Our Sector: Rewarding and Recognising Volunteers with Very Small Budgets

The two things SU’s say they need more of is always space and money, no matter how big or small the Union is. The significance of funds can be seen even more with small & specialist Unions. This is due to students wanting the same quality and access to resources as their friends in larger institutions (and so they should). This has been seen at Newman SU in Birmingham having 4 much larger institutions rather close and students comparing their options.

So, we need to reward the engaged volunteers that make the Union great and provide opportunities to students for a very small budget. When we are talking about budget at Newman, that can range between £0 – £500 overall. The challenges that face me in my job and Newman SU concerning space and budgeting maybe more severe than larger Unions, but that does not mean our solutions wouldn’t help larger Unions.

What have we done? When it has come to funding, we have put a £500 budget pot for student groups to bid into at two periods throughout the year (October and February). That money is the student groups budget excluding insurance (which is covered by membership fees). To increase this funding, we contacted the Enterprise department on how societies are very similar to small social enterprises. They provide a service for a group of people, have to manage their activities, and manage their funds. This proposal showed that the entrepreneurial spirit is shown in student groups and should be supported by the University’s Enterprise Department. We were able to get match funding for all society grants we give out; support for societies by the Enterprise department; and the opportunity for students as a society to bid for Enterprise grants within Newman.

Money for societies to develop and put on events for their members and the student populous has grown to £1,000 and could be even more through the other Enterprise grants. For rewarding reps, we have developed the Student Accreditation System (SASy Socs) which gives societies objectives over a range of categories. The system can be viewed at http://www.newmansu.org/society-resources.html . This system has four levels (bronze, silver, gold, platinum) but the problem is, we only have HEAR to reward students at each level.

Level rewards can be very costly. We were originally looking at making grants as part of the system but dividing the money up meant that the grants were very small and not worth the effort according to the members. So, providing rewards for £0 was the task, and we looked again to the University. For the Silver tier, we offer a specialist CV workshop with the University Careers department on how to portray the relevant skills learnt from being a Society Leader. We also offer a marketing design session for the society that is run by the University Marketing department and a few friends of mine in the industry. Valuable skills for students to learn and career development has seem to entice students at this early stage.

For Gold rewards, we looked at what we can offer for free as a Union, which are marketing, and apparel discounts. Committee members at gold will get Union marketing space for an upcoming event; and 6 months of 10% discount on all Union apparel (what we give for NUS Extra at the moment). Platinum rewards were harder to develop. We wanted to offer something that would mean the most for society committee members and could be done at minimum cost. Firstly, we looked at our awards ceremonies and now offer free committee tickets for Sports & Societies Awards (which we have budgeted for and could be covered by sponsorship). We also wanted to recognise these societies who have achieved our highest honour so we have offered support on writing a National Society Awards nomination and if shortlisted, tickets to go to the awards.

Looking at how Unions can provide great services for very small amounts of money is something that we are trying to innovate at Newman SU though Society Rewards, and offering Academic Advice for under £500 and we would not just spread this information to the sector but also showcase the great things other Unions are doing on strict budgets and sharing this best practice

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