will lead to a long-lasting organization that will outlive other student organizations. As mentioned, funding is essential for long-term operations. Your fundraising team should develop a pitch deck for funding meetings. This pitch deck should be concise, visually attractive, and show why they should invest in you.

What have we achieved? What was our impact?

The Covid-19 pandemic started months after founding the organization and planning the entire year, so we had to pivot. The university campus went virtual, and so did we. After quickly switching to a remote strategy, we realized we were ahead of other student organizations as we were moving fast. Since then, our approach has been hybrid to events, improving our presence. Nowadays, it is still present in student life on campus.

The organization has organized 30+ events reaching 5,000+ people in more than ten countries. An impressive number of high-profile sponsors have participated in our events: Nestle, Vercel, BBVA, Accenture, Auth0, POAP, and Exactly are some of the names present. We offered many courses aiming to fulfill our objective of democratizing access to technology and leading student success.

During my time as a founder and part of the student leaders, we grew the organization from two to 20+ members, created a stable member-cycling process, and defined processes for future members, among many other achievements.

Gonzalo Hirsch and Ignacio Villanueva, co-founders of IEEE Computer Society ITBA
Gonzalo Hirsch and Ignacio Villanueva, co-founders of IEEE Computer Society ITBA

Lessons learned

The road to founding a new organization powered by the interest of its members was long and bumpy. We learned many things along the way and created a legacy for ourselves at the university. My main takeaways from this are:

  • Lead by example. Don't delegate work you hate to other members. Show them how to do it and set an example and do it yourself.
  • Communication is essential. Talk with the students that work with you, understand their needs, and listen to their ideas. Most of the time, great ideas came from them.
  • Leadership skills are necessary. Leading a non-profit, new student organization is no joke.

The main challenges were growing the organization and having its members trust us during an impossible time like the pandemic. They confided us with our time, and we made it worth it.

Closing thoughts

Creating one of many student organizations is worth it and something you will remember for the rest of your life. You will face challenges, learn valuable lessons, develop your leadership skills, and make friends for life. Find how you can contribute to campus life with activities and go for it. Find your co-founder and start the journey. If you are not convinced to create your organization, you can participate in many other student organizations. I hope my experience can inspire you.