Building influence through visibility

When you see a story about a Carnegie Mellon student organization on the news, it’s not typically for something laudable. As the title of one fall 2005 KDKA broadcast (“CMU showing XXX movies on campus”) shows, much of our image within the media is steeped in controversy.

While snafus wind up on the nightly news, much of the good gets passed over. Carnegie Mellon’s chapter of Amnesty International recently held a soccer tournament to benefit Doctors Without Borders, and the organization Circle K is entirely dedicated to community service. Yet even people who watch the local news do not hear about them.

The reality is that no one is going to promote student organizations for them, and they must take up this charge more vociferously lest their good work go unnoticed.

It is easy for some organizations to be more visible than others: Student publications such as The Tartan, readme, and Big Straw release a distinct product regularly and distribute it among the community. Lunar Gala produces a yearly fashion show that attracts Adam Sandler and the average Joe alike. Organizations that don’t put out a product have greater difficulty getting noticed by the community.

The way organizations do this is important. Some ethnic organizations host parties that are open to everyone, but seem to be lackadaisical when it comes to recruiting outside their specific interest group. Other organizations, such as Student Dormitory Council, spend a great deal of money on things like buggy, but skimp on PR. That’s a shame, because SDC does some great things on campus. Similar organizations should work to make broader connections and therefore gain the respect and interest of the community.

And gaining the respect of the community can go a long way. Leaders of organizations should get in contact with those who control the flow of information. This includes university administrators, but also other student leaders.

Organizations should establish strong identities among the community. While charitable events can do this, and always make people feel good, organizations need to let people know when those events are taking place. After the events have come to an end, send out e-mails to friends and other contacts thanking them for the success. Becoming an influential, high-profile, and highly respected student organization can be difficult, but it’s not impossible, and it’s worth it.