Running a YUSU Society

I have been around a bit:

1st year
(Spring) Elected Sandwich Rep of DougSoc.
2nd year
(Spring) Elected Shape Rep of DougSoc.
3rd year
(Spring) Elected Chair of HackSoc.
4th year
(Spring) Re-elected Chair of HackSoc.
5th year
(Spring) Re-elected Chair of HackSoc.
(Summer) Elected Ordinary Member of SocieTEA.
6th year
(Autumn) Elected Treasurer of SocieTEA (no longer Ordinary Member).
(Spring) Re-elected Chair of HackSoc.
(Spring) Re-elected Treasurer of SocieTEA.
(Summer) Stepped down from Chair of HackSoc.

I am writing this document post hoc, so I am sure I will miss things out. On the other hand, I’ve been doing this for a while, how much could I have forgotten, really?

This is a general conceptual guide, with no specifics of protocol. This is because the protocols keep changing.

Roles

There are three mandatory roles: the chair, secretary, and treasurer. They are the signatories of the society and two of them are needed to authorise payments.

Being a Chair

The chair is the face of the society: the person who deals with YUSU (except YUSU Finance), departments, the university as a whole, and any external bodies. The chair is also responsible for making sure everything gets done.

The ideal chair is charismatic, organised, and good at delegating. Delegation is the most important skill, or you will go mad.

Somewhat more concretely, the chair (in co-operation with the rest of the committee) will:

  • Formulate goals (for example, running a large event in collaboration with societies X, Y, and Z in two terms time).
  • Plan exactly what is happening each term in advance.
  • Figure out what needs to be done to make all the goals and plans work.
  • Delegate tasks as appropriate.
  • Communicate regularly with the rest of the committee to ensure everything gets done, and adjust plans as necessary.

The chair is also responsible for making sure the AGM (Annual General Meeting) happens, but that’s pretty easy: just stick it at the start of another event.

Being a Secretary

I haven’t done this, but as chair, I delegated: room bookings; dealing with the YUSU/university bureaucracy; and communications.

Being a Treasurer

The treasurer, unsurprisingly, manages the money of the society. This will be far more money than you expect: SocieTEA is a fairly small society, and has had over £500 of income, and spent around that much, in the past seven months.

The treasurer has four main jobs:

  • Depositing membership fees (if you charge them).
  • Producing and handing in claims forms.
  • Applying for grants from YUSU.
  • Keeping an eye on YUSU Finance.

Being an Ordinary Member

The duties of an ordinary member will vary greatly depending on the society. Some have a number of specialised ordinary member roles, others treat ordinary members as a general resource to help running the society. Whatever society it is, they all have one thing in common: the ordinary member is a low-commitment role which the society can survive without. Anything more essential is a “proper” position.

  • As Sandwich Rep of DougSoc, my formal responsibilities consisted of providing sandwiches to the (twice a term) committee meetings, and running the end-of-year picnic.
  • As Shape Rep of DougSoc, my sole formal responsibility was picking the shape for every term. I also ran some the occasional event.
  • As Ordinary Member of SocieTEA, I had no formal responsibilities, and instead just advised the (very new) committee about running a society. This role was created because I had been doing so as a normal non-committee member.

Events and Socials

The terms “event” and “social” don’t really have well-defined meanings. After all, isn’t everything a society does an “event”? As far as the university and YUSU are concerned, however, an “event” is a special activity requiring special planning (see ‘Events and EVENTS’).

Events and EVENTS

Sometimes an event will be fancy enough that the university or YUSU feels that it needs proper oversight. To achieve this, an Event Management Form (EMF) must be submitted at least three weeks in advance. The EMF covers:

  • What, when, and where the event is.
  • What non-university people are attending.
  • What resources are used.
  • What the risks, and their mitigation, are.

It’s very fuzzy what makes an event an EVENT. If in doubt, ask the YUSU Health & Safety person. The general rule of thumb is that “normal” society events don’t need an EMF, but anything out-of-the-ordinary does.

Planning a Term

Before a term starts, or certainly by the end of week one, the committee should decide what’s on that term. There are two very opposed schools of thought:

  1. Each term is just a permutation of the established events, in which case planning is very simple.
  2. Each term is totally unique, in which case planning is very difficult.

Most societies fall somewhere around the middle. DougSoc is an example of a society which falls very much towards (1): almost all of DougSoc’s events have been run for over a decade, and repeat every year; new events do get tried out, but the bulk of their activities are determined by tradition.

Here is how I liked to plan a term:

  1. Enumerate the events that you will definitely be having, such as weekly socials.
  2. Determine which, if any, of those conflict and should be spread apart. For example, having a fortnightly pub trip in the same week as a barcrawl may not be the best timing.
  3. Come up with a few candidate arrangements based on these constraints.
  4. Think about any additional less-concrete events, and repeat the process.
  5. Point (4) can be revisited during the term as ideas occur.

This process is fairly rigid for the bread-and-butter events, the things that make your society your society. For HackSoc, these are the weekly social, the fortnightly pub, the fortnightly boardgames, and so on. It is more flexible for the more unique events, which allows experimentation without compromising what people are used to. I think it strikes a good balance.

Finding a New Committee and Elections

Elections happen at least once a year, at the AGM (annual general meeting). They can also happen more frequently, if people step down. The AGM is usually towards the end of Spring term.

Strictly speaking, an AGM consists of:

  • The treasurer giving an account of the finances.
  • The returning officer (who can be anyone not running for election) managing the voting process, which can be First-Past-The-Post or Single-Transferrable-Vote.

I have never seen an account of the finances be given.

The most successful way to find a new committee is for each member to find and groom a successor in the Autumn and Spring terms. Another very successful approach, which DougSoc uses, is to have a large number of ordinary members: people tend to run for an ordinary member position in their first year, and then for a higher-level position in their second year after they have experience on the committee. The DougSoc approach requires a fairly large society to be sustainable, however.

Coercing people to run for election on the day is generally a bad idea.

Re-ratification

After a new committee is elected, the society must be re-ratified. How this is done changes basically every year, so I will say little more on the matter. It is usually a process done by the new committee under the guidance of the old, and YUSU emails out only slightly confusing instructions when it’s AGM season.

Finance

Finance is mostly paperwork, and done by the chair, secretary, and treasurer. There are claims forms, which authorise a payment from the society to an individual, and paying in slips, which put money in your society’s account.

A society has two accounts:

  • The own funds account, which is made up of membership money and anything else you deposit, and which can be spent on basically anything.
  • The grant account, which is made up of grant money, and which can only be spent on what you asked for.

Strictly speaking, all money must be deposited with YUSU Finance, and keeping it externally is not allowed. In practice, there is some flexibility, as cash is useful to have. However, YUSU will use your deposited money when determining how many members you have, so keeping at least that portion up-to-date is a good idea.

Using an external bank account for society money is a big no-no.

Grants

Grants are a good way to get a large sum of money without needing to sell your member’s organs.

Unfortunately, you have to be very sure you will spend it all, as otherwise YUSU may be less inclined to give you a grant in the future. This should not be too tricky, however, as you need to give YUSU an itemised list justifying the asked-for total. Grant money can also be reassigned fairly simply by emailing the Societies Coordinator.

There are two types of grant:

  • The main grant: this is applied for towards the end of the academic year, and made available once you hit two thirds of your projected membership target.
  • The other grants: these come under various names, like “development grant”, “equipment grant”, or “new projects grant”. They are all the same thing: a way to get a quick grant of less money than the main grant.

Don’t trust YUSU Finance!

There’s another, unfortunate, part of the managing of a society’s finances: keeping an eye on how much money YUSU Finance thinks the society has. This will almost never match up with how much money you think the society has, for a couple of reasons:

  • YUSU Finance will process transactions weirdly: individual claims may be split into multiple withdrawals; distinct claims may be merged into a single withdrawal; and the same with deposits.
  • YUSU Finance will clutter the history by frequently making incorrect or double transactions, and then reversing them.
  • YUSU Finance will occasionally make incorrect transactions without realising, and only reverse them when you email them saying something like “hey, we didn’t spend £100 on a bus.”

I recommend doing your own accounting. I did it for SocieTEA, and while I could never make it match up exactly with what YUSU Finance thought we had, it was fairly close, and much more readable than the statements you can get from them.

I used hledger for the accounting. Here is a representative transaction:

2016/10/21 Yet more teas
    liabilities:own funds:aleksis           £-5.04 ; Lemongrass & ginger
    liabilities:main grant:restock:aleksis  £-4.41 ; Rooibos lemon
    liabilities:main grant:new:aleksis      £-8.64 ; Kokeicha
    liabilities:own funds:aleksis           £-5.04 ; Green tea & mint
    liabilities:own funds:aleksis           £-4.41 ; Blood orange
    liabilities:main grant:new:aleksis      £-3.78 ; Chun mee
    liabilities:own funds:aleksis           £-8.28 ; Kukicha
    expenses:tea

I like to have separate accounts for each sort of money we have, and for each person involved. I also like to have itemised transactions, so it is clear where the money is going. You don’t need to go into that level of detail, but something beyond what YUSU Finance provides is very convenient.

The complete journal is available, along with a report that hledger generates.

Press and Publicity

There are two different goals for p&p, and need different strategies:

  • Keeping current members informed of what’s going on.
  • Attracting new members. This is generally hard.

Here are some techniques I have used:

  • Emails. Most societies send out a weekly email, it works very well for keeping people informed.
  • Posters. If you’re a departmental society (like HackSoc), put up posters in your department! If you’re not, either put up posters yourself, which the university will take down; or give posters to YUSU, who will probably never put them up.
  • Social media. Some people don’t read emails, I think this is kinda stupid, as email is the method the university uses for all official communications, but some people have a great aversion to text which is at a normal font size and not interspersed with emojis. Social media is better for attracting new people than email, however.
  • Screens. There are screens around much of the university, in principle you can email YUSU (or the relevant department) to get things on them.
  • Speaking at the start of a lecture. HackSoc does this every year, not really an option for non-departmental societies though.