Transitioning Your Student Org to New Leadership

During Caroline Hymel’s first year as president of Louisiana Tech University’s AAUW student organization, she wished she had someone to guide her as she transitioned to her new role. “When I leave, I want to make sure I equip my successor with all the tools needed to feel empowered as a leader,” Hymel said. This year, the student organization is going to transition the leadership board during the winter so that new officers will have mentors to help them.

Don’t forget to update AAUW on your change in leadership!
Fill out this online form at any point during the year so we can send you up-to-date information and free AAUW materials!

You have put a lot of time and energy into your AAUW student organization, working all year to recruit members, sign up AAUW student affiliates, and plan engaging campus programming. It’s critical that you identify and train the next generation of leadership to keep your student organization — and your work — going once you graduate or take a step back as a leader. Set up your new student org’s leadership board for success with this leadership transition checklist.

1. Identify potential leaders.

Early in the academic year, identify student organization members who could serve as leaders, especially first-year and sophomore students who can carry on your organization’s legacy. Recruit students who are passionate about AAUW’s mission, want to boost their résumés, and are motivated to make an impact on campus. Invite them to meetings to learn more about their interest in the student organization and ease them into the possibility of taking a leadership role.

2. Engage new members.

Ask emerging leaders to help plan an upcoming event or join a subcommittee. Introduce them to your organization’s adviser so they feel more comfortable developing a working relationship. As they start to get the hang of your organization, slowly start delegating tasks and responsibilities to them. This will give them an insider’s look into what you’ve been doing in your role and help build their confidence.

3. Keep timing in mind.

If your college/university’s policies allow it, try and provide at least one month of overlap in the transition so your new leadership has the opportunity to shadow outgoing officers. Choose new leaders early on in the semester rather than later. This will give you time to meet with the new officers and make sure they have everything they need for the coming year.

4. Organize important documents, files, and resources.

Create a binder or digital notebook for new officers with relevant notes, resources, and instructions. This is something that you can do throughout the year so that the process of putting together materials isn’t overwhelming. Dropbox or Google Drive are popular platforms, or use your campus’ preferred platform to ensure your hard work will be saved from year to year.

Sample documents, resources, and information to include

  • Your organization’s history and mission statement
  • AAUW’s mission and history
  • Your student organization’s bylaws and officer responsibilities
  • Your campus’ student organization policies and procedures
  • Organizational goals and objectives from previous years
  • Meeting agendas and minutes
  • List of your student org members and their contact information
  • Organization budget and any financial documents, receipts, or invoices
  • Student organization e-mail account log-in information
  • Social media account log-in information (website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, etc.)
  • AAUW tool kits, resources, and the online form to update AAUW on your leadership contacts
  • Important letters or e-mails
  • Leadership board transition memos
  • Evaluations of previous projects and programs
  • Marketing materials
    • Pictures of your organization
    • Any press releases or media mentions
    • Your official AAUW student org logos (e-mail coll-univ@aauw.org if you don’t have them)
    • AAUW’s branding guidelines
  • Advertising documents (posters, flyers, fact sheets, etc.)
  • Campus programming calendar, time line, checklist, and any event materials
  • Contact information for
    • Your AAUW student organization campus adviser
    • AAUW national (coll-univ@aauw.org)
    • If your school is an AAUW college/university partner member, your C/U representatives
    • Any academic departments or other student organizations you’ve collaborated with
    • Your local AAUW branch or Younger Women’s Task Force chapter
    • Other community contacts, mentors, and supporters
    • Outgoing leadership contact information (in case there are questions when the new person takes office)
    • Information for any past vendors used (caterers, transportation services, printers, T-shirt companies, etc.)

5. Distribute a member survey.

Surveying your members will help you collect valuable information about what worked well and what your student org needs to improve. Tips for creating a successful survey and suggested questions can be found in the student organization survey how-to guide.

Surveying your members will help you collect valuable information about what worked well and what your student org can improve on. This information will help you give recommendations and tips to the next leadership board and plan for the upcoming year.

Tips for a successful survey

  • Consider whether or not you want your survey to be anonymous. Members may be more comfortable sharing feedback anonymously, while having names attached to responses may give you greater context and the option to follow up for clarification.
  • Google Forms and SurveyMonkey (up to 10 questions) are free platforms that you can use to collect responses. Both platforms allow you to conduct your survey anonymously.
  • Make sure to ask respondents to explain their answers for each question.
  • Know that members may have some critical feedback. You won’t always agree with the feedback you receive, but recognize that there are always things that can be improved.

Suggested survey questions

Mission

  • Did you have a clear understanding of our student organization’s mission and goals?
  • Do you feel that the meetings we held were effective in pursuing our mission?
  • Do you feel that the campus events we planned were effective in pursuing our mission? Your involvement in the student organization
  • Did you have a clear understanding of the different ways you could be involved in the student organization?
  • Did you feel that you had opportunities to engage in a meaningful way?
  • Describe your involvement in the student organization in the last year.

Culture

  • Did you feel welcomed by student organization leaders and other members?
  • Did you feel that your ideas and contributions and those of other members were valued?

Suggestions

  • Do you have any suggestions for how the student organization could improve next year?
  • Do you have any suggestions for programs or events to hold next year?

6. Hold a leadership board debrief.

A debrief meeting will help you dig into the feedback you collected through your survey and explore other ways your organization can improve. Tips for conducting a debrief meeting and suggested questions can be found in the student organization leadership debrief how-to guide.
Download the Student Org Leadership Debrief How-To Guide Word — 35 KB

7. Write a transition memo.

A transition memo is one of the best ways to ensure a smooth transition to the next person in your role. It will help orient your successor to their role, and allows you to share best practices and recommendations for how to manage responsibilities successfully. A transition memo shares what your org has accomplished and where you see the organization heading, but it’s also important to empower the new leadership to create their own vision for the future of the student organization.

If you have a co-director, the transition memo should be created by both of you together. Use the information collected from the survey and debrief meeting to help you complete the memo. Below is a list of suggested categories for your memo. Feel free to adapt these categories based on your role. For each category, provide an overview of best practices and suggested changes.

  • Roles and responsibilities
  • Goals and achievements
  • Projects throughout the year
  • Planning and project management
  • Delegation and working with other student organizations or members (if applicable)
  • Working with your co-director (if applicable)
  • Existing relationships and ongoing projects
  • Vision for the future of the student organization

Also include relevant documents, data, contact information, and resources with your transition memo, as well as a way to get in touch with you if your successor has any questions.

8. Tie up any loose ends.

Finish all necessary correspondence (letters, e-mail, phone calls) and develop an action plan for new officer transition. Follow your school’s policies and procedures to make sure the new leadership is approved by your student engagement office. Then sit down with your student organization adviser to introduce the new officers and help them build a strong relationship.

Don’t forget to update AAUW on your change in leadership! Fill out this online form at any point during the year so we can send you up-to-date information and free AAUW materials!

 9. Hold an in-person orientation.

Schedule an orientation with the new leaders, and provide them with the transition materials. Use the transition memo guide in our board transition tool kit to talk through your position’s responsibilities, your organization’s finances, the culture of your organization, and any tips you have for recruitment, marketing, and event planning. Make sure to give incoming leaders your permanent e-mail address and phone number so that they can contact you if they’re missing anything. Don’t forget to make orientation fun! Celebrate the process, and welcome the new leaders of your student organization.

10. Recognize your team!

Let your outgoing leadership board know how much you appreciate the time and energy that they have given to your organization. It’s important to let your leadership board know how much you appreciate the time and energy that they have put into your student organization. Below are just a few of the ways that you can thank them and recognize them for their contributions.

Ways to say thanks

  • Write personalized, handwritten thank-you notes.
  • Call, email or text each student leader individually to thank them.
  • Take your leadership board out to coffee or ice cream.
  • Offer to write letters of recommendation for newer members.

Ways to celebrate your board

  • During your final meeting or over e-mail, recap everything that the board has accomplished together and thank them for their hard work.
  • During your final meeting, plan time for people to thank one another. Give each board member time to share parting thoughts.
  • Plan a fun year-end activity or meal.
  • Encourage the board to stay in touch with one another and set an example of doing so.

Tips for preparing a personalized thank-you

  • Think about the specific contributions that your board member has made.
  • Focus on the areas where they really shine.
  • If you prefer to thank the board member in person or on the phone, you can use the note as practice for what to say.

Adapted from Words to Thank Volunteers


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