Convincing your institution NATCON is where you need to be & how to raise the money to get there
Pitching why you should attend the Student Veteran of America’s National Convention to your university or college shouldn’t be difficult… but still, the struggle persists. After attending the SVA National Convention for the first time since my ownchapter’ 2015 inception, it became clear that my concern was not for those in attendance but those who were not.
I often state that there is any inconsistency between what we value and what we believe. Many institutions say they value veterans and their contributions, holding to their promises, while others merely acknowledge their veterans when a political face is required, or dollar signs become scarce. After working in higher education, I have witnessed many schools lacking military recruiters, adult-focused recruiters, and general programming for non-traditional student populations seeking online programs.
Change seems inevitable as traditional high school population students decrease over the next decade or so. I do not intentionally mean to generalize, but enrollment is down across the board. Brand new buildings are being built with few students while upper management swells, ready to capsize their institutional debt.
No cause for significant alarm as veterans are resilient and will select the school that best appreciates them. So how do you get your campus on board, fundraise, and get to Natcon? Whether you’re a school with an SVA chapter or lack of, it is time to dig deep and raise your voice to advocate for your fellow veterans.
Start with the Basics…
What Is the Student Veterans Of America (SVA)?
The SVA is a 501(c)(3) coalition of student veterans groups on college campuses across the globe. These member chapters are the “boots on the ground” that help veterans reintegrate into campus life and succeed academically. I will use a personal example; the University of Akron’s SVA Chapter is a student group by their university or college. It provides a peer-to-peer network for veterans who are attending the school that the university officially recognizes. In line with all other national chapters, coordinate campus activities, provide pre-professional networking and generally provide a touchstone for student veterans in higher education. Through a dedicated network of more than 1,500 on-campus chapters representing more than 750,000 students, SVA aims to inspire yesterday’s warriors by connecting student veterans with a community of true chapter leaders. Every day these passionate leaders work to provide the necessary resources, network support, and advocacy to ensure student veterans can effectively connect, expand their skills, and achieve their most tremendous potential.
What Is Natcon?
SVA’s National Conference is the largest annual gathering of student veterans, advocates, thought-leaders, stakeholders, and supporters in higher education worldwide. Student veterans, higher education professionals, alumni, and advocates. For example in a total of 2,300 in attendance were invested and empowered by student veterans’ success through a total of 96 individual breakout sessions throughout the conference in 2019. Roughly 138 SVA campus exhibitors from non-profits, universities, fortune 500 companies, and veteran-specific resources were on-site to inspire, educate, and connect information and opportunities. SVA has continued to grow each year exponentially and hosted its first all virtual conference in 2021. Each year more speakers, sessions, and opportunities evolve.
How Much Does A Polar Bear Weigh…? Enough To Break The Ice
Start with your campus champion currently supporting your organization, i.e., certifier, advisor, or services director, and gauge the conversation… not getting results to go higher… write your deans, service directors, provost, and even your president. Again… you have to advocate and make your presence known. You are a valuable part of campus and share why going to Natcon is not only good for you but the school.
For example, SVA chapters participation would allow for partnership opportunities from veteran-specific non-profits, other top universities/colleges, and fortune 500 companies seeking STEM majors driving not only veteran enrollment but general enrollment through co-ops, internships, and scholarships.
Paint a picture of mutual benefits in recruitment, retention, and prestige programming… collegial networks can open doors not just for veterans but for communities at large.
Reasons Why YOU Should Be Attending NatCon?
- Current, previous, or future SVA chapter member(s), chapter leader(s), chapter advisor(s) must attend to learn about new programs and best practices, as well as network with other veterans to leave a feeling, inspired, empowered, motivated, and ready to change the world.
- Connect with employers (small, medium,& large) seeking talent in a wide variety of careers.
- To advance our knowledge and understanding of a wide range of topics relating to veterans in higher education to teach others upon our return.
- For further information on non-profit organizations seeking more student veterans for programs and services that we may not have known of or had access too
- To explore how our current programing can strengthen the Veteran and higher education communities.
A Few Facts To Share About Student Veterans at Universities/Colleges
- We are… likely to be older, married, have children, have a disability, work full or part-time, and our first-generation students.
- We are… consistently achieved higher academic performance (GPA) as compared to traditional students (3.34 vs. 2.94), and;
- We complete college at rates comparable with the national average and higher than other adult learners (53.6% vs. 39.2%).
- We are skilled, talented, and in demand from the nation’s employers.
- We are pursuing degrees in business, STEM, and health sciences.40 Veterans with a bachelor’s degree earn about $84,255 on average per year, about $17,000 more than their non-veteran counterparts per The U.S. Census Bureau’sBureau’s American Community Survey 5-year estimates (2011-2015).
- Our Post-9/11 GI Bill has paid $75 billion in tuition, fees, and stipends to America’sAmerica’s colleges and universities to support student veterans as of May 2017.
Don’t you believe me? Check out SVA and Syracuse University’s joint research, also known as National Veteran Education Success Tracker (NVEST)… show your administration the infographics and challenge their paradigm about veterans.
Time to Roll up Your Sleeves
Ways to Start Your Fundraising Efforts!
First, it is essential to let your institution know that the SVA at large does not pay for students to attend the conference. It is the individual chapters and schools to help them get to the conference.
- First and foremost, your fundraising should start earlier and be a year-round goal. Waiting until the last minute to collect funds is not ideal and will cost you more money and stress. The conference usually opens up registration October to December leading up to the next fiscal year. You should be ready for early bird pricing for your registration, hotel, and travel. Check out this SVA Chapter Toolkit.
- Ensure your SVA chapter has a formal proposal for the event, including intent, background, who will attend, your SVA student and counselors responsibilities and roles, cost, benefits, and any other misc. information your university/college requests. Take this document and roll it into a joint military service center and SVA letterhead to solicit donations/sponsorships. You want them signed and endorsed by your university/college folks to show credibility in the ask. Professional work drives professional results. Also, pull some ideas from this Student Veteran: A Valuable Asset to Higher Education Infographic.
- Collaborate with your student life center. The university/college of your attendance typically has allotted dollars to cover a portion of travel expenses. Forming a positive relationship and budget is critical when planning how many students will be in attendance. (You can also use this as more incentive to become officers for classmen if your school limits your trip to organization leadership.) For example, my SVA chapter average cost per student was $2,500-$3,500. Yeah, I know that’s a lot of moolah! Use this SVA excel cost estimator template.
- Plan 6-8 months ahead in your fundraising efforts and decide how many students you will be sending. Make an excel worksheet with all the costs and leave some room for buffer costs. Make sure folks have their own money to spend too. Something your school can a lot a per diem for meals, make sure to ask.
- Make sure your SVA chapter has an organization credit card, authorized users, and no restrictions in single-day expenditures. Be sure a few responsible folks on the card have access to use the card and a POC for your school on standby if necessary.
Types of fundraising ideas:
- Restaurant percentage fundraisers or Chipotle fundraiser(s) on campus– places students go, and you can solicit without being yelled at (hands off-easy to set up).
- Partner with community entities for spaghetti dinners, pancake breakfast, singles or spouses nights, family picnics, trivia night, gaming and professional sports events, and local events through local VSO’s and campus organizations. Yup– Check out your local American Legion, VFW, AMVETS chapters, etc. Find active posts in the community, team up for events throughout the year, and build trust. Many of these posts will likely be another outlet to continue your second service after you’ve graduated. These folks have connections in the community and want to support you. Don’t just show up and as for money– yeah, hear? Creating these events is meant to increase the membership of both the VSO’s and SVA.
- Seek corporate, small business, or non-profit sponsorship to aid indirect costs or help host a veteran-based event to raise money (5k, career fair, another occasion). #DYK that there are usually state and local directories of Veteran-owned and operated businesses that reach out to them and any organization with a corporate social responsibility clause for the military-connected community.
- Crowdfund or direct donations to your cause. Family, friends, and strangers are sometimes willing to give if you remind them this is a professional development trip, not a vacation.
This part can be tricky depending on your active members… best advice is to work smarter, not harder, and get creative. Veterans are a resourceful bunch and find a way to make things happen. I hope this article helped you get excited for NATCON and gave you some ideas to convince your institution to support and send you to this fantastic gathering of information and opportunities.
Be sure to check out my breakout sessions! More details are coming soon.