Red Cross Club Leadership Transitions

As we prepare to head into a new calendar year, Red Cross Club youth leaders may also be thinking about how to prepare their club for a new cohort of officers. If you are part of your club’s leadership team, you may wonder whether your club will know what to do in the future after you leave – for example, whether they will be able to coordinate effectively with the local chapter and operate within the bounds of the the school’s regulations. In other words, while the leaders of the club may change from year to year, the structure, administration, and productivity of the club should remain continuous.

As the President Emeritus of the Harvard Red Cross Club and as a club officer for three years, I have been fortunate enough to serve through several leadership transitions. The formal handing off of our officer positions takes place at the beginning of our spring semester, although new officers are selected by the end of fall semester. Currently, Hanson Tam is the outgoing president of the Harvard Red Cross Club, having served for the entirety of 2017; Erin Kim is the incoming president and will be assuming her role in February.

Harvard Red Cross Club: Outgoing President Hanson Tam ’19 (left) and incoming President Erin Kim ’19 (right)

Based on the time that we have spent here in various leadership roles, Hanson and I would like to share our club’s tips and best practices for club leadership transitions:

1. Selecting New Leadership

The key to a successful leadership transition is being confident in the individuals who have been selected to replace the current officer board. This confidence manifests itself in two forms: a short-term confidence that these leaders are dedicated to and capable of performing their new responsibilities, as well as a long-term confidence that they will help to maintain the future productivity and energy of the club. To this end, there are several factors which should be considered when selecting incoming club officers.

The outgoing officers, having led by example for the previous year, should serve as models for the tasks their position entails. Because current club members and officers are well-positioned to acknowledge and understand the extent of these responsibilities, we suggest that key leadership positions (i.e. President and Vice President) are filled by volunteers who have been with the club for at least one year, whenever possible. Additional guidelines for the age and structure of leadership members might also include ensuring that there is an appropriate ratio between underclassmen and upperclassmen officers. While upperclassmen can help to provide guidance to those who are new to their role, underclassmen members can generate the excitement and new ideas which are important to maintain the long-term productivity of the club. For example, the Harvard Red Cross Club invites up to four freshman and sophomore representatives to join the leadership team each fall, so that these members can learn more about how the club operates and gain valuable experience before tackling more challenging projects.

2. Setting New Leaders Up for Success

However inherently talented and motivated the selected successors might be, outgoing officers should set them up for success within the school, chapter, and community. We suggest that outgoing officers establish or update a shared document which contains logistical and administrative information about the workings of the club. At a minimum, this document should contain contact information for school advisors and chapter youth supporters, log-in information for shared emails and bank accounts, ways to promote on-campus events, trouble-shooting tips for Volunteer Connection, and an example calendar template with mission-related events. If applicable, this document should also contain information on how to update school registration annually and how to apply for grants. Moreover, each officer should create their own document or subsection describing the responsibilities and transition process necessary for their own specific role. By creating a shared repository of knowledge that future generations of leadership can draw upon (also known as institutional memory), current club officers can preserve the ways in which future club officers manage daily operations and larger projects.

The outgoing President should ensure that the incoming President is not only aware of these resources, but also comfortable navigating through them. For example, the outgoing President should send an email to their school and chapter contacts introducing the incoming board members in their new roles so as to ensure that club supporters are on the same page. The President and Vice President should have access to all documents and be comfortable referencing them on a regular basis, so that they can help to enforce accountability among their board members and leadership team.

3. Empowering New Leaders

The importance of leaving time, space, and flexibility to share personal advice cannot be understated. Each cohort of club officers will certainly learn a lot from their successes as well as from their failures. For example, if communicating with officers via email proves to be problematic, then the leadership team might find it helpful to collect members’ phone numbers at the beginning of the year, to ensure that responses to communication occur in a timely manner.

While preparedness is essential, there is no way for future officers to anticipate every possible conflict or scenario. Although traditions should be appreciated (such as the infamous Harvard-Yale Blood Drive and the Ohio State-University of Michigan Blood Battle), the next generation of leaders should feel empowered to pursue and organize whatever events they think are most relevant and timely. One of the most helpful things that outgoing club officers can do is to set aside a meeting to discuss the transition documents described above, as well as to brainstorm new directions for the following year.

We acknowledge that, depending on the size, structure, and nature of the club, certain pieces of advice may be more relevant to some clubs than others. However, we hope that these suggestions can provide you with some ideas to bring to your own transition process. If there are any tips that have worked particularly well for your club during this time, we would love to hear your thoughts at waverley.he3@redcross.org. Similarly, if you would like to hear more about any of the topics mentioned above, please feel free to reach out and let us know!

This article is an expansion to the 2014 article written by National Youth Council member Jeffrey Su. Contributions by Harvard Red Cross Club President Hanson Tam.

– Waverley He, National Youth Council, Chair; Harvard Red Cross Club, President Emeritus

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