Effects of Inherent Turnover on Student Run Organizations

By Nick Robinson —

Every year, roughly 20 million high school graduates embark on one of the most fulfilling experiences of their young lives, attending college. The average college student experience includes classes, sports, independence, and for many, registered student organizations.

RSOs, are a great way to learn valuable skills, find a new interest or make some new friends. The University of Illinois offers more than 1,600 RSOs for undergraduate and graduate students. RSOs can appeal to all students, consisting of various professional, social or volunteer opportunities.

With all of the benefits of RSOs, there is one element in particular that can be in issue for some, and that is natural turnover. This element is particularly associated with the leadership of RSOs.

Employee turnover is the replacement of employees or members in an organization, being both voluntary or involuntary. In regards to RSOs, turnover is a change in leadership as current executive board members graduate and pass along their responsibilities to younger members.

Giorgos Losoff, a former managing partner with SCNO, shared his insight on member turnover and how it affected SCNO’s efficiency.

“What happens a lot is that leader’s in organizations tend to be seniors, and when they leave, they leave either their last semester or their second to last semester, and they check out,” Losoff said. “This causes a disinterest in onboarding and training the next executive board.”

A lot of times, members are ill-informed and ill-equipped to take on the responsibilities the older executive board had. This can result in a negative transition from one class to another.

“Rather than keeping momentum going forward when an old executive board leaves, the new executive board has to essentially make the same changes over again,” Losoff said. “This causes a lot of rework.”

Member turnover can impact organizations in several different ways. For one, a sudden change in leadership can create major delays in the efficiency of how an organization is run, both internally and externally. Members filling the roles may lack the experience that the prior executive board members had, given they are taking on the role for the first time.

Similarly, maintaining relationships with community partners can be difficult. RSOs are constantly changing the face of their organization, in part, due to the member turnover. A community partner might not be as flexible with this sudden shift in leadership and can refuse to work with a new organizational face.

“Negative turnover can definitely impact relations with clients”, Losoff said. “An executive board that has solid relations with a nonprofit one semester can work very closely together.”

Shifting from a leadership standpoint to the members themselves, attrition can begin to settle in for some members of an organization. Older members can become increasingly uninterested in the organization, especially when they don’t hold leadership positions.

This attrition can be very detrimental to an organization’s success. Younger members are inclined to look up to older members in the organization. As these more experienced members become less motivated, this trend of attrition can trickle down to all members of the organization.

With all the issues that come with come with the transitions in leadership, this natural turnover is inevitable. However, there are some strategies for diminishing the negative effects of turnover while maximizing the positives.  

One strategy that could help lessen the negative impact of turnover involves the implementation of a faculty advisor. Alpha Phi Omega, a service fraternity at UIUC has utilized this well, with their advisory board.  

Shriya Bhargava is the VP of Membership for APO. She has been apart of the organization for the last four semesters.

“Our advisory board is very active and engaged in the development of our organization,” Bhargava said. “They have helped with our turnover by providing insight to younger members and coaching on some aspects of being an executive board member.”

At the same time, organizations can work on smooth leadership transitions, preparing for the transition while at the same time filling the role itself. Some would argue this would be ineffective and inefficient. Others believe this to be efficient, eliminating the delay that could occur with leadership turnover.

The process of transitioning can be a long and tedious one. An effective transition can be almost year-long. There are certain strategies an RSO can implement to help aid with this transition.

“What an organization would hope for is to have a turnover document that the executive board can add to and continue to add to,” Losoff said. “Someone stepping into that role can pick up that document and read and understand what changes have been made in the last couple years.”

Likewise, another benefit to member turnover can be a new, fresh perspective to a struggling organization.

“A reigning executive board can have a poor vision, a poor execution, and be demotivating,” Losoff said. “A new executive board forces younger members to step up, and they can feel more ready and more obligated to take on those roles.”

Member turnover can prove to be a major factor in an organization’s mission to influence social change in the community. While there are some negatives associated with turnover, organizations with effective executive teams can work to develop dynamic strategies that bring solutions, not setbacks.


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