Ambitious students with the passion to impact social change are making headlines every day. At the university level, students have even more power to organize, vote, and advocate for the most empowering individuals.
Do you see yourself as a leader of your peers or as someone with the potential to be a changemaker on campus?
If so, you may already be considering running for a leadership role in one of your universities’ student governments or clubs as a President, Vice President, or even Treasurer.
Most college students join campus clubs or associations to advance a cause, impact their community, or provide a space for students from varying backgrounds to enjoy their shared interests. Student government leaders, however, have the ability to effect more tangible change, whether it’s healthier lunch options or an informal dress code – some even go on to impact their community beyond the undergraduate experience.
But no matter what your goals are, to be a member of your student government association takes careful planning and a whole lot of initiative on your part.
Preparation is key
To successfully campaign for a student government position, you have to be prepared for serious commitment. Campaigning doesn’t just start the week you hand out flyers, and the road to office can be surprisingly long and tedious.
However, a little creativity and determination will go a long way toward planning your campaign strategy and ballot initiatives.
Try these strategies to help put your best foot forward and ace your election:
1. Lay the groundwork as a freshman
If you’re new to campus, the thought of joining your student council might be the last thing on your mind, and while running for an elected position within that council may seem insane - it’s the perfect way to get an early start on your legacy as peer leader.
Since student leadership needs are vastly different at the university level than high school, transitioning into these new SGA roles can take time getting used to, even for freshmen with strong leadership skills. Since class councils generally make decisions based for matriculation level, it’ll be a good way to explore leadership and determine if it’s the right path for you.
“As you’re navigating through your first year, take stock of things that could be improved. Is anything holding your peers back? How can it be improved?”
Even something as obvious as a parking problem or lack of accessibility in underclassmen dorms could be a great platform for you to begin experimenting with. Take this time to start honing in on your mission – it’ll likely change by the time you work your way up to an SGA election, but it will keep you motivated until you get there.
2. Get to know your fellow students, council members and SGA leaders
Choosing to run for class council will give you exposure to some of the issues your peers face, but if you’d rather skip it for now, participating in class and attending council meetings as an observer will also give you some insight into things you can change as an SGA leader.
In the meantime, get to know your fellow students – and I don’t just mean the group of friends you sit with every day.
Join cultural groups, participate in sports and after-school programs. You’ll be surprised at how much you can learn about your peers and teachers, and there could even be an opportunity for you to take a more active leadership role as a campus club officer.
Learning how to create opportunities for positive impact in every setting is a skill that will help you as leader throughout your undergraduate and professional career.
3. Learn to market yourself
Once you’re ready to take on the role of a student government officer, take some time to think about your mission and how it’s developed over time or changed.
This is your launchpad to success, so make sure you can clearly and concisely explain it and defend it if necessary.
Next, you’ll want to think up a game plan for marketing yourself. The word “marketing” sounds official, but that’s exactly what sharing posters and campaigns slogan on social media is – except you’ll want to be a bit more tactical.
Come up with a strategy that can easily answer the following questions for your campus peers:
- What led you to run for office?
- Why are you the best fit?
- How do you plan to prove yourself to students and improve their campus life?
- When and where can they:
- Hear more about your campaign goals and solutions?
- Vote for you?
4. Give them a way to remember your name!
Why stop at flyers when you can use the Internet to create a more viral campaign?
Plan a Facebook Live discussion of your platform and send out invites via messenger and email, host a Twitter Q&A for curious constituents, and even write a blog for those that need a detailed explanation.
The more materials you put out there with your name on it, the more awareness around your campaign you’ll create. Don’t forget about the most important piece of your marketing campaign: your slogan. We’ve seen a lot of great ones in our time, but the ones that really made an impact were creative, relevant, and respectful.
When developing your memorable slogan, you might want to:
- Reference trending topics, pop culture, recent news, movies or video games
- Create a catch-phrase using your name
- Start with an attention-grabbing headline
- Include a relevant character trait
5. Nail public speaking
All of the campaigning you’ve done so far will be for nothing if fear or anxiety compromises your public speaking abilities.
Whether you’re running against other candidates or unopposed, top campus leaders should aspire to have a great oratory skills that can inspire confidence in both students and faculty.
How you structure your speech is entirely up to you, but the main components of your solid election speech should include:
- A brief introduction of yourself, including your name and the position you’re running for, and possibly an anecdote about what inspired you to go into a leadership role.
- The reason why you’re running for student government and what you’ve accomplished so far. This is the time to focus on your qualifications - specifically, what you’ve learned from your accomplishments or obstacles thus far.
- An explanation of your platform and why it’s important.
- An overview of steps you plan on taking to achieve your mission. Giving timelines is a great way to lend credibility to your speech, but be careful: committing to initiatives or campaign statements that you can’t support later will make it harder to be trusted down the line.
- A conclusion – generally thanking your audience and reminding them of your slogan
Remember to keep your speech short and direct, and always be respectful of your fellow candidates. Write your speech down on notecards to ensure you say everything you need to, and don’t forget to record yourself rehearsing a few times to nail your inflections and tone.
Good luck with nailing your planning, campaigning, and election!
Ready to learn more about running an effective student election campaign? Download a free sample ballot to get an idea of how to structure your next big vote.