ask the readers: managing a student organization when no one else does any work and you’re stuck doing it all yourself

I’m throwing this one out to readers to weigh in on. A reader writes:

I’m a graduating senior in college, and last fall I became the head of a pre-professional organization chapter on my campus. I was the only reasonable candidate at the time (the only other eligible person was a freshman), and I thought I should challenge myself to do more.

“Challenge” it has been. I’ve had a lot of useful and wonderful experiences in this role, but one thing is a continual thorn in my side: managing my officers. On the one hand, I get that this is unpaid, all volunteer, and a peer group. I really do! I tell people all the time to ask if they need help, and try to be very approachable. But still, I have endless trouble getting things done.

People who volunteered for their positions won’t do their work. I try setting deadlines, I try giving directions, I try reminding. Nothing works. So I micromanage, and I do everything myself, and I lose sleep and my grades slip, etc. I get some clarity, realize it isn’t fair to anyone, try to distribute responsibility some more, and then have it go so bad that I would have been better off doing it myself! Then it’s more stress, less sleep, more catching up, “talks” with officers, and still no progress. I get accused of treating a project with a client as my own instead of a group thing – but the officer in charge sat on the information to our production team until AFTER he had promised a product, didn’t do anything himself, and then was too busy to go to the meeting with them where I had to explain why their product was late. Same guy told me after not to get too upset, since it’s a “team effort, and if something goes wrong it’s everybody’s fault.”

I try to give out responsibility – nothing gets done and, as the head, I am the one stuck explaining why. I try to manage it all myself – I fall behind on everything else, can’t juggle it properly, and still have to explain why. I try talking to my officers, it goes well, nothing changes, I talk to them again trying to be as cool as possible and am accused of talking down to them or treating them like children.

I don’t want to be a horrible manager who makes people feel terrible and is hated by everyone. I don’t want to micromanage or belittle. But: the people who tell me I’m disrespecting them are the ones I’m calling out (no swearing, names, yelling, trying to keep an even tone and listening for feedback) for failing -BADLY- to do their jobs and making my life harder, so how do I trust that I’m really the problem and they’re not just being defensive? On the other hand, am I just blaming everyone else for my problems? If I were a better manager, could I get my team to actually do the things they promised? Is my team bringing out the worst in my leadership style, or is my bad leadership bringing out the worst in my team?

I’m losing confidence in myself as this goes on, and I can’t wait for it to be over. I’m sick and in physical pain weekly from the amount of stress this has caused me, but I can’t seem to figure out a way out. What can I do to make sure the person after me doesn’t have to deal with this? How can I save them from regretting this and being stuck doubting themselves when they should be gaining confidence?

Readers, what’s your advice to rescue this letter-writer from student leadership hell?

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 229 comments… read them below }

    1. AnonInSC*

      In a student organization, these are often elected positions. The OP may not have this option. (Though I agree with the sentiment!)

      1. Kate H*

        Along those lines, you could create an outline of the responsibilities for each position, meet one-on-one with each officer, and ask if they can commit to it. If they say yes, you could ask them to sign the outline and then, if they fail at their duties, you can show them the outline as a reminder. I’m not saying “binding contract” but more “accountability.” If they say no, you could suggest they resign and then hold an election for their replacement (or, if it’s allowed, appoint one yourself).

  1. Roscoe*

    Honestly, you may just have to let this student organization die. I know you don’t want that to happen on your watch, however its not worth your academic records suffering. I’d just have one final officers meeting and let them know that you aren’t picking up their slack anymore, and if things go downhill, that everyone is to blame for it. Its harsh, but you can’t run an organization if you are the only one who cares about it.

    1. Noah*

      This, so much this. I agree with Roscoe. Have a meeting and clearly layout what needs to happen and explain why you cannot continue being the only driving force behind the organization.

      I had a similar scenario when I was in college. I was lucky enough to have a co-chair, but the two of us and our faculty advisor did all of the work. Others came to meetings for the food and I assume to have something to put on their resume. According to the faculty member, the organization died out after the two of us graduated because the single person that was elected chair ended up quitting.

    2. Collie*

      I agree. Let it fail. I was in a very similar position as a senior in college. I let the group fail (and burned a bridge as a result; though I decided I didn’t care about that particular bridge). It ended up being picked up again the following year with seemingly more success. Don’t blame yourself for it, even if it works out better after you’re gone. It may have a lot more to do with the maturity of the people in the group than yourself.

      As for future employers, they never need know.

      1. Chinook*

        Add another voice to the “let it fail” camp. I run a volunteer group of women with 150 members but only 20 active who are getting burned out. And I am lazy by nature, which means I have learned to delegate but with “drop dead” deadlines. That means that, if a required task isn’t done by a certain time (i.e. not enough volunteers for an event a week before it happens), then the organizer and/or I have the ability to cancel the event. Once I implemented this, volunteers who hadn’t spoken up before started stepping up and coming out of the woodwork. It turned out that the silent majority thought everything was being handled and they weren’t needed. Once word got out that failure was an option, then those who thought it was important spoke up (the flip side being that, if not enough people stepped up, then it obviously wasn’t important to the group).

        Remember, failure is always an option and sometimes it is the only way to recognize if priorities need to be reexamined or if lessons need to be learned. By stepping in to prevent failure, no one will learn those lessons or reexamine those priorities.

        1. junipergreen*

          Yes yes yes. Letting the group dissolve or disband is an option here. Volunteer groups like this will have life cycles, and hopefully a group (not an individual) will step up to take over. But if not, that’s not on you.

          I do think if you decide to do that, give the group fair warning (it’s not an ultimatum, it’s just the facts of the matter). Calmly state your reasoning (focus on the unsustainable logistics, not your own personal experience) to all who are enrolled in the group – not just the officers. Let them know the level of engagement you need in order to keep the *group* functioning (not to simply keep *you* from burning out) and devise a timeline you need to see results by, then wait.

          I’m sorry this is burning you out. Good luck.

    3. Clever Name*

      Yep. The other “officers” are assholes. They don’t do anything and then blame you for it? Not cool. I’ve had similar experiences doing group work in college, although not nearly as bad. Just so you know, working as part of a team in the working world isn’t nearly as painful. It can even be a joy to work with like-minded professionals.

      So them not doing their jobs is absolutely not your fault. And please don’t sacrifice your health for this. Who is the faculty advisor for this organization? Are they aware of what’s going on? You are within your rights and justified in going to them and saying that this role has put your grades, your mental and physical health in jeopardy, and you are stepping down.

      It’s a hard lesson to learn that you can’t do everything.

      1. Marian the Librarian*

        > The other “officers” are assholes. They don’t do anything and then blame you for it? Not cool.

        Oh yes, this. I was the president of a student organization in school, and I would have been lost–SO EXTREMELY LOST–without my amazing officers. I can’t even imagine how I would have gotten anything done if they hadn’t put in an effort like yours, so kudos to you for getting things done without them.

        With that being said, don’t let this effect your mental health, physical health, and grades anymore. Those things need to be your priority, especially if you’re in a field where burning bridges with your professors by appearing not to care about your work might hamper your career prospects. I agree with everyone saying that you need to talk to someone about stepping down, even though it’s painful.

    4. fposte*

      I agree, and I’ll put a slightly different context on it: things end. If you work in the social service/volunteer heavy realm, you’ll see initiatives and groups ending all the time. It’s not proof of failure; sometimes they ran out of money, sometimes they were a result of a particular cohort that got up a head of steam and then they left, sometimes they just had their time and now it’s over. I think maybe this group has had its time and it’s ending now; it would be a shame if you sacrificed your year, your well-being, and your time just to try to stave that off.

    5. Rocket Scientist*

      I was coming in to say exactly this.

      Your grade and overall knowledge from your classes is the most important thing, here. It’s ok to let a student organization die.

      I made this mistake as a junior and really wish I hadn’t. Please learn from my mistake.

    6. Former Retail Manager*

      I agree 100% with Roscoe and the others below. It doesn’t sound like it’s your fault. It sounds like they all wanted one more activity/position to list on their just-out-of-college resume and it’s coming at your expense. Lay it out for them and let the chips fall where they may. If the organization dies, it dies.

    7. Bwmn*

      I also agree with this.

      As a student group if it’s not working, it’s not working. I could perhaps see a theoretical context where this specific group is closely tied to possible professional networking depending on the group and how it’s structured nationally – if that’s even the case. But this sounds like a situation where there is no management that’s going to save this now. Particularly with the Spring break fast approaching/school year coming to a close.

      The only suggestion I would have in terms of attempting to save this would be to perhaps call for early elections for next year. It could be proposed as an opportunity to allow for smoother handover but also give yourself at least a second person to shoulder the efforts.

      1. Meg Murry*

        FWIW, many of the student organizations I was had officers transition in the spring semester, either by holding elections at the end of fall semester or early in the spring for a mid-spring. That way you don’t have officers that are college seniors that have one foot out the door and have already mentally moved on – but those former officers can mentor the new officers for that last spring semester.

        OP, can you have elections now, so you can mentor the new slate of officers and let them know what lessons were learned this year? Also, don’t be afraid to split positions – if you currently have a president, VP, treasurer and secretary but the positions are too much for one person, elect an assistant treasurer as well, or a chair(s) of specific events.

        Otherwise, as others have said, don’t be ashamed to let this one die – it may just be that this organization takes a lot more help from a faculty adviser or nearby other successful long running nearby college chapters to get off the ground and get the early bugs worked out. It is so much easier to just keep an existing program running and repeat last years events and timelines than to start from scratch.

        And don’t doubt your leadership skills just because you couldn’t herd this group of cats (college students) that really have no skin in the game – at the end of the day, you can’t FORCE people to get their act together, and in college schoolwork has to come first.

    8. AVP*

      So much this. I was on the board of a community group that died a few years ago, and honestly, it was better for everyone. There was a very small group doing all the work and it was hell just trying to get the people befitting from it to volunteer 4 hours per year, the economic and inequality issues it brought up were insurmountable, and it all just became too much for us. The people who didn’t want to help were annoyed but found other outlets for this service, and eventually the need was filled in by other organizations that were better set-up and able to help. And maybe they will die one day too, and will be filled in by the next new thing…

      For the OP – a baby step you could take right now would be to just not take on any more outside projects or clients. If one approaches you, tell them that your org doesn’t have the bandwidth to take it on (which is the honest truth). Let it unwind slowly this way for a month and see if anyone protests or takes issue with that.

      1. AVP*

        Also – do *not* take the excuse of “it’s a group project so it looks equally bad for all of us!” seriously. As the leader, your name is out there, you’re the one who is stressed and feeling the responsibility, and it’s just not ethical. Any one saying that in the real working world will not last long.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          Yes! As a related side note, one thing I’d love to tell students in general is that the “group project/team effort” logic is often badly misapplied in school (and often is misapplied all the way from elementary school through college, too). When I was a teenager, teachers would often foist off complaints that one person was made to do all the work/some or most of the team members did nothing with “well, when you’re in the workplace, you’ll have to work with other people, so get used to it.” Or, “sort it out yourself and don’t bother me, you have to learn how to work with people.” Or etc.

          But the truth is that in every functional workplace I’ve ever been in, if someone refused to do their part of the job, or foisted tasks on others, or did little or nothing and expected their coworkers to carry them… the manager wanted to know, and would do something about it. I mean, you were expected to say, “Hey, Jane, you haven’t done your part of this, what’s up?” first, but you absolutely could and should escalate if she kept slacking off or refused to do her bit. The point of teamwork in the workplace is (or at least, is in non-dysfunctional workplaces) to accomplish more/better than one person can on their own; it’s not some kind of abstract “teamwork is good” thing where it doesn’t matter if the task is split up or one person does all of it or etc.

          (As one of the ones who always did the entire project myself, and who was astonished and relieved to find out that my bosses in the ‘real world’ absolutely did not expect that, I feel Strongly about this.)

          1. StarHopper*

            Thanks for this perspective. I am a high school teacher who abhors assigning projects in general and group projects in particular. If I assign an activity as group work, I let them do everything in class so I can monitor dynamics, and I let them choose their groups. If they want to work alone, I allow that as well. Your comment makes me feel justified in downplaying grouping in my classroom.

            1. AVP*

              Thank you for that! Yes!

              The other thing is that adults in the workplace have a huge incentive to do this stuff well: to make a living and not get fired. The priorities in school are so different and that never seems to be acknowledged but he adults assigning the work.

              1. Turtle Candle*

                Yes, exactly–the problem with a lot of group projects and similar is that the team members are expected to more or less police each other (with their grades held hostage), but without any tools to do so: they can’t provide incentives (beyond ‘we won’t all fail’–which just means that the team members can play chicken with the grade until the person who cares the most caves and does all the work), and they can’t levy effective repercussions, either.

                Indeed, and I hope this has changed somewhat in the past fifteen years, but when I was in high school, “the kids need to learn to work things out for themselves” was said about things up to and including theft, threats, and physical violence. It was such a common refrain, in fact, that it took me many years after school to realize how bonkers it is–if a coworker is stealing my stuff, threatening me, or actually beating me up in the parking lot, nobody is going to expect me to handle it on my own! I can absolutely report it to my manager/HR/whatever, and, depending on the situation, possibly also the police! It’s so weird to me that it was portrayed (repeatedly) as ‘learning to live in the real world’ when in the real world I am not expected to do all the work for slacker coworkers, put up with casual theft and vandalism, and especially not tolerate threats.

                (This is sort of a tangent but also sort of not, because, LW, you should know that when you’re managing people at a real functional workplace, your hands won’t be tied when it comes to incentives/repercussions the way they are now. Or if they are, that’s a sign that you need a new workplace.)

            2. Sara*

              I wish I had had you as a teacher. I would have loved the option of working either on my own or in choosing my own group. I’m sure you have students who really appreciate this as well.

          2. OriginalYup*

            Totally agree. I had a professor who handled this really well. Everyone in the group was asked (privately, individually) to assess and quantify the contribution of the other members. The ratings impacted your share of the grade for the group work. You couldn’t get a higher grade than the official group project grade , but you could fall below it. That way, if four of the five group members all said that the fifth member contributed nothing significant, that person received a lower grade than everyone else. The non-contributor didn’t reap benefits of work they didn’t do, and the others didn’t walk enraged that they’d done all this work just to tow a barnacle along.

            1. Turtle Candle*

              Oh, that’s a nifty way of doing it. That would have helped a lot.

              I actually got a little bit burned one time because the teacher asked us to estimate how much work each person had done, privately. We did so; it was one of those projects where two students did 90% of the work and the other three did basically nothing, and I said as much. Well, she was telling the truth when it came to keeping the numbers private… but any team where the numbers were skewed such that it was clear that some people were doing the majority of the work, she docked additional points for ‘not learning to work well as a group.’ So what I learned was that teamwork meant doing all the work and then lying about it, because how exactly was I supposed to force fellow students to do their share if they didn’t feel like it and didn’t care?

              Thank god my actual workplaces never worked on that principle!

              1. Jennifer*

                I dunno, we’re having that problem with a future retiree right now. She’s got 3.5 months to go, what does she care? (As she tells us five times a day.) But yeah, otherwise in the real world this is not so much of a problem.

                Also, your professor sucked. Seriously, what the hell are you supposed to do, force people at gunpoint?!

            2. Ann Furthermore*

              I wish one of my grad school professors had graded this way. We had a term-long (only 8 weeks) group paper to do, and in week 3, one of the people in our group dropped the class. The professor asked if I and the other remaining guy would be OK doing our project with just 2 people, since he didn’t want to disrupt another group. I understood — the classes were only 8 weeks, so by the time week 3 comes along, you’re almost halfway done.

              I said I was fine with that. This other guy didn’t say much at the time. Nor did he say anything when we had a call the next day to decide what our project would be. The assignment was to come up with a plan to open a business in an international location. My company was opening an office in Dubai at the time, so I said we would do that. So I figured out what had to be researched, and divvied it all up. Then I told him to email me his completed portion of the paper, and I would put it together with mine and turn it in.

              When I got his stuff, the actual research was pretty good, but the writing was not even close to being graduate level work — I’m not even sure it was high school level. It was bad. Typos, no grammar, run-on sentences all over the place…OMG. There was no way I was going to turn in something like that with my name on it, so I spent the weekend re-writing his portion, and then turned in the complete assignment.

              I was so annoyed…but I did get my A in that class.

                1. Cassandra*

                  Grad school applications are sparse and relatively easy to game. They typically consist of:

                  * basic personal and demographic information
                  * a personal essay (easy to have edited or even ghostwritten)
                  * college transcripts (from a zillion different courses in a zillion different schools, so it’s essentially impossible to tell whether someone challenged themselves or sleepwalked through Rocks for Jocks for four years)
                  * recommendations (which folks outside academe rarely know how to write, so…)

                  We try, I promise. But a few clunkers will inevitably slip through.

            3. Lizketeer*

              I had a professor who did this as well and I really appreciated it.

              Thankfully in this particular subject I had a good team, so it wasn’t as much of an issue. But when other professors started adopting it, that’s when I really appreciated it.

              It evolved at one point to also include a section to write in someone from another team if they were exceptionally helpful. For a specific finance project, I happened to be the only one who really understood the excel formulas, so I basically taught each individual team excel (and then left the actual financial analysis to those who were much better at that than I). I ended up being able to work excel in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Serbian by helping these different teams because of my understanding of the actual program. The extra work resulted in extra credit, which my grades fully appreciated

          3. Artemesia*

            When I managed teams in the classroom, the teams had the option to ‘fire’ participants who didn’t participate. It was the nuclear option but I would meet with the team if they complained about free riders and facilitate a discussion of the project and who was doing what and then let everyone in the group know that removing someone from the team was their option. That person could do an independent project but not have a presentation slot; team projects always had a presentation component.

            For undergrads the biggest problem was free riders. Grad students it was individuals who refused to coordinate and cooperate and so produced material that didn’t fit or sucked up the team’s entire presentation time.

            1. Cassandra*

              Huh. I might steal this. I’ve done end-of-semester 360 evals, and those generally work fine, but this doesn’t let it wait until then.

          4. Ann Cognito*

            I feel strongly about it too, since there’s just no comparison between college group projects and real-life work ones, for the reasons here.

            When I went back and got my Masters, I already had work experience, so when I saw how group projects worked in college, I was really annoyed at the inevitable one or two students who wanted to do nothing but did want the credit. Luckily it was only a couple of times, but we had a group meeting after these two students in our group had missed our agreed deadlines (we had set-up our own group deadlines within the overall project deadline); I said that everyone not pulling their weight is not how it works in the real world, and while this was college, I wasn’t going to be ok with anyone not doing whatever part of the work they were assigned to do. I explained that it would impact us all, and if they weren’t willing to participate properly, I was going to ask for them to be reassigned if they didn’t get the work done within two days, and that I would be clearly communicating why I was asking for the change. I don’t know that the professors would have cared, but I didn’t have to do it as they submitted their work after that, and although it wasn’t great, it was good enough.

          5. Jennifer*

            Hear, hear, that’s the nice thing about working world projects. People don’t pull the stupid “doing nothing for a grade” thing here.

          6. Honeybee*

            Thiiiiiiis this this this. This was one of my pet peeves when I was a student or a TA and one of the things I tried to avoid when I was teaching my own classes. Professors often claim they use group work to teach students how to function in the “real world,” but many of them are simply using it as a way to reduce their own workload (less grading). Real-world managers absolutely want to hear whether one or more members of the group are slacking off or not pulling their weight. And real-word teams don’t take on projects that one person can do alone, because otherwise they’re just wasting time and resources.

        2. Chinook*

          “As the leader, your name is out there, you’re the one who is stressed and feeling the responsibility, and it’s just not ethical. ”

          This bears repeating – when you are the leader, you take the ultimate credit for something failing or succeeding. If you are a great leader, you spread the credit for succeeding but no one will listen if you do the same with failure. It is better for you to take control and wind down the project due to lack of interest then to be at the helm when it fails. At least, if you take control, you can use it in the future as an example of how you dealt with a difficult situation.

          1. Artemesia*

            This. Organize projects so that if deadlines are not met, the project is cancelled.

            You can’t push a noodle.

    9. Hotstreak*

      Yes! One thing I would recommend is that in the last meeting you outline what the duties of each position are, hopefully as they were presented before these folks were elected, and what your duties are as president. Make clear what will happen if those duties are not performed, up to and including removal of official standing with the university or whatever the “no more club” scenario looks like, and leave it up to them to decide what they want to do.

      You’re in the tough situation of feeling responsible for the organization, but having no actual authority or incentive to change their behavior, like you would if you were president of a company. That sort of club only survives with the buy in of members, otherwise what are they doing there?

    10. Tacocat*

      Agree completely that walking away is the best option. You can try once more to set an expectation and state that if things don’t change you are walking away immediately (and enforce it), but honestly, you may already be past that point. I’m very similar in that once I take something on, quitting never seems like an option. However, I had a similar situation my senior year of college that made me rethink this attitude. I realized I was way over committed and stressed and some of the things causing that stress were not enjoyable or adding value to my life (to steal a phrase from the corporate world). My guess is that you don’t see quitting as an option, probably because you’ve already invested so much time and yourself into this organization. You probably also hoped it would be a good thing to have on your resume. However, it has gone so far past its usefulness to your life to be a net negative at this point, and there really aren’t any extreme negatives from walking away. Yes, you might lose having this on your resume, but losing your health and grades is so much more worse than that consequence. It’s really just not worth the trouble at this point.

      1. junipergreen*

        Ditto on the points about your resume – this is indeed giving you valuable experience, but unfortunately it’s too harrowing to be worth it.

    11. the_scientist*

      Yeah, this organization is not set up for success, so you need to let it fail.

      I was a member and leader in a very powerful, strong, successful student-run volunteer organization that required extensive volunteer commitment (over 500 hours per person each academic year; more for the executive, with about 25 members per year). This organization has been going strong for over 30 years. It works because we hold rigorous recruiting events, recruit as much for skill as for cultural fit and enforce regular performance reviews and consequences for those failing to meet the level of competence required, as well as for those who aren’t meeting the minimum commitment required. And, we were empowered to enforce those consequences.

      I know it’s tricky when volunteers are involved, but volunteering doesn’t mean that it’s a consequence-free, resume-building free-for-all. There are still minimum standards that need to be met.

    12. april ludgate*

      This is what I did in college. It wasn’t just me though, it was me and two friends who did all the work and the group numbers dwindled until we made up half the group and the other half still wouldn’t do anything. So all three of us quit. It was the best choice I ever made because the anxiety up until that point was just terrible. It did burn some bridges, but I’ve never regretted it.

    13. justcourt*

      Would it be better to step down and then let the organization fail? The officers can say the organization fails as a team as much as they want, but if OP lets them fail under his/her leadership isn’t that worse than leaving before it fails?

    14. TootsNYC*

      W/volunteer organizations–if nobody’s doing anything, then presumably they don’t value the organization or what it does.

      So it’s OK for it to die.

      And it’s OK for people to feel guilty and awful when they remember screwing up in a student organization.

      As for the student who might follow you next year? Not your problem. And their experience may be very different.

      Leave notes about what you did and what worked or didn’t (a short, 1-page synopsis about each event), and don’t sweat it.
      Also–is there any administrative/academic oversight here? Talk to that person about how you can scale way back on what the organization is going to accomplish this year.

    15. Rubyrose*

      Let it die.
      Many years ago I was in a participant led support group. There were a very few members who were willing to do the work needed to keep the organization going. The rest thought they should just be able to show up and have everything taken care of. They were even unwilling to make the coffee and would come to me complaining if it was not ready. (The looks on their faces was priceless when I told them to go make it themselves.)
      So I decided to leave and gave them a three month notice. Someone needed to take over our meager funds tracking system. I brought it up every week. No bites. On my last meeting I just put the books on the table and walked out without a comment, with no regrets. Don’t know how much longer they lasted.

    16. Honeybee*

      Unfortunately, that was my response too. The problem with being a president of a club is that you have no authority to force other people to do their jobs – you can’t really fire them (since they are elected, and even if they aren’t you’d have to find someone to fill their spot), and you have no recourse to make them do anything.

      So my first inclination would be – unless there’s something you really haven’t tried, your best bet might be to simply resign and let it go. Let the other officers figure out how they’re going to keep it afloat. After you leave, they will realize how much work you were doing and how much the rest of them weren’t.

  2. Dawn*

    “I’m sick and in physical pain weekly from the amount of stress this has caused me, but I can’t seem to figure out a way out.”

    Walk away. This is just like any other toxic job out there, except it’s a volunteer position so you’re not even getting paid. Walk away. Resign. Refocus on your senior year in college, take some time to relax, let everything go, and walk away. That’s the ONLY WAY this is going to get better. You cannot change other people, you cannot make other people do anything, you do not hold any managerial sway over your volunteers because they are not getting paid money and they have demonstrated that they do not care.

    There is no fixing this, and there is no attempt at fixing this that won’t drive you deeper into stress- which WILL have a direct impact on the other parts of your life such as GRADUATING COLLEGE with good grades and not being so stressed you can’t focus on STARTING YOUR LIFE. Do not go down the toxic path to burnout before you’ve even graduated college!

    1. Christy*

      Yeah, this is so 1000% not worth it. Quit. Seriously, quitting things that suck is the best feeling in the world. And you can get away with it–it’s not providing your income, and it’s not going to make or break your career.

      1. Christy*

        And like, you’re not curing cancer with this group. It’s a student group. You’re not even feeding the homeless. Even if this organization falls apart entirely, are there going to be any larger negative consequences?

        1. Dilly*

          Funny you should say that because I ran a student group in college that was focused on community service. We were, literally, feeding the homeless! But similar to the OP, the organizational tasks were falling 100% (and then some, it felt like) to me and I burned out. The student group shut down. But there were other non-student organizations in my city also feeding the homeless, so I joined one of them and was much much happier to be with more committed people.

    2. ScoobyDoo*

      The cost to your health, your well-being, and your grades is not worth this battle. Sometimes walking away is the smartest thing you can do. It is not your place to own the monkeys in this circus.

    3. LBK*

      110% agree. Presumably you’re sticking with this because you think it will look good to future employers, but that isn’t worth it ruining your quality of life and affecting your schoolwork, which will cancel out any positive affects you get from being able to put this position on your resume.

      1. Not me*


        You don’t need this bullet point on your resume. It just doesn’t matter that much.

        You do need references, so (IMO) stay on good terms with the group’s adviser and any other faculty/staff/professionals involved. You don’t have to stay involved in the group’s leadership to do that.

        1. Honeybee*

          In fact, discussing this with your faculty advisor(s) might be a good approach, even if you do walk away. I have advised student groups before and when I write recommendation letters for these students, I absolutely mention things like this.

    4. Elle*

      I have a feeling that once you do walk away, you are going to feel a hell of a lot better. There will be a huge sense of relief. Maybe not at first, as you are going through the act of leaving, but shortly thereafter. You will probably wonder what took you so long! Good luck!

    5. ZenJen*

      AGREE X 1000%!!!
      Your academic performance should be top priority–let the student organization die because of the others’ apathy. You tried your absolute best, but you cannot force people to do what they simply won’t take responsibility for.

    6. Turtle Candle*

      Yes! Absolutely. LW, as much as I hate to say this, if you’re not paying people and you can’t fire them (and I’m assuming on that second part, but in my experience ‘firing’ student volunteers at these types of orgs is difficult or impossible) there’s not much you can do to incentivize good work. If it’s causing you enough stress to cause your grades to suffer–let alone to make you feel physically ill!–it is not worth banging your head against this particular wall.

    7. themmases*

      I agree. This is a bullet point and while I’m sure the work is important and it’s important to the OP, no one reading their CV is going to care that they were president through March instead of through May.

      I was VP of a student group in high school where the president and I did everything and our younger group members just showed up for the fun stuff. That was frustrating at the time, but it turned out that when we left they did keep the group going but with a different vibe. This was a gay-straight alliance and my year was more activist/educational, and the younger people chose to make more of a fun accepting place to hang out. Both totally legitimate! With hindsight I could see that while there had been maturity issues we also had different visions for the group.

      Keeping a project going single-handedly, whether at work or as a volunteer, is really a dubious accomplishment. It may be completely true– most of us have been there– but it will be hard to convey to others without sounding bitter or like you are exaggerating. By the time you’ve moved on enough to find a good framing, that experience may be too old to even brag about! It’s never worth your health or peace of mind.

      1. Meg Murry*

        Yes, this. No one is going to care if you were president through March. Heck, if you let it die now, you don’t even have to put it on your resume.

        If you let your GPA slide this last semester, there is no going back and fixing it. You need to make sure you aren’t setting yourself up to bomb your last semester by screwing up your assignments or studying for your finals dealing with the stress of this organizaion.

        I still kick myself every so often that I couldn’t have gotten it together to bump up any one of my grades in other classes my last semester to counteract the D I got in a class that there was no salvaging – because just one bump from B to A (or if I had managed to salvage that D into a C) would have kept my GPA above 3.0 – having a GPA just below that (2.94, can’t even round it up) automatically put me either out of the running altogether for certain jobs/grad school programs, or put me in the “write a giant essay and provide a ton of backup documentation and jump through a lot more hoops to explain why we should bother to look at your application materials” bucket. Now that I have work experience, that GPA doesn’t matter – but for my first few years after undergrad, it was a problem.

    8. That Marketing Chick*

      +100%. I have a kiddo in his junior year burning the candle at both ends, and I’ve told him the volunteer stuff has to drop first – before the grades and the paying job. And as a hiring manager… it really won’t play into whether I hire you or not. Let it die, and enjoy the rest of your senior year!

    9. Grey*

      “Walk away” was my first thought too after reading this. You have little to lose and so much to gain by doing so.

      You can’t fix this for your successor and you’ll kill yourself trying. I think your only responsibility is to share your experience and let them know what they’re getting into. Do that and you can walk away with a clean conscience.

  3. TL -*

    Don’t take on projects. Only take on what you’re willing to do entirely yourself (delegate but be prepared to rescue) – if people complain, tell them they’re welcome to organize and you’ll provide support, but don’t step in to save them, don’t take on clients…let things fail. If they care, they’ll figure it out, and if they don’t, it seems like the student group should re-evaluate its mission.

    1. TL -*

      And by only take on what you want – that doesn’t mean essential club activities or what you see as necessary. If there are activities you like, do them and only them. Don’t worry about the rest; just let people know you won’t be handling them.

      The only way people are going to change is if they see consequences – right now their behavior leads to everything getting done so why should they change?

    2. Allison*

      I agree with this. OP, drop most of these club activities and only take on what you want to do yourself. If members complain (and they probably will) about why the club isn’t doing X, Y, or Z, or people start suggesting you should start doing new stuff, explain that those would be great but the officers aren’t putting in the work needed to make that happen, and tell members that if they really care about the club being more active and are willing to put in the work, they should run for office for the next academic year and/or put pressure on the officers to start doing the work. Right now, the officers are slacking because they don’t believe anyone (except you) cares if they slack off and there won’t be consequences. If member start pushing back, maybe that will motivate the officers to actually work.

      1. TL -*

        Oh, I would say don’t even say that. Just say, “Hmm, end of the year banquet? That’s Wakeen’s job; talk to him.”
        And if they come back and say Wakeen isn’t doing his job, you can either say, “Hmm. That’s troubling. I’ll send Wakeen a reminder but if he’s not willing to take it on due to other commitments, would you be willing to? I’m afraid our only other option is not to have it.”
        Do this for everything.

      2. Chrissie*

        I had to cancel an event that we were trying to put together due to others not pulling their weight. Next meeting I opened discussion for strategy
        -do we want to take on fewer projects
        -or different types of project
        -should we drop next year’s annual event completely
        because I was just so stressed out by doing everything myself! Surprisingly, people came through, gave input, we did our annual event fine. Since then I have tried to notice when we do a thing because we think it’s the thing we should do or because somebody from the outside pushes it on us.

    3. Honeybee*

      This was my only other suggestion. I think your choices are 1) resign and let the group die, or 2) keep your position but only do what you really want to do and don’t help anyone else when they don’t get their shit together.

      #2 is still going to be a little bit stressful, though, especially if you are the type of person who likes to help others or finds it hard to say no or really, really likes to plan and organize things. (I fall in all of these boxes and I see myself in your question, OP.) But this can be a learning experience to get really good at saying No and refusing to go into full panic mode because other people are dropping the ball.

  4. Elizabeth the Ginger*

    Are there other eligible students on campus who could fill the officers’ roles? If so, I’d do what someone managing a team of non-volunteers should do: Give clear expectations to the officers and replace them if change doesn’t start happening soon.

    This won’t work, though, if you have reason to believe that these are the best volunteers you could get. Or if the officers are elected and you can’t replace them. In either of those cases, you might just have to dial way back on what you expect your organization can produce – sad, but you can’t bail out a sinking ship with just your own small bucket.

    1. TootsNYC*

      You can always replace them with un-elected officers.
      I might even argue that an officer shouldn’t be doing the work of planning an event.

      A volunteer dedicated to that event should be planning it. The president presides over meetings and keep the group true to their charter; the vice president is there for when the president can’t be there; the secretary takes minutes; the treasurer tracks the money.

      The members should be doing the bulk of the actual work–not the officers.

  5. StudentAffairsPro*

    Have you contacted your Faculty or Staff advisor? Is there someone within the Office of Student Life who can assist you with your efforts?

    There should be resources on campus who should be able to assist you. We’ve been trained about how to best motivate people, and they can likely serve as a long term coach for you.

    Also, I would suggest looking into Bruce Tuckman’s Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing model which discusses the usual progression of student organizations and provides some great insights on how to proceed within each step.

    1. AnonInSC*

      I was about to ask about the faculty contact/advisor. Every student group I’ve been a part of or worked with as a professional has a contact/advisor. The quality can vary – but the point is that a student leader and organization is not left hanging like you have been.

      The problems you describe aren’t limited to student organizations (my state-level professional organization occationally has similar issues). But you may have more recourse for back-up.

      1. EmilyHG*

        Yes, this! Your group should have a faculty or staff advisor, and this is what we are here for!! (Speaking as one.) PLEASE talk to that person or another trusted professor who can help you with this. Good luck!

        1. TL -*

          You should do that – but I don’t remember my staff advisors being of any help with situations like these (in part because I, like many others, realized they had no actual power over me and stopped caring what she said).
          In fact, I had a conversation with a Student Life advisor for a major student group that went like this:
          Me: Jane isn’t doing her work. This is negatively impacting us. [5 examples of Jane not doing her specifically assigned duties and us having to pick up the slack]
          Advisor: Jane is doing her work. You’re just not seeing the work being done.
          Me: Okay, but I just gave 5 specific examples of Jane not doing her work and us having to do it for her.
          Advisor:…..[Change subject]

          So, OP, talk to your advisor, but in my experience, they never were particularly helpful.

        2. FormerAdviser*

          But honestly, there’s only so much power that an advisor has, too. I have been an advisor of a student group and it wasn’t a great experience. The first year, with a motivated group of students, it was great and I truly felt like I was advising them, helping them navigate university policies, etc. The second year, with a less motivated group of students, it was kind of a disaster. There’s no real accountability because there aren’t any true consequences for being a crappy club member. It doesn’t affect their grades or academic standing whatsoever, so if they aren’t self-motivated, it can fall apart kinda quickly through no fault of the student leadership or the adviser.

          OP, as a recovering over-involved person, I used to never quit anything and took a certain amount of pride in getting stuff done, no matter what the personal cost. It. is. not. worth. it. Truly.

          1. TL -*

            Yeah, I had a really crappy advisor and after a two or three stressful interactions with her (and trying really hard to make it work) I realized – I didn’t care. If she told me to do something, I smiled, nodded, and did what I wanted anyways. She couldn’t kick me out of the organization, she wasn’t a professor, I didn’t need a reference from her, and I didn’t want her good opinion.

            I don’t think she particularly liked me after that, but I never really gave her the chance to talk with me after I came to realization that she had no power over me. Now, the professors in my department, I was always happy to help, even if I never took a class with them – they were always free to volunteer me or ask me to do something extra or different. They were great and I valued their good opinion.

            1. EmilyHG*

              I definitely agree that the advisor will have a limited amount of power over the group. Advising groups of student volunteers is hard because nobody has any power over them, really. They can all quit at any point, and if they all give up, it’s over.

              The advisor can’t make the other students work, but they should (or someone should) be able to help this particular student not be in physical pain over this organization.

          2. TootsNYC*

            well, I wouldn’t say “talk to the advisor for them to fix things.”

            I’d say, “talk to the advisor for her to advise you.”

            For that matter, talk to your own ACADEMIC advisor.

          3. Honeybee*

            Yeah, I was a student group advisor before and I would have had no power to make the officers to actually do their work or replace them. My role was truly as an advisor only – I met with the president and some of the officers occasionally to offer advice, and I mediated conflict when necessary, but if the president were this stressed out and the rest weren’t pulling their weight I’d honestly give the officer the advice to quit. The only action I could take is warning the entire group that it’d be disbanded and lose their housing space if they didn’t shape up (these were special interest communities that formed student groups and had won a special house or suite in our residence halls to support that community).

  6. TotesMaGoats*

    Personally, I’d walk away.

    But I would suggest speaking with your faculty advisor for the group. Or whoever might fill that kind of role. Someone in student affairs should be moderately involved. Even if it’s just to give your resignation.

    You DO NOT need this kind of stress.

  7. Folklorist*

    Is my team bringing out the worst in my leadership style, or is my bad leadership bringing out the worst in my team?

    I honestly don’t know, but I wish that more potential managers had the presence of mind/wisdom to ask themselves these questions as early as high school (or at all)! If nothing else, you’re getting valuable experience and learning a lot about yourself and how you handle stress–and what NOT to do from now on. I know that doesn’t help you now, however, and I’m really sorry you’re going through this.

    1. fposte*

      In a situation like this, I’d say it’s the situation like this :-). You had no say over the team, they have no obligation, they have no accountability, they have no performance-correlated reward–it’s virtually impossible to make a team out of the unmotivated in a situation like that.

    2. Folklorist*

      Derp, just realized it’s college; not high school. Sentiment remains the same, however. And fposte, I think you’re right. The stakes are very low for the team (all volunteer, can’t be fired)–and you didn’t get to choose them. This is very different from what future management will be like!

  8. The IT Manager*

    I am unclear what these “projects” are and who these clients are. I expected the student organization to hold meetings for students where professionals come talk students about their future in the field and host parties for their members. In those situations you put someone in charge and let them struggle through it with limited consequences – meeting didn’t go well, no guest speaker this month, not enough pizza, etc.

    I’m confused about clients and projects with deadlines. It sounds like there’s no accountability for the people who drop the ball, but that’s a common problem with volunteers rather than employees so I don’t see that there’s a direct path from doing poorly managing volunteers who have zero accountability and doing poorly in a paid job.

    I feel like I need more details to give advice; although, I do lean towards stopping swooping in and saving failing projects. Let others fail, and don’t let your grades be impacted by this extracirricular activity.

    1. The IT Manager*

      Also I assume these clients are not paying. That doesn’t leave your organization free and clear from meeting deadlines, but you’ve heard the saying “you get what you pay for.” That’s also different from the paid life after college.

    2. SL #2*

      My alma mater has a student-led management consulting club. But it was a very competitive club and they require applications and have an established “hiring” process to screen out slackers like OP’s officers. But having the name of that group on your resume, as well as the references from clients, was a Big Deal because it was real-world experience comparable to a really prestigious internship.

    3. AVP*

      My company has a few clients that are universities and high-level departments within universities. Occasionally they will want us to work directly with student groups for whatever reason, so it could be something like that.

      Honestly, for all of the reasons above, we will meet with the student groups, listen to their ideas, synthesize what we do and what they want into something that works for as many people as possible, but then get the students out of the way as quickly as possible. Some of them are great (I imagine it would be fun to work with the OP here and students like her) but since we are being paid and on a deadline, it’s just not realistic to hope the students all come through or even check their emails daily. The administrators often know this and give us the benefit of the doubt, and people usually wind up pretty happy.

    4. Emilia Bedelia*

      To me, this sounds like Design for America or Engineers Without Borders or something similar.

  9. Not a Real Giraffe*

    How are these folks assigned their roles? Do they volunteer, are they elected, are they appointed? Are there measurements for success in their role? When I was a student leader, I found that you’d have two types of people: Those who were heavily invested and would put in the time to make the organization a success, and those who took a task, realized it was more work than they envisioned, and then let it drop because there was no real repercussion for doing so. If you’re the leader of the organization, impose some repercussions. Create goals that officers must reach in order to continue in their posts. Rather than allow volunteers, hold elections so that those who get the position are truly the most excited and dedicated people for the role. If your organization doesn’t have bylaws to support this, now is the time to put together a committee to develop them.

    In the meantime, I’d be inclined to let those officers fail. It may reflect badly on you or the organization as a whole, but it will give you some ammunition to replace the officers (and also save your sanity — you can’t keep going at the rate that you’re going). Remember that while this organization is important, your academic success is important too. Don’t let that falter at the expense of an extra-curricular.

    1. Ama*

      Yes — I manage a volunteer group (of people long past graduation) and apparently in its early days, we had a number of members who were happy to cite their involvement with us on their CVs but who never actually did any of the work the group had been established to do. The members themselves ended up coming up with a couple of participation criteria that had to be met to be eligible to stay in the group. It doesn’t entirely weed out the people who slack off, but we now have a way to remove them and replace them as needed.

      1. Deanna*

        That’s excellent advice. Sometimes the greatest contribution on can make to an organization is to create accountability for its’ members.

    2. OriginalYup*

      Excellent advice. And if the officers fail, be clear in your own mind about what really happened. My tendency as a leader is to take the group’s failures upon myself as a solo burden and yet attribute its successes to everyone else — don’t do this! :)

      OP, I know this is all horribly stressful and frustrating. But believe me, you are getting really good workplace experience. (Even if you ultimately need to walk away from the organization in order to focus on your own studies and take care of your health. That’s not a failure. Sometimes it’s the smartest possible choice.) The professional world is riddled with people who overcommit, don’t meet their deadlines, abdicate responsibility, and conflate enthusiasm with meaningful contribution. The bad spot you’re in right now isn’t because you’re a terrible leader doing a poor job — this is literally what management is. In a paid professional setting you might have more authority, guidance, and resources at your disposal, but the essential dilemmas are the pretty much the same. So don’t take other peoples’ poor performance as a reflection on your own capabilities. Also, don’t worry too much about being liked or disliked. As a leader, you need to earn and keep the respect of worthwhile people. Liking someone on a personal level is a nice plus, but it’s not the barometer of good leadership. Think about what kind of leader you want to be, and measure yourself against those standards, not against whether someone — particularly an unreasonable someone — is angry at you that day.

    3. Mona Lisa Saperstein*

      Totally agree re: the importance of imposing repercussions. I was VP of Operations of my sorority in college (which some may not think is comparable, but hell if it didn’t give me a fairly brutal crash course in leadership, management, running meetings, etc) and we had an Honor Council whose entire purpose was to hold execs and officers accountable if they failed to complete the duties of their positions. If someone were brought before the council, it wasn’t an accusatory or punitive measure, it was more of a “We noticed that you haven’t done x or y. What’s going on? Is there anything we/other sisters can do to help you?” type of conversation. If that didn’t result in the problem being solved, the exec or officer would be put on probation; if they didn’t improve, they would be asked to resign their role, and we’d have a re-election. I don’t know how exactly your organization is structured, but if it’s possible, I think having a committee in place to help hold people accountable would take a lot off your shoulders.

      But if that doesn’t help things, and if no one in your organization is motivated enough to help you make sure that everyone gets their job done, then I’d say get out. Your health is much more important than an extracurricular.

      1. TootsNYC*

        ooh, I love the idea of starting a college-wide Honors Council that could weigh in. It wouldn’t have any teeth particularly, but it might be a level of peer pressure.

        Or, it could be given teeth, in that (like Underwriters’ Laboratory) organizations sign up for the Honors Code, and if an officer or member violates it, the Council can deem them ineligible for officership in any Honors Code organization, and they get bounced, So at least you can get someone else in there.
        I don’t know that it would work to have that on their permanent record.

  10. SW*

    Walk away! You can’t do it all, and you shouldn’t have to do it all. Nobody wants to help, call a meeting and tender your resignation. Then refocus on your studies and your health. You need to be preparing to start life, not stressing about a volunteer position.

  11. notfunny.*

    What about scaling down and focusing on one thing at a time? Then you could use meeting times to work collaboratively and the part of the projects assigned to people are smaller and less time consuming?

    1. TootsNYC*

      Yes, don’t take on anything more than one person can do. If there’s something else suggested, shrug and say, “You’ll have to arrange that with one of the other members.”

      Because in a way, it’s important not to commit the organization to things it can’t deliver, and you shouldn’t commit other people to stuff either.

  12. Gandalf the Nude*

    Are there other student members “below” the officers who you trust to do the work? Folks who, for whatever reason, weren’t eligible for those positions when they were elected/chosen? If so, I’d think you need to clear the way for these folks to step up to the tasks, if not the actual titles, that your officers are failing to accomplish. If you look around and see that no one else seems to actually care, then it’s time to let the organization die.

    1. Chameleon*

      I am replying only to say how much I love your user name.

      /walk away, OP. Its not worth it.

    2. Meg Murry*

      Yes – OP you mentioned a freshman was the only other person who might have been able to lead the group? Bring that freshman onboard now, and “mentor” her by delegating responsibilities to her and start the transition now. Are there others willing to take on these tasks? If no one else is willing to step up, than you need to let this organization go now, because it won’t survive in the fall.

  13. BRR*

    From my experience with student organizations, let it go. You can try once more saying how when you asked for X it didn’t happen. Let the officer explain. But it’s not worth it. The benefit of running this does not outweigh a hit to your grades.

  14. Anon for this*

    I work with volunteers on a daily basis, and to me it says a lot that you were the only reasonable candidate to lead the organization. Most of the time when you have good volunteer buy-in to the organization and it’s mission there is competition for the top slots.

    To me this tells me that the organization that you are leading is a dying organization. No one person can lead an organization and make it thrive. Do you have a faculty adviser for this organization? If you do I think you need to talk to them about the challenges you are facing and the face that the chapter is failing. There is nothing wrong with reducing the number of activities or having the chapter go dormant for a while. Sometimes recognizing what isn’t working and saving resources is just as important as making something wildly successful.

  15. fposte*

    I hire a lot of people just finishing undergrad, and one of the most frequent “Tell me about a time” situations they give is dealing with a volunteer student organization. They are just really challenging.

    1. SL #2*

      Haha, I always had several student org stories at the ready for interviews and just dived deeper into whichever one I felt like talking about that day. The most successful one was always the no-show guest speaker with a medical emergency…

      1. TL -*

        One of my student group meetings – we had an event that went okay, but not super well – was supposed to be a feedback session, where I all of a sudden got all these great ideas for marketing (that I had been asking for for a month before the event) because attendance was low.
        It turned into a yelling session of 4 people just going at it at the same time (I was raising my voice too, unfortunately), our staff advisor – a member of Student Life – just sat and watched it happen. It only stopped when I turned and saw another officer trying to disappear into the couch cushions. I immediately stopped and was like, okay, we’re done, we need to cool down.
        I still can’t believe she didn’t step in.

  16. Lynn Rainham*

    Do your officers have an official role description?
    I’m asking because it will allow you to “fire” anyone who doesn’t meet those goals.
    It might also help you ensure that you get good volunteers from the start. I find a lot of people will flake on volunteer roles when they are overwhelmed or find out it’s more of a job than just a bullet point on a resume. If you’re upfront with your volunteers about the level of commitment that you need, you’re more likely to get people who are ready to give it.

    1. CM*

      I was thinking the same thing! For everyone who’s saying, “this only happens with student organizations and you won’t have to deal with it the real world”…. unless you get involved in a volunteer-led nonprofit!

      In your shoes, I would have a lot of trouble walking away since you obviously care about doing a good job here. As to whether it’s you or them, it’s possible you could be incredibly inspiring and get them on board, but that’s a super-advanced skill that I have not developed in several decades of working. It’s really them; as others pointed out above, they have very little incentive to follow through or do any work for this organization.

      To get through your term, can you stop committing to projects and tell everybody else to stop committing? I just noticed rozin said the same thing, “shrink down the responsibilities of your student org.” Do the bare minimum that you can manage. Stop trying to manage everybody else and avoid giving them anything that they have to do. You can explain to them at a meeting that this organization has a problem with capacity — you’re all students, all volunteers, and the workload isn’t sustainable. So from now on, your organization will only do X for the rest of the year. Or, you’ll just finish up the projects you have and won’t do anything new.

      As for the person who comes after you, I’d be open about the challenges of running this type of organization, and also caution them about not committing to anything that requires a lot of work. If there’s something the organization HAS to do, like organize an annual conference, I’d talk to your faculty advisor and see if they can recommend some outside resources to help, like a paid admin who would be able to work with you.

    2. themmases*

      I have a good friend who resigned from a volunteer fundraising board over exactly this type of issue. It was incredible to see the amount of work she put in and then hear that other people were basically treating it as a social thing and not putting even minimal work towards this (excellent) cause. But adults definitely do this too.

      1. Stressed Student (LW)*

        Some of the things, like delaying or getting distracted, are frustrating but understandable. I don’t always get things done on time either! Some of the excuses I get, though, are horrific. Client project guy pulled out a real gem when I asked him why he hadn’t looked at his email after I told him to expect something from me (that I stayed up past midnight finishing instead of studying) and contact the client with whatever I or the rest of the team had sent: I hadn’t told him I’d sent him anything yet, and he “didn’t want to assume”. It was impressive.

  17. rozin*

    Shrink down the responsibilities of your student org so that you can run it by yourself without getting stressed out. I had a similar experience in high school, where I was put in charge of a film club that nobody wanted to take over. Instead of doing “all the cool things” that the club did the previous years, I only organized weekly film-watching, which was low-stress and something I could do by myself. And there were no complaints since the club members were just glad that the club was running at all. So SCALE DOWN! If you organize events, only organize one or two main events, if you do fundraisers, only make one main one for the semester. You’re in charge of the club, you can decide how active or inactive it is. If other people help, great, if not, you’re not stressed out anymore. But please don’t ruin your senior year for this club.

    1. Crazy Admin Lady*

      This is excellent advice! If you are the one in charge, then you are the one that is able to make these sorts of decisions. If others complain, that opens the door to showing them the areas that you need help in to do XYZ. This happened at a church that I worked at. The senior pastor was tired of trying to do everything and eventually stopped. When the congregation members asked why XYZ no longer happened, he told them that no one volunteered and his plate was full leading the church. Although disappointed, they couldn’t really blame him since they weren’t willing to step up to the plate.

      I am currently a staff member at the university I graduated with and I used to deal with the same issues that you do. Eventually some of these organizations and events went away because no one would take on the responsibility. Also, your volunteer work should never be a detriment to your health or your “real” work (which is currently your school). Focus on those things first and then work on the volunteer stuff.

    2. Evergreen*

      I couldn’t agree more! I’d also suggest delegating ‘add-ons’ to the other officers: stuff that would’ve awesome if they happen but a non-issue if they don’t. A lot of people I’ve volunteered with over the years just want a little thing they can organise themselves, no pressure, just for the fun and the experience.

  18. Not me*

    Keep good relationships with your group’s advisers and any faculty or staff members at the school that you deal with. Go to your adviser for help with this, too. These people can really help you. They can also be good references when you graduate.

    And then leave the group or let the other group members fail, if the results of that won’t damage your relationships with professionals, your grades, or your other work. They have to learn somehow.

    If you can’t do that, seriously change the group’s plans and responsibilities to line up with what its members will actually do. Not what they’re capable of, not what they say they’ll do, I mean what they have previously shown that they will actually do.

    I think that you’re looking at all of this as preparation for a “real job” that is less than a year away. That hasn’t sunk in yet for the other group members. You’re on the right track. Focus on your post-graduation plans and taking care of yourself. Don’t worry about this thing you’ll graduate from in months.

  19. SirTechSpec*

    I directed a lot of student groups in college, with varying results, and saw several friends put themselves through hell doing the same. When you’re having physical pain from the stress, you’re past the point where it’s time to step back, and likely walk away. I know that may seem radical, but there are 2 possibilities: either the organization can continue in some form without you, or it can’t.

    In the first case, things aren’t working as they are, so a shakeup is called for. If anyone is willing and able to step up and take on the main role of running the organization while you remain on the “board” or in some other *occasional, advisory* capacity, the time is now. Maybe the now-sophomore would be really great at that and enjoy it, who knows. Maybe your officers will finally be galvanized into action, or the group can agree that you need new ones.

    In the second case – which honestly sounds more likely, given what you’ve described – you will be able to sleep at night and focus on your studies; your “subordinates” will be able to set down something that they frankly don’t seem all that keen on; your clients will go elsewhere for less stressful, more reliable results; in short, everybody wins.

    I would call an Important Meeting with all current members and say that you’ve realized you need to resign from your current position, and ask if anyone is willing to step in and make things happen. If it looks like you have critical mass, make it so, and the group’s struggles from then on will not be your problem, even if you’re still sympathetic. If (though it doesn’t sound like it) your leadership really is the problem, it will become apparent quickly and you can learn something from that.

    I know that it can be painful or even feel like a betrayal to refuse a leadership role in a struggling organization that you care about. But the reality is that businesses don’t last forever, and often neither do clubs, if the environment isn’t right. Ask yourself: what would have happened if you had chosen to go to a different college? Or never heard about this group? Either way, if they can’t survive without you, it’s not your fault.

    If it helps, consider this practice for the future. Someday you’ll need to quit a job where your boss has told you to stay, or turn down a contract you don’t have the capacity for, or even end a relationship with someone who really likes you, and it will help to remember that there’s really no such thing as “have to” – there are only choices and consequences.

    1. Engineer Girl*

      One issue in dysfunctional organizations is that they’ll get angry and blame you when you resign. You are disloyal, lazy, fragile, incompetent, etc. The loudest screams will come from the people that helped the least.
      Remember that you asked for help and it wasn’t given. You specifically went to people to get the job done and it didn’t happen. Remind them of that and walk away.
      Your grades are WAY more important than this.

  20. Lizketeer*

    Not much advice – just commiseration

    One of the major reasons I decided to attend my college was because of a particular student organization. They represented an agenda that I felt strongly about, and the seemed to be very active on campus.

    As it turned out, many of the leaders were seniors so they weren’t there when I started. Those who weren’t seniors had apparently decided leadership wasn’t for them and stopped actively supporting the organization. This left a year where not much happened because no one was there to do any work.

    I ended up taking up a leadership position which for two years meant I did everything. Even with others on the team, there was no way of knowing who would actually show up to meetings/events/planning nights.

    I eventually reached a point when I told everyone that I could no longer support the organization with the effort I had in the past. Between the organization projects, my senior project, and working I was making myself sick.

    It ended up working out well – someone else ended up really stepping up and I was able to spend my last semester transitioning her into leadership and things seem to be doing really well now. Sometimes you just have to hand off control and lets things take their own course

  21. Simplytea*

    Is there a professional mentor involved at all? Usually student organizations have someone who can deal with these issues.

    If not, OP needs to have face to face meetings and ask about commitment levels and availability. Set times everyone is online and gchatting might work too. Otherwise, what about collaborating using Google docs so you can monitor progress in real time?

    At the end of the day, this isn’t a high risk position. You have to realize that’s part and parcel of it being a student position, and not let it get to you as much. If deadlines are being missed, it’s not the end of the world (but it may feel like it, I’m all too familiar with end-of-the-world syndrome).

    When you get to real management positions, it’ll be different because people are getting a paycheck and are designated as working for certain periods to get that paycheck. Don’t let this concern you as an example of your real managerial capacity–it’s not.

    You’re doing great! Find alternate ways to get the job done by working with your volunteers. And remember, if you do the work at the end of the day, there’s no incentive for anyone else to do it.

    Best of luck!

    (Writing on cellphone, please forgive typos and grammar errors!)

  22. Observer*

    Are these elected officers, or do yo have the authority to replace them? If the former, it’s time to wrap things up and walk away. If the latter, you need to “fire” these officers. If that leaves you in a position that things cannot get done, you need to figure out why you can’t replace people. If it’s because the organization or its mission have little or no support among your target population, then you either need to think about whether you want to take on the role of growing the organization by “selling” it to the public. It’s either that or walking away. If the issue is that the cause has genuine support, but the organization is hard to work for, or in other ways demotivates people, then you need to either fix those problems if you can, or walk away.

  23. KWu*

    I would like to hear more about this part: “I try talking to my officers, it goes well…the people who tell me I’m disrespecting them are the ones I’m calling out (no swearing, names, yelling, trying to keep an even tone and listening for feedback) for failing -BADLY- to do their jobs”

    If the discussions are constrained to statements of fact about what people agreed to do and what hasn’t happened, it doesn’t seem like complaints that you’re disrespectful are valid. If people are incompetent and unreliable, saying so isn’t disrespectful, it’s just true :P (of course, you can still be polite and kind while doing so, but I suspect these are folks who bristle at being told anything but that they’re awesome)

    If the discussions are instead about some disagreement on the expectations, perhaps it would be helpful for when those “good” conversations are happening to be extremely clear, direct, and get everything written down afterwards for later reference. Like other letters posted here before where people worry about micromanaging, it’s natural to micromanage if performance hasn’t been up to par.

    1. fposte*

      In general, whether it’s respectful or not, saying somebody is incompetent and unreliable is venting rather than curative, though. Stick to what they did (or didn’t) do, not what you think they are.

      1. Stressed Student (LW)*

        Yeah, I try not to vent. I tend to vent to outside people, so I know I need to cut back when talking to the people themselves. I try very much to frame it as legitimate confusion, ie “I honestly don’t understand why you would think that, please explain so we can work this out” and use “I” statements like “I’m frustrated because I asked you to this and it didn’t happen, even though I was bugging you all week for it to get done”.

        It’s hard because, again, lack of experience and poor references (the last person who accused me of talking down to her also used the phrase “I can’t be expected to know all your little rules” when she as an officer didn’t have her membership application done on time, way past the original deadline and after being asked twice). Even if these people suck -and I am perfectly fine accepting that some of them do – I don’t want to be a bad manager or develop bad habits for later.

        1. fposte*

          In general, I’d say your first example as a high risk of putting people’s backs up–I’d stick to “Can you explain your thinking here?”

          I mention this only because you’re clearly interested in managing skills overall; I don’t think this is a situation of your making or one that you could singlehandedly repair.

        2. Lora*

          well, as far as the second example goes, I could totally see someone’s response as ‘so? then do it yourself’. If I may suggest, when asking her to do something, ask ‘are you able to do Y by Z deadline?’ If she says yes, then let her do it-without bugging, and if she says no, then you know you need to find someone else. If the answer if yes, and it doesn’t get done, then it’s on her for not completing her part of the project. And also, they need to know that if they need help or realize they are in over their heads, they can come to you for help. Where I work, we have lots of extra projects that people pick up to do, and sometimes someone realizes it’s not a good fit for them. It’s not a big deal for them to talk with the manager and let her know. We are all willing to pick up projects because we know that our manager has our backs. And she is always ready to help, but holds us to very high standards. It’s part of what makes my job great.
          I think it best to walk away from this situation. Your health is just not worth it. Your grades aren’t worth it. As others have said, use this as a learning experience. Good managers are like orchestra conductors. You’ll get there….

          1. Stressed Student (LW)*

            Out of curiosity, how did your manager get that culture going? I have been shouting from the rooftops since day one to let me know if things are getting out of control and people need help, but almost no one ever tells me that they’re overwhelmed until after things have failed.

            Part of the problem I’m thinking is that we have such high turnover, actually. Presidencies almost never last more than a year and most people are only in the organization at all for two year to a few months, so it’s hard to establish norms. Maybe that’s part of the issue?

            1. Honeybee*

              How involved is your membership in this organization? Is it one of those orgs where the officers really do all of the work and the membership just kind of passively attend events and wait around for things to be given to them, or do you have an active and interested membership?

              In my experience advising student groups, the groups that have a good culture that stays consistent over the years are groups that have buy-in from the membership (not just the leaders) who carry the torch on. You also need to have members of all ages – the seniors and juniors transmit group norms and culture down to the freshman and sophomores, who learn and develop and evolve it and then pass it down themselves when THEY become juniors and seniors. You can’t only have officers doing everything and trying to foster group culture – in fact, the officers’ positions are really just to handle administrative things and keep things organized. The members are the heartblood of the group.

              How big is your membership? Do you have general body meetings? Do you guys solicit suggestions from members? What about assistance? For example, your events can be planned and executed by mixed groups of members + officers, with the officers mostly in charge of greasing the administration wheels. For example, members might plan a poetry slam on campus and the officer is really in charge of booking the room with campus admin and telling the group members rules to follow or tips to remember when setting ground rules for the contestants; the actual event itself and its tenor are decided by the members collectively.

              I will say that although in most circumstances I would agree with Lora’s advice, in this circumstance your fellow officers have already proven themselves to be unreliable. So asking people if they can do something and then not bugging them or just saying “it’s on then” is what’s contributing to your stress in the first place. And while normally a good manager does allow for a culture of people coming to them for help (the way to foster this is things like not belittling the employees when they do come, explicitly stating repeatedly that you are open for assistance, offering encouragement and positive feedback often, but giving good, constructive, critical feedback when necessary), the problem here is that your officers are taking advantage of your help. It’s not that you don’t offer it; it’s that they dump everything on you. You are also in a different position from a manager because you do not have authority to give people a bad performance review or fire them if they don’t do their jobs. They have no accountability to you.

              If these were people who seemed at all interested in actually doing their jobs, there are ways to exercise influence without authority (e.g., motivate people without having the power to fire them). But frankly these seem like people who want to be able to put VP on their resume but aren’t interested in running a club.

      2. KWu*

        Oh you’re completely right, I didn’t phrase that well at all–I meant more like saying that they haven’t done the work that they agreed to do, stuff like that. Incompetent/unreliable is internal labeling only.

  24. Stephanie (HR)*

    I wouldn’t walk away unless your health absolutely requires it. I think that would paint you in a poor light, and after all that you’ve done, being able to put this on a resume and have an advisor give you a reference for it would probably be a good thing. You most likely don’t want the opposite.

    If you are willing to keep going, this is what I would do: Pull you team together and have a frank conversation about what has been going on and ask them why it’s been happening. Add that you can’t continue to support them in the capacity you have been, and ask them their thoughts.

    Listen to what they have to say. This is critical. They may be able to give you the solution you need, and if they don’t, they know they had the opportunity.

    If they don’t, and you can tell things aren’t really going to change, lay down the following initiative: “We will only do projects that we can support. If no one here is able to take the lead on the project and follow it through to the end, we drop the project this year.” If they don’t step up, don’t do the project.

    If they step up and want to do a project, make it clear what involvement you can have and what support you can offer. Create check-ins at points where the project can be cancelled if they aren’t actually stepping up. Pull the plug rather than sacrificing your grades and your health.

    The scope of your group may shrink during your time in charge, but that’s not a bad thing or a good thing. You can’t do this alone.

    1. LBK*

      I think that would paint you in a poor light, and after all that you’ve done, being able to put this on a resume and have an advisor give you a reference for it would probably be a good thing.

      Is that going to balance out a dropping GPA, though? I don’t think it’s worth the trade off. It doesn’t sound like the organization is going to complete *any* projects if the OP isn’t doing it all herself, so I don’t think she’s really that much better off with this approach. Leading an organization that doesn’t do anything isn’t really an accomplishment.

      1. Turtle Candle*

        Yeah, if it was “just” frustrating or annoying or etc., I’d agree with Stephanie… but I tend to think that grades suffering has at least as much likelihood of making LW look bad as walking away, and if the organization isn’t functioning well because nobody but the LW is doing any work, potential future references may not be that great anyway. I mean, when the positions are unpaid, the LW has little power in making the other members do their jobs, so there’s no guarantee that sticking it out will result in a success to put on the resume anyway. There’s the possibility that the LW could pull it off and get a great resume add/reference out of it, but I’d be afraid that sticking it through would potentially lead to both a drop in GPA and a failed organization that would be at best a lackluster accomplishment and might even be worse.

        1. Stressed Student (LW)*

          As I mentioned below, it’s not that nobody is doing anything, it’s just that those who aren’t are a very significant drain.

          When I talk about my grades dropping, it’s not like I’m getting any F’s. I only have two real classes, thank god, and one of them is a capstone where I would be very happy to get a B, have an excellent group, and feel like I’m surviving about average in despite all the stress. The other is a math class that I SHOULD be acing, but don’t have the time to dedicate to, so I’m struggling along without doing any practice or studying and making steady B’s. Until now I’ve only had two B’s, and am sitting at a very comfortable GPA. My grades can take a hit, but I just hate that they have and would prefer to avoid it entirely, you know?

          The worst, again, is my thesis, which I’m behind in but dedicated to. I expect to back way out near the end of the semester to crunch on this, and will be letting my officers know.

          1. Patty*

            I’m a college prof, so I know students :).

            If you haven’t done this already, give it a try…

            Meet with the officers and, as a group, have them divide up the tasks that need to be done by each position. Make them struggle a bit and trade things around,

            Then present them with a timeline for a project and have them fit the pieces of that project together, and then it Wil be clear to them, decided by them, in front of all of their peers etc..

            If you think it necessary, give instructions to create a back-up plan as to which officer will cover duties..

            Then have some public means of accountability, so they and their friends can see where a project is, who is slacking etc..

            Also, maybe start with a set of definitions for performance, ranging from rock star-level to ‘has missed enough without a good reason, so they’ve constructively quit’ and have them all fill out performance reviews for themselves and others… and compare etc..

            And also work toward getting a better set of officers for next year

    2. S.I. Newhouse*

      This question hits close to home for me because I was the editor of a college newspaper in which virtually NO ONE did any work. My fellow editors did absolutely nothing. When assignments were turned in, I had to edit them completely by myself into something usable. Because of an obstinate faculty adviser who refused to let me make any changes to the editorial staff, it was all on me. It was a horrible year and I was so relieved when it was over.

      That being said, of all the comments I’ve read so far, I agree with this comment most of all. I more than understand all the comments urging the OP to quit or to dissolve the organization. But I agree with Stephanie that it will not reflect well on the OP to quit — that after all of this, OP, you really want something (anything!) to show for this.

      I never read my staff the riot act — I should have, but didn’t. Instead the newspaper got smaller and smaller until eventually, it was just four pages. But the paper continued to come out, it didn’t die, and the experience benefitted me in getting started in my career.

      Keep your head up, OP. Sometimes you get dealt a bad hand (and you were, by being dealt a bunch of lazy a-holes). This is in NO WAY your fault.

    3. LawBee*

      “being able to put this on a resume and have an advisor give you a reference for it would probably be a good thing. ”

      LW can still do this though. And if she has a solid relationship with the advisor, she’ll get a good reference – most collegiate advisors want their students to succeed. I was an officer/president of a ton of groups in college (ok, four) and I was never asked how WELL the org was run, just what I learned from the experience. The LW should absolutely put this on her resume.

    4. Honeybee*

      Unless the OP’s university has a pretty unusual structure re: faculty advisor, I don’t think that quitting would paint her in a poor light at all. She can still put it on her resume if she wanted to (she has been, after all, president through March) and if she’s doing a good job and her advisor is sane she can still get a recommendation out of it. Besides, most student group membership isn’t really important enough to a resume to be worth going through physical pain.

  25. Lily in NYC*

    I just quit a club I joined at work – it immediately became clear that everyone expected me to be the leader because I had the most experience with the club’s subject matter. Let’s say it’s a singing club – I wanted to join to sing, not to lead the group, act as the piano accompanist, and teach people to read music. I spent three full weekends working on stuff for the meetings before I realized I wasn’t having fun. Once I joined, everyone else stopped helping and I guess they just thought I’d do everything. So I quit two weeks ago. And I just got an email yesterday that the group is dissolving. Someone tried to make me feel guilty about it but I’m not having it!

    1. Ama*

      Good for you! I’ve had this problem with a couple of volunteer/friend group things — we start in and everyone is really into it, then I look up six months later and I’m the only one who is still regularly doing whatever activity it is we need to keep the group going, and I start putting a lot of internal pressure on myself to *keep* doing it so it won’t die. I finally started being able to let some of these things go, even though they end up falling apart because no one else is willing to share responsibility. I do enough project management in my professional life that I’m not going to spend all my free time doing it as well.

      1. Lily in NYC*

        Thanks! And good for you for starting to let things go. It’s not that easy to do – I felt like I was letting people down but I got over that quickly once I reminded myself that those same people are the ones who didn’t help at all.

  26. Miss M*

    Step away from it at the end of this semester. Save any copies of the work you’ve done and just market it as something on your resume. It’s not worth the headache. Chalk it up as a learning experience.

    1. ThatGirl*

      OP is a senior and it’s likely mid-semester, something needs to change much sooner than that.

      1. Stressed Student (LW)*

        Yeah, I’m graduating at the end of this. As much as I want to be helpful to the next person, I am done and gone after this.

  27. Laura*

    I was in this situation in the fall of 2014 as a college senior. I was president of a fundraising/charity club expected to raise over $10,000 per academic year.

    First, OP should speak to the club advisor ASAP and tell him/her what is going on. Almost all college organizations are required to have faculty advisors, and although they may not be heavily involved, they do have a say in what direction the organization takes. Tell your advisor what you told us and see what can be done.

    Then you have two options:

    1. Let the club die and bow out now. This will not feel good at first, but you will probably feel relief later.
    2. Keep going through the end of the year with no idea what kind of help you’re going to get.

    Personally, I decided to stick out my term as club president (while doing my capstone!) and took on the role of the club treasurer as well. It was really hard, but the only thing I regret was putting some of my own money into the project– no student should ever do this, by the way.

  28. MayravB*

    Hoo-boy student orgs can be so hit and miss! I started one in university (similar; pre-professional), and after myself and the other founder graduated, it pretty much died. What I learned is this: you can’t force people to care. Student orgs are full of idealistic people with big dreams who say yes a lot and can’t deliver. While a paying job offers an incentive (money!) and real consequences (no money!) if you don’t get your job done, volunteer student orgs have no such carrots and sticks. You can get rid of bad apples and hire more people, but ultimately if the people you work with aren’t dedicated, you can’t force them to be. It doesn’t sound like you’re the problem.

    Both myself and a friend in situation like yours managed to stay on good terms with all of the professionals who mentored and assisted our organization, so I got what I needed, which was mentorship and reference letters. Make sure to save yourself!

  29. AnonOfficer*

    I was in a similar position on my college dance team, except that I was an officer and not in charge. I was responsible for competitions and travel, while my friend was the Treasurer. The rest of the officers (President, VP, Secretary and fundraising) didn’t pull their weight and expected us to do everything. Both President and VP were graduating and the Secretary (who was the worst offender) was expecting to get the president position the next year to put on her resume. My friend and I uncovered a huge budget mistake from the previous treasurer (we were about ~$6,000 in debt to our governing body). None of the other officers cared to try and fix the mistake and wanted to get our main donor (who tried to control everything we did) to pay off the debt. In the end we came up with a plan to fix the situation with our advisor and recommended that the club follow it, then declined to resume our posts the following year.

    Secretary went on to be President, but got thrown out of the position after half a semester. Karma I guess.

  30. Jaydee*

    I see three possible options.

    1) Resign. Your health and grades are more important than trying to salvage a floundering student organization. This is the route I took in a similar situation. It was not easy – I’m totally a perfectionist overachiever, so admitting I just couldn’t handle the personalities and stress was hard. But it ended up being for the best all around. The key with this is to engage in some reflection and be able to articulate what you learned from the experience and what your thought process was. This can be a great answer to many of the “Tell me about a time when…” questions in job interviews.

    2) Sharply curtail the activities of the group. Right now, the other officers are not meeting their obligations, which means they can’t handle those responsibilities. Rather than micromanaging, just cut way back to what you think the group can reasonably handle. If you think it would be productive, find one or two members who you think are most likely to learn and grow from their participation in the group and focus on mentoring them to move into leadership roles in the future. This is basically hitting the “reset” button on the organization and saying this year may be pretty well shot but you can focus on rebuilding for next year.

    3) Let people fail. Stop cleaning up after the other officers. If they aren’t prepared for a meeting, let them explain to the client that they aren’t prepared. Don’t take everything on yourself. This is a really good opportunity for you to learn to delegate and for the other officers to learn the consequences of screwing up.

    Regardless of what you do, use it as a learning opportunity. Be able to articulate what choices you make, why, what outcomes you expect, etc. The one thing I wish I had done more of in school was fail at things. The consequences seem huge at the time, but most really aren’t in the grand scheme of things and you truly can learn a lot more from failure than from success.

    1. Troutwaxer*

      If you think it would be productive, find one or two members who you think are most likely to learn and grow from their participation in the group and focus on mentoring them to move into leadership roles in the future. This is basically hitting the “reset” button on the organization and saying this year may be pretty well shot but you can focus on rebuilding for next year.

      I like this one a lot! It’s positive, it’s realistic, it provides a great way to sweep out the dead wood, and you can finish your term and put the organization on your resume. This solution to the problem is something you can probably talk about in a job interview.

    2. TootsNYC*

      “If they aren’t prepared for a meeting, let them explain to the client that they aren’t prepared. ”

      This so much.

      You really should have let the guy who screwed it up be the one who sat there and told them it wasn’t ready.

      That’s another takeaway here–you were the point person at first, but once it was mostly assigned to another person, that’s when you move to the background and let the other person do ALL the followup on their own initiativ.e
      For one thing, that’s how they get motivated, how they feel accountable, how they feel that sense of ownership. They may rise to that. Whereas if you stay between them and the client, they feel like your assistant, your minion.

  31. LawBee*

    Leave. All you have to put on your resume is that you were the leader of the organization during the school year – no one is going to delve into that super deeply as far as how well the org was functioning, were you a mgr the entire year, etc.. They’re going to care about what you DID and what you LEARNED – and you’ve done it all and learned a lot. I say you’ve gotten out of this group as much as you’re going to get. It’s not worth staying, and you’re a senior – you’ve got more important things on your plate than an organization that’s making you sick.

    It’s not quitting. It’s saving yourself and your health from a terrible situation.

  32. Rocky*

    I think the first part is deciding whether to walk away, or scale the activities down to what you can reasonably accomplish alone. Then talk to your group’s advisor (assuming you have one) to get their blessing and advice. If it were me, I would be feeling pretty mercenary at this point, and would probably decide to drop everything but the procedural requirements for running the group, plus a project or two that I enjoyed and wouldn’t take a ton of time. Then meet with your group’s officers and tell them what’s going to happen. If they have a problem with this, tell them they need to take the lead on any additional work, and you will support them by doing x,y,z (these should all be things that are required of someone in your office).

    As others have pointed out, if you’re going to work with volunteer groups in the future, this is a great lesson. There are always slackers trying to embellish their CVs. And there’s always an endless number of ideas people think you should pursue. I’ve worked with tons of volunteer groups, and saying things like, “We can pursue your idea if you’re volunteering take the lead on it,” and, “It sounds like no one has time to commit to this project, so we’ll have to drop it,” is pretty reflexive at this point.

  33. Thought Grinder*

    What bothers me most is the statement, “Same guy told me after not to get too upset, since it’s a ‘team effort, and if something goes wrong it’s everybody’s fault.'” That sounds like someone who is mentally stuck in elementary school. If the rest of the team is anything like this guy, it’s no wonder they are failing. It reminds me of the Everybody, Somebody and Nobody story.

    1. Stressed Student (LW)*

      Oh no, don’t worry. He didn’t get off on that. At the time, I told him that this was true only if the entire team knew what they needed to do, and that it was not fair at all if they didn’t. Later, in a face to face talk, I reminded him that I may be a peer, but I am as close to a manager as he has in the organization and asked if he would say that to a manager at an actual job. Of course he wouldn’t! Asked him to consider this job seriously like that, had a good rest of the talk. He seemed to get it at the time, but then later it’s all “How dare you tell me what to do this is bs” and “disrespectful peer rah rah!”, so… gah.

  34. Koko*

    This is such a huge problem with volunteer work. Lots of people show interest and really intend to help out, then they get busy with work and happy hours and grocery shopping and catching up on naps and it never actually seems like an appealing time to do the work.

    The only real foolproof way I know to avoid the problem is a chicken-and-egg solution. People have a natural tendency to want to be better than average, but they also have a natural tendency to avoid work. Thus, most people will survey the amount of work everyone around them is doing, and try to do slightly more than the average/median person is doing. They don’t need to be the best but they don’t want to be in the bottom half of the pack either. The best way to get volunteers involved and committed is to seed/start the group with highly-committed people who the late-comers will try to emulate/keep up with. One person is not going to be enough to have that effect, and this whole dynamic can have the reverse effect when the group is seeded/started with low-commitment members. Everyone looks around and sees the average person isn’t doing much, so they feel they’ve been given permission to not do much either.

    You can try coming up with creative ways to incentivize/reward/call-out participation in the hopes of creating a culture of commitment that will eventually become self-sustaining, but I agree with others that you may just have to let this org die if there isn’t sufficient interest or motivation. You can’t create enthusiasm all by yourself where none exists.

  35. matcha123*

    I was in a similar situation with my own student org in uni. At least at that time I had another person to try to work with. In the end, the freshmen who wandered in at the end of the year decided to remake the organization and put on a big show of how they were doing work that no one else would do…while ignoring the fact that they were invited to help and given tasks.

    I think all you can do is leave it. There are always going to be people and peers who are just not interested in cooperating and will look to complain and push off tasks where they can. Unlike work or classes, there aren’t any real consequences that those people will have to face.

    1. HeyNonnyNonny*

      Yes, to this– I was president of a student org, and a group of officers decided that they didn’t want to do their specific tasks. Instead, they wanted to remake the organization! So I spent so much time trying to do all their jobs while dealing with a lot of pushback on decisions and my work.

      The best thing that happened was that one of them ‘accidentally’ sent me a condescending text about me, supposedly for someone else. I walked away the next day and never regretted it– and guess what? I still had a lot of good experience and resume fodder from the group! They ended up with the org they wanted and deserved, and I saved myself from way too much stress.

  36. Dorth Vader*

    I empathize SO MUCH with you LW!! I ran a student org my junior year, while working as an RA, taking a full course load, planning my wedding, and trying to maintain some semblance of sanity. I something eventually had to give, and I ended up stepping down as president right before Spring Break. There were many other things that factored into my decision (my org’s faculty advisor had sexually assaulted one of my friends and I couldn’t be in the same room as her without wanting to vomit- not conducive to getting things done!), but the moment came where I just could not stop crying about everything I was going through and that’s when I realized something had to give. When I sat down with my VP and Secretary (two of my best friends to this day), they told me that they were planning on recommending I take a break if I hadn’t made the choice on my own.

    I want you to know that it’s okay to quit if you need to. You can explain it away in interviews by choosing to focus more on your academics for the last half of the semester, especially since you probably have some large projects you’re working on. And if people at your school have a problem with it, well, you’re only there for a few more weeks anyway. I promise that your well-being and your academics are more important than this club.

    Be well, LW, and best of luck with your last few weeks!

  37. Pwyll*

    I think you’ve got two main options, considering you the volunteers of the varying levels of maturity that you find in undergrad:

    1. Stay in the position, take a step back and let the level of activity for the group normalize at the low level the other officers are putting in. Have a final E-Board meeting where you outline that you’re no longer going to do all of this work yourself, that the others need to step up or step out, and leave it at that. Try to get the assistance/advice/buy in from your faculty advisor, if possible. But then stop making excuses for everyone else. If other students complain about broken promises, respond with a copy to all the E-Board saying “I understand your concerns, Jodi was responsible for that aspect and will follow up with you.” And leave it entirely at that. Either Jodi responds or she doesn’t, but redirect to her. If they respond again saying they can’t reach Jodi, respond to all again and say, “Jodi can you please follow up on this?” One thing I remember from college were officers being able to hide behind their President (or Treasurer, or whomever was the worker). If they didn’t respond, the President did. If they didn’t perform, the President did. So where is the incentive for them to take ownership of their responsibilities, if any blowback to their own reputation is being redirected to you? It sounds like you’ve been assuming not only the work but the accountability, and allowing the others to effectively redirect any possible consequences onto you. Keep in mind this could cause all sorts of interpersonal drama, though.

    2. Resign. You’re in college and you’re about to graduate. It is perfectly, 100% reasonable to send an e-mail to the organization and state that, after reflection, you need to take a step back and focus on personal matters and your studies. Then bow out. Student organizations are sometimes just not worth the stress. If you can, try to shift your focus to an internship of some kind to replace the hole this might leave in your resume. No one is ever going to ask, but if they do, you say that attempting to manage the organization without the assistance of your classmates was taking its toll and you decided to take a step back to focus on your studies, internship and job hunt. IMO, in an interview that would show a level of self-awareness that can be uncommon for recent college graduates.

    I’m not sure I understand the consulting thing, but that certainly does add a wrinkle. That said, businesses requesting consulting services from a student organization that isn’t being managed by the college itself know (or should know) they’re taking a risk of this type of thing happening. Unless you absolutely, 100% need the reference from the “client”, it’s probably better to notify them that you’re stepping down for personal reasons, don’t even get into the other student drama, and give them their new contact person and wish them the best. The client may be annoyed, but the annoyance of a professional resignation (which happens in the real world all the time) is going to be far better than the perception that you’re not doing your job.

    Good luck!

  38. J-nonymous*

    It sounds like you’re leaving this position since you’re a graduating senior, so leaving the stress behind is inevitable.

    The two specific questions you ask though are about how to ensure you’re not being a bad manager and how to prepare your successor.

    1) It’s unlikely that you’re to blame for this whole situation. Every person in the organization bears some responsibility for the organization’s success; people who commit to doing something and then don’t fulfill their obligations bear a majority of the responsibility.

    However, some of the feedback you’ve received is worth considering closely. When people on your team–even under-performers–tell you that they don’t appreciate being pushed out of their work, that’s a big flag for you on how you approach managing work. Digging in and doing the work yourself will not always serve you well in the future if you want to manage teams of people. Please understand, I’m not blaming you in this scenario; it sounds like there were very few options for you to manage the people who volunteered more effectively.

    I’d also take a look at how you approached giving your team feedback about how they were missing deadlines. Be prepared for people to get defensive when you tell them that they’re not performing to your expectations. Some of what lies beneath the defensiveness *may* have merit (a lot of it might not). I think the important thing is to remain calm, listen to the feedback, and–where necessary–steer the conversation back to the topic. Ideally, you’d be having these conversations with people you were managing closer to when the issues were happening (and not–from how it sounds–in a post-mortem for the overall project).

    Again, this isn’t to lay blame at your feet. Dealing with volunteer teams is tough; dealing with volunteer teams that have a number of younger people is even tougher. This isn’t a generational thing–it’s about the kind of time management that’s required to juggle multiple commitments of school & organization work, and that this kind of time management is a skill few people have (much less people who are still young).

    2) How to prepare your successor? Be straightforward. That doesn’t mean saying “the officers are terrible” or “the volunteers suck” – maybe something a bit more nuanced and neutral like, “The workload is pretty significant. I had difficulty getting the volunteers to meet our deadlines and took on a great deal of the work myself, so I can confidently say that this organization requires (x) number of hours per week.” You may follow up by saying, “I had some difficulty getting support from the officers. I think it was because I approached X like Y; maybe a different approach would be more effective.”

    I hope this helps; and you know, you have a lot more tools in the toolbox when you’re managing people who get paid to do their jobs (though these issues will crop up again!) :)

    1. TL -*

      I agree with this.
      And also, really evaluate how much needs to be done. I remember a president of one of my student groups complaining about how she did all this work that nobody appreciated – and it was because nobody benefited or cared about it but her. But she felt it had to be done and was really resentful that she had to do, where if she hadn’t done it, nobody else would’ve cared.
      Don’t fall into that trap either- don’t think, oh, but this has to be done and if I don’t do it (and it’s not part of your core duties) it won’t get done and the world will end! Just let things not get done. See what happens. It might not make a difference to anybody at all.

    2. Stressed Student (LW)*

      This is what I’m most concerned about. I don’t know how to sort what has merit and what doesn’t. It’s hard to take feedback that I’m treating someone like a child seriously when, frankly… they’re acting like a child!

      1. fposte*

        You can consider flipping it back on them–not adversarially, but genuinely to get more information: “Okay, I understand you’re unhappy. What response do you think would be more useful if in future we have the same problem?”

        1. Stressed Student (LW)*

          I did so with the client projects guy in our talk, and he advised me that I can be critical. That’s good feedback and I want to take it! On the other hand, again, he screwed up badly again the very next day, and thus the brouhaha. I’m not sure how to say “We were on thin ice with the client after your mistake, we had a talk, and not even the smallest part of what I asked you for got done” without being critical!

          1. fposte*

            Well, if he has a legitimate complaint, he didn’t make it specifically enough. My guess is that he wanted to be forgiven and loved despite his screwup, which I’m not on board with, but you could ask if you could discuss a specific instance or if he has an idea that would be more useful about informing him when he’s missed a deadline.

            I will say that the more I manage, the more I can separate my irritation from the conversation with people. (At work, anyway; it doesn’t seem to translate to the rest of my life.) So I might trim down your “critical” statement to “As we discussed, you’d made an error with this client before so it was particularly important you complete this task for them on time. You didn’t manage that. That’s a problem. Can you suggest a way to fix it?”

            1. Stressed Student (LW)*

              That’s sounds awesome, actually. Thanks, I really appreciate the example!

          2. Honeybee*

            “You can be critical” is not good feedback. Sometimes, a good leader NEEDS to be critical – so don’t feel bad about being critical. The key issue is whether you are being critical unnecessarily or whether your criticism is constructive and goal-oriented. There’s a difference between saying “You didn’t do anything towards this project! You’re so lazy and unmotivated!” and “You were supposed to take care of X. But you didn’t do X, and now our client is upset with us because it wasn’t done and it was a crucial part of our project. How are we going to fix this?” There is nothing wrong with calling people out on dropping the ball, and in fact, it is part of what good managers do sometimes.

  39. HOA Board Member*

    In the end, it’s a volunteer project and it seems like others are simply putting it lower on their priorities list than you are. And maybe you should lower it on your own list – in the past was it a loosely organized group that members could just ‘be in’ without doing much? Realistically, while grades don’t matter TOO terribly much after graduation (seriously they may matter when you job hunt for your first job, but not your next, I don’t even list my GPA on my resume) they may matter more than the organization’s goals. On my resume, I have a list of all my ‘experience,’ then my ‘education,’ and then ‘organizations’ and I just list the name of the organization I was/am involved in, and my title within it (if applicable). Nothing else! You’ll expand in an interview anyway, and you don’t want the interviewer to know everything about what you did before you even meet with them.

    1. HOA Board Member*

      FWIW I also think that if you’re aware and worried about whether or not you’re a good manager it by defaults makes you not a terrible manager because terrible managers never have the self-awareness or are capable of this kind of introspection.

  40. insert witty name here*

    I think this is very common with student organizations. In fact, something similar happened to me when I was in school. I was president of an association, and for whatever reason, some of the officers thought their role was to come up with ideas and our advisor would do the actual work. Seriously.

    What I learned to do whenever someone had an idea was say, “that’s a great idea. You take the lead on it.” And then I’d wait to see what they did. Sometimes they did the work. Most times they didn’t. When that happened, the idea died.

    1. HOA Board Member*

      This is a good strategy. I’m the HOA board president and the other 4 members are worthless. Two try to help, and when I use this strategy they will execute their own ideas. The third will always volunteer to take on responsibilities, but he’s an older gentleman and seems to be losing a bit of his memory because he never remembers that he was assigned to do something, but bless his heart he tries! The fourth will say he’ll do something and then just never do it. So, it drops. And that’s that!

    2. TootsNYC*

      This is a bit akin to what I’ve been told Dwight Eisenhower did as president. Or, he’d send them out to figure out a cost and budget, and they’d drop the idea.

  41. BSharp*

    Please prioritize your mental and physical health first, then balance your resume (which includes your grades) and references (like the faculty advisor and clients). There can be longterm consequences to stress-induced pain and depression. Remember that your goal is to end up in a good position ten and twenty and thirty years from now. This means you’re doing good for yourself by creating contacts and learning how to manage people, but that you’re harming your longterm needs by remaining in a situation this stressful.

    Something’s got to give. You have our communal blessing to walk away, to modify club activities, to do whatever you need to do.

  42. No Longer Just a Lurker*

    Its obvious you are the only one who is really invested in the outcome of this organization so the way I see it you have several options.
    1. For the projects that are assigned to other officers make it clear that THEY are in charge of the outcome to both the client and the officer and let the cards fall where they may. If the customer or the officer complains so be it. As a manager it is your job to delegate responsibilities and assign tasks providing help and feedback as needed. To be clear help it not completing the project for them. It might also be prudent to mention to the officers that any recommendations or references they expect to get from these student organization will have to flow through you and/or the client and you plan on being honest.
    2. Let the organization fail and be done with it. I would think there is some professor affiliated with this in some way that is signing off on projects and offering their sponsorship. Talk to them and lay out what is happening. They might have some good advice or have a better understanding of where the breakdown is. Due to the ages of you and your classmates it is entirely possible that many of these officer have never actually had a job (which is shocking to me but I am finding it more and more common as I am helping my manager review intern applications) so they truly don’t understand how things work. We’ve seen letter after letter on this on AAM. You thankfully do not seem to fall into the category so two thumbs up to you.
    3. Suck it up and deal with the added stress and then opt not to renew your position when the time comes. At this point you know that your other officers are not going to do their jobs so you should be able to plan on it. Obviously this is bad but sometimes even sucky and highly stressful things are more easily dealt with when you expect it vs being blindsided. Plan for the worst and it should be a little easier to deal with.

    Personally I don’t particularly like option 3 but the reality is you will be more prepared than most for real world issues. For the record this is why I always hated group projects in college – seemed to always be one or two people who did the work while the others half-assed it knowing that the couple who did care (usually me and the other person who was either paying for their own education expenses or was on an grade-based assistance program) would fix everything so our grades didn’t suffer.

  43. Chrissie*

    Largely, this sounds like you are terribly unlucky in your peers, and this organization may not be worth saving, as others mentioned. One small red flag though was the following sentence:
    “I try to distribute responsibility some more, and then have it go so bad that I would have been better off doing it myself!”
    Not knowing the details here, but this is a common trap for new managers. You will never manage people towards a point where they will do the thing exactly like you would have, success is that they do the thing sufficiently well enough.

  44. R*

    Everyone’s advice seems sound here. I would only add: Is there an advisor or someone you can go to with this? Maybe he or she can help you strategize or can perhaps help you reelect new officers. I think even the presence of an advisor can help people shape up.

  45. Stressed Student (LW)*

    Holy cow, I still can’t believe this got posted! I feel kind of… famous? Somehow?

    Thanks to everyone for all the sympathy and advice! I’ll try to answer most of the questions here, but apologies if I miss anything.

    The organization itself is a chapter of a nationally-affiliated organization, which is itself the student version of an international professional organization (we’re basically the Young Justice of our field). We have a close relationship with our local professional chapter, and I have some great connections through it (it’s how I got my current internship). Officers in my group are elected, and have to be voted out of their position by the rest of the board. We have a faculty advisor, whom I have spoken to and received support from after this last guy’s client problems. He’s supportive, but that doesn’t solve my problem of actually arranging the fundraiser or getting the website updated, since I wouldn’t expect him to do it himself. Without giving too much away and potentially identifying my organization, let’s just say that we do take small time clients and do small pro bono work for them; in this case, it’s another student organization.

    I feel very strongly that I can’t quit. I’ve been at this since last semester, and I only have two months left. Honestly, I deserve that on my resume, damnit! Almost all of my professional network comes from here, and I’m planning on using that when I move to a city an hour away after graduating. My GPA will probably take a hit, but I only have two actual classes right now (a math in a non math field and my capstone, which thankfully I have a wonderful group in) and a previously VERY good GPA, so… it can take it. My biggest concern is my thesis, but I’m working with my advisor on that as well, and am completely willing to scale back on the group for it.

    Is there anything I’m missing? Thank you all again!

    1. Temperance*

      Wait, are you in college or law school? If you’re in law school, and doing pro bono work, you have different obligations than you would be if you were a college club advising other clubs/providing non-legal advice.

    2. Stressed Student (LW)*

      Oh, right! One more thing:

      I should mention that I am not actually the only one investing in this. I have a few officers who are doing just fine for the their part, and one stellar VP who is just killing herself to get some things done. We don’t have many members, but those that we do seem to enjoy it and have benefited from networking and professional development events, so it’s not like it’s totally a lost cause. I’m mostly having issues with two to three who just flop spectacularly in important roles (Fundraising and the guy in charge of our client work have been the big ones this semester). Even over minor things: my fundraising person delayed us sending our dues to nationals because she didn’t fill out her MEMBERSHIP APPLICATION after I had specifically asked her twice. Something just comes up, and suddenly STRESS BOMB! THIS IS WHAT MY WEEK IS NOW!

      1. TL -*

        If you don’t want to leave, make the organization smaller. If there is an event that can’t fail, but you absolutely don’t trust that it will get done, don’t have it.
        If there’s an event that might fail, let other people take the lead on it. If they fail, they fail. Don’t step in to save, accept that they might turn out work that is not to your standards, and let the chips fall where they may. You might be surprised at what people can do when they have to – or they might be surprised at what actually happens when they’re forced to rely on the results of their own work. Either way, your stress load reduces.

        If you guys don’t meet your fundraising goals, that’s fine. Cut events, cut budgets, and explain that Jane didn’t meet the fundraising goals this year; they’re welcome to fundraise on their own but you cannot guarantee any more than $X. That is okay.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          I would agree with this. If you don’t want to leave (or feel like you can’t), scale back the organization’s goals/events/etc. to the point where those of you who are doing your jobs can handle it. If you have ten members and five of them are deadweight (to make up a number), pretend that you only have five members and plan accordingly.

          Obviously that’s not how you’d want to do it if you were managing in an actual job, and I get that you want to practice good managerial tactics now rather than wait for a ‘real’ job, but when you can’t fire, hire, or promote, there’s not much more you can do if someone just doesn’t want to do their part. (And in fact, were you in this position–stuck with people who do nothing, unable to make any kind of repercussions stick–in a professional job, I’d also be telling you to bail. But I get the desire to hang in the last couple of months, so if you don’t want to leave, I think just pretending that the people who aren’t working aren’t even there and planning accordingly is the sanest thing to do.)

          1. TL -*

            Yes, do this! We had a member of our student group who was a combination of lazy + family emergencies second semester and what we most wanted was for us to not have to depend on him (we specifically asked, actually, if we could take some responsibilities away from him because we always had to scramble last minute to do everything when he didn’t come through.)
            It would have been so much better if we had been allowed to plan for him not doing his work, rather than having our advisor + president always assuring us that he was, indeed, doing his work when he so clearly wasn’t.

      2. Chrissie*

        now this sounds completely different all of a sudden. From my experience it is absolutely the norm to have some members who work their share and some that don’t (and presumably just got themselves elected into their roles to put it on a resume). Whenever something really needs to get done and the person officially in charge is useless, I give them ‘support’.
        Say, Cercei is fundraising officer, but all she usually does is drink wine. So we will form a fundraising team with her, me and Sansa. Now, work actually gets done, and in 50% of the case this even motivates Cercei to chip in. But even if it doesn’t, we are not lost.

      3. Chinook*

        “Even over minor things: my fundraising person delayed us sending our dues to nationals because she didn’t fill out her MEMBERSHIP APPLICATION after I had specifically asked her twice. Something just comes up, and suddenly STRESS BOMB! THIS IS WHAT MY WEEK IS NOW!”

        If misery loves company, know that this happens in non-student groups too. My former president-elect never showed up to meetings and forgot to turn in our membership information to national in a year where we would have won major awards for an increase in our membership (not that I am bitter or anything) and then quite (which means I have no one to replace me). The person in charge of small gift store chose not to renew her membership but still showed up to vote on our budget and make recommendations to change it (both of which go against our rules) and I am still trying to get her to tell me what she has ordered and hand over her key 2 months later.

        What I have found useful is relying on those executive members who are awesome at what they do and do my best to protect them from burning out. I have also reminded everyone (and myself) that “no” is a completely appropriate response to requests and that we have to accept that we can’t do everything. If we want to continue with regularly scheduled events (think giant rummage sale or annual dinner), I go to the membership and let them know that we need their help if they want it to happen otherwise it won’t and then follow through accordingly. What that means for us is that, if we don’t work on the rummage sale, our budget is slashed in half and we will revisit our budget in September to see what can be cut. By pointing out the consequences of this, I had more women step up who normally wouldn’t and suddenly more people involved than in the past 5 years! And if they hadn’t, then I was willing to accept that this smaller budget would reflect poorly on me but still would be better than the results of a poorly run and understaffed rummage sale. If I want to have the “glory” of our successes (which I am most happy to spread around liberally), then I have to live with the risk of the “shame” of failure.

    3. the_scientist*

      But even if you do decide to walk away, you can still put this on your resume. I totally, totally get wanting to see it through to the end of the year so you can say that you were the President of Volunteer Organization from April 2015-April 2016, but there are ways to still include this on your resume while not calling attention to the fact that you resigned.

      What an employer wants to see from your volunteer activities is different than from academic or work activities, so you can still leverage this on your resume if you resign now, I promise.

      1. DMC*

        I run an volunteer-based non profit and in that case, I would be polite but upfront with the person. “It seems like the duties of this volunteer position aren’t compatible with your other personal and professional obligations. I appreciate all the time and effort you’ve put into this so far, but I completely understand if you aren’t able to continue to volunteer in (x) capacity.”

        About 75% of the people I give that line to realize it’s a hint that they should step down or seriously reconsider their commitment. As for the 25% who remain, well, it generally works out eventually and they either leave or get “fired.” I know you have a much shorter time frame to work with than I generally do, however.

        1. Stressed Student (LW)*

          Yeah, I’ve gotten to that point with client projects guy after our big “How dare you disrespect me, are you threatening me” fiasco when I told him he needed to start taking it seriously or I’d get the process going to remove him. Next day, I got an email with a lukewarm apology and his full schedule, which he included “to clear up miscommunication”. I gave him this talk (“Your position is the second highest and requires prioritization above other commitments, so if you can’t do that I need to know to find a replacement”). He’s working now… but it’s spring break, and he’s being almost comically inept, so I don’t know if he’ll actually improve in the long run.

      2. The IT Manager*

        But even if you do decide to walk away, you can still put this on your resume

        YES! Not completing the year doesn’t erase all the work you did do.

    4. themmases*

      It’s your choice not to quit and I can see why you wouldn’t want to, but I think you need to be much more critical of the reasons you’ve cited.

      You obviously deserve to have your service to this organization on your resume, but that service doesn’t go away if you do it for slightly less time. That’s like saying that you can’t list a job on your resume anymore because you quit. Similarly, the fact that you met people in your professional network doesn’t mean that you stop knowing them or even lose their goodwill just because you aren’t in the group anymore. If anything, the contacts and reputation you’ve already gained are the single most valuable thing you could get out of your service, and you’ve already gotten them. Unless you are in a very strange field, when you talk about this group in the future people will not be asking you “Oh, and did you serve 110% as president right up through graduation day?” That’s just not a thing. And once you start working you will have more relevant accomplishments than this group very soon.

      It sounds like you need to be more clear with the advisor of this group about the problems you’re having. You say you don’t expect him to fundraise or manage the group, so it seems like you haven’t explicitly told him you may not be able to be solely responsble for those things or that the stress is so bad it is harming your health.

      If you are sure you don’t want to quit, another option is to choose someone in the group you can depend on in any way– even if they are much younger or not an officer– and start grooming/leaning on them. It sounds like this group may be in a similar position next year with few obvious people who would make a good leader, and it is just good practice to start the handoff to someone. It’s probably even another bullet point for mentoring. :)

      1. the_scientist*

        You said this much more clearly than I did. OP, please take this to heart: resigning before the end of the term does not invalidate all the work you have done for this organization. It won’t take away the contacts you’ve made or the knowledge and management experience you’ve gained.

        And in three years, literally nobody is going to care that you were president of a student organization for two months less than a full term. In fact, they probably won’t care that you were the president of a student organization at all. I say this not to be harsh, but to encourage you to keep perspective on this.

        1. Nobody*

          Yeah, not only will nobody care that you were two months short of a full term (which you could easily explain as transitioning to new leadership since you were about to graduate), in all likelihood, nobody will even notice. I listed student organizations in a separate section of my resume without dates, and nobody ever asked how long I held any student organization officer position.

          I no longer list student organizations on my resume at all, because now I have plenty of relevant work experience. 10 years ago, I was tearing my hair out trying to get participation from members of a student organization I was running, and now it matters exactly zero. I kind of wish I hadn’t wasted so much time and energy trying to overcome the apathy of college students.

      2. LBK*

        Yep, completely agreed. OP, I think you’re anticipating losing a lot more than you actually will if you quit now instead of sticking it out for 2 more months. Your network isn’t going to evaporate if you stop working with this organization, just like it won’t when you graduate and leave the organization anyway in 2 months.

        If for whatever reason you do try to stay for those 2 months, I think you need to scale way, way back. Put in the minimum amount you need to in order to satisfy the thing in your brain that says you need to be there for the full term, but don’t keep sacrificing your health for it.

        I get that there are so many horror stories of people who graduate and spend years trying to find jobs, so you feel pressured to do everything you can to ensure your resume and network are flawless coming out of school. It’s admirable that you want to push yourself to secure the best possible future for yourself.

        But this is also a great chance to learn a lesson that a lot of people don’t learn until much later in their career: there are some things that are not worth it, no matter what you get out of it. There are full-time, paying jobs with salaries and benefits and paths for advancement that aren’t worth their trade-offs, and you’ll have a much happier career if you start refining that sense now instead of ending up as one of the people who writes in here about how much they hate a job that they should clearly quit.

      3. Dot Warner*

        “Similarly, the fact that you met people in your professional network doesn’t mean that you stop knowing them or even lose their goodwill just because you aren’t in the group anymore.”

        Yes, 100% this! OP, I have some mentors who recommended me for a JOB that I ultimately quit after a short time and when I told them about it, they were nothing but kind. If they truly care about you, they’ll understand that this situation isn’t healthy and it’s in your best interest to get out.

  46. Temperance*

    I would seriously cut back on the amount of activities your group does, to start. It’s too much stress for you. You also need to let people fail.

    I was once the leader of a club where most people didn’t do anything, and were known to flake. I stopped that really quick. I had a come-to-Jesus with my executive board, and when they didn’t get it, I told them they weren’t able to come to our legal clinic anymore AND I let them fail on a major project (and made it known I wasn’t involved ahead of time, so they got a reaming out that they so clearly deserved).

    Don’t quit now. Just cut back, so you can keep this on your resume.

  47. Tianala*

    It doesn’t sound worth it to me. I had a similar situation in college with a chapter of a national organization, although I wasn’t the leader. It was poorly organized and nothing I seemed to do as a “team leader” worked. It didn’t affect my grades but it affected my schedule and made me very bitter. I started kind of passively aggressively telling them that they were bull$#%& artists who were wasting my time, theirs, and everyone else’s, all for an effectively hollow, meaningless title to slap on a resume.

    I know it would sound good on paper, but if no one will work with you, that’s not your failing. Might be best to move on and look for a more productive environment to foster leadership and citizenship etc etc

  48. Emilia Bedelia*

    I just graduated in December and spent 3 years as a club officer, so this sounds really familiar.

    I second/third/twentieth all the recommendations to let the club die, but in the meantime, I definitely understand the need to “triage” and finish projects. I was an officer for my theatre club- so we couldn’t just “let things go”, because then we wouldn’t have a show!
    The biggest issue that I personally faced was people getting overwhelmed and not knowing how to break down a project themselves, and then not asking for help. Maybe your members are just terrible and uninterested. Maybe they’re rookies to project management and don’t know what they’re doing. You probably know- it sounds to me like they suck and are just unmanageable, but it could be possible that they just don’t know what they’re doing. Asking “why didn’t you do this?” and trying to get a real response might help you figure out how to triage your remaining projects. If the answer is “I don’t know how to do it” or “I didn’t have time because it was too big”, those might be problems you can temporarily solve just to wrap things up.

    What worked for clubs that I was associated with forcing people to volunteer for things that they would do- “Team, what are the things we need to accomplish for this project?” Make a list of what they say. If nothing, say “well, looks like we don’t have a project to do, I guess we won’t take this on. Volunteer for what you’ll do and make it clear that’s the limit of your involvement. “I will take on the PowerPoint. What about you guys?” If no one steps up, “Okay, I guess we won’t do this project”. Why not? “No one seems interested. If anyone would like to take things on, I’d be happy to do this project”. Don’t give work to anyone who hasn’t completed things in the past- that might be impossible for you, but make it clear that not doing work -> no one trusts you.

    If you can break the project down into very small tasks, you may have better success with getting people to follow through. “Organize this meeting” is a big task. “Reserve a room”, “Ask sponsor for dates/times”, “print out information” are smaller. If you have any trusted individuals who can take on responsibility for the bigger task of “organize this meeting”, put them in charge and ask them to delegate to others.

    Are there any similar organizations that you can band together with? Or any organizations that are successful that you can take pointers from? My club was very successful, and we were able to help several other clubs that were smaller, newer, less established, etc, by helping them work with the Student Union, reserve rooms, etc. If you have any tasks that are relatively self contained that you could “outsource”, you may be able to ask these clubs for help- ie, my club needed some photography done, so we asked the photo club for 1 person who could do this small project for us. Also, if you have a leadership center on campus, they may also be able to help you with management in general.

    If all else fails, this is a great experience to share in interviews!

    1. Emilia Bedelia*

      Also, if you’re a senior and graduating in May, it is WAY past time for you to start finding a new leadership team- abdicating presidential responsibilities to someone else may be a good way to remove yourself gracefully. Tell your clients/sponsors “I’m stepping down from presidential responsibilities in order to train a new team- from now on, your contact is irresponsible @”

      1. fposte*

        That’s a really interesting point. OP, if you’re graduating in May or even June, transition plans should be moving into place. So while we’re happy to give advice from a management theory standpoint, you’re probably going to have few opportunities to practice this before you go.

  49. Turtle Candle*

    One additional thing I wanted to note–even if you had the tools at your disposal to manage effectively, getting turnaround-style change in, what, two or three months would be extremely difficult. That’s just not that long, not if there’s an ingrained problem with multiple people. If you had longer, it might be worth trying to get the other good workers to be your allies, talking to the problem volunteers, etc., but in such a comparatively short timeframe I think that you’re best off doing damage control (if you aren’t willing to quit outright). And by ‘damage control’ I mean limiting the events/tasks/etc. to what can be done by those who are good workers and not stressing yourself out trying to motivate the others. I say this not to discourage you, but so that you aren’t hard on yourself if you can’t turn this around in the limited time you have left.

  50. Jillociraptor*

    I feel for you, OP! Peer leadership is really hard, especially in volunteer situations. It sounds like you’re committed to finishing the year, and lots of others have given great feedback on the stay/go question, so I’ll share a couple of tactical ideas that might be helpful for you, or for your successor.

    One thing you might consider, if you don’t have this already, is to create some kind of shared platform where you detail what everyone is responsible for right now. It could be an app like Asana or Trello, or it could just be a Google Sheet with each task, who’s responsible, who’s the helper (or you could go full MOCHA, whatever works), when it’s due, and notes. This at least makes public who’s responsible for what, and what’s not getting done on time.

    Another thing you might think about is having them define the process for how you respond when something’s not getting done. You can lay out what they’re responsible for (and document it in a place where everyone can see), and then let them decide what should happen if they don’t deliver that. You can obviously put parameters on it (it’s not acceptable for the answer to be “You do the work” or “You reassign it”), but letting them brainstorm the process might give them more accountability. For this to work, you need to both agree that they actually intend to do the work, and that it’s not acceptable for the work to not get done. If you’re not on the same page about that (like if you have a legit slacker on your hands), this will just give them an out. But if you’ve got a person who seems to actually want to do the work, but never seems to get around to it, this can help.

    Good luck!

        1. fposte*

          Oh, this is great! I hadn’t seen a model that really fits the way we work, but this would.

      1. Noah*

        We use DARCI, which is a similar idea. I think the titles in MOCHA are easier to remember now that I’ve seen them.

      2. Jillociraptor*

        It might be a known thing, but my previous employer, where we used this extensively, was also the previous employer of The Management Center’s CEO, so there’s a little bit of an in. :)

        We actually used MOCHAI, where I=Informed.

  51. Chriama*

    As a recent grad, I have to say that this is just the nature of student organizations. Full of people who have great intentions and are looking for something to pad their sparse resumes but lots of other commitments and poor study habits. I think you should ask yourself a few questions:

    1) What was my goal in joining this organization?
    2) What can I do to achieve that goal?
    3) What is the goal of this organization?
    4) What can I do to support that goal?

    Then look at those goals through the lens of “what can I reasonably accomplish in light of my other goals and commitments.

    Bottom line: you’re going to have to let some stuff drop. Figure out what you can accomplish on your own, and make peace with the fact that the rest of it won’t happen. Don’t support people like that slacker – don’t handle any communications or go to meetings with his client. Focus on you.

  52. ScarletInTheLibrary*

    Have you had a discussion with your officers and non-officers about what they want out of this organization? And don’t mention what you want until everyone has had a chance to weigh-in, so the discussion can start on an open note. You may find that some want to experiment with business practices in a low risk arena, some may want a social outlet to connect with others in the field, some may want to know more about your field, and others wanted something on his or her resume. You may find that you are stressing over projects for clients when the rest of the organization is looking for a social/networking experience. This discussion should be had to determine the direction the organization should take (at least in the short term), and so one can determine if they fit the organization’s direction or should step down.

    1. Evergreen*

      I’ve seen this so often in student volunteering! Someone joins up with a vision of what they want to accomplish, and then get shut down because the president has a different vision.
      If Joe wants to have a fish’n’chips Friday mixer why not let him organise that for the group. If Penny’s joined to meet people in the industry she’ll quickly quit if all she’s in charge of is the grocery shopping.

  53. KC*

    Usually student orgs have advisers who are associated with the school. How involved are they? I would try to get them as involved as possible to get things improved. I don’t know if you have tried talking to the officers about the impact their performance is having on you. I have been involved in student orgs before, and while each org has it’s own culture, there is a minimum commitment you make when you become an officer.

  54. Lisa*

    I didn’t have time to read all the previous comments, but I’ve been in this exact position and want to weigh in with a few things that worked for me:

    1) Don’t focus on having a full slate of contributing officers, focus on finding one partner first. Having even one other person doing work will be a huge relief and make you enjoy the work more. When I got a solid VP who would do a ton of work as long as she felt appreciated, things were SO much easier and a couple of slackers in the rest of the slate were a shared grievance we could whine to one another about, not my sole burden.

    2) Ask yourself if what the organization is doing is actually valuable to the people working for free to help the org, or is it just a resume padding thing? If you aren’t doing something people are truly passionate about, you may not get much interest in contributing heavily for free. Can you cut some less popular activities and institute some things that are actually fun and rewarding to do? My group was a political one and we decided to do less volunteering for campaigns and more social activities, and participation went up… turns out that people really just wanted a way to meet similarly-minded young people, not another way to get hit up for volunteer hours by campaigns, which every politically active young person already gets from multiple angles. Sure it isn’t as nurturing to the “I’m a good person!” part of your soul to host a happy hour as to knock on 300 doors for a candidate you believe in, but when you’re asking everyone to work for free, you have to make sure they get something out of it. My officers turned out to get more out of planning happy hours than planning volunteer days.

    3) Modify your organization’s constitution and bylaws (even if it takes a vote of the membership) to provide for the officers’ responsibilities and for a firing process if an elected officer abdicates responsibility during their term. e.g., “A member of the executive committee who fails to attend three executive committee meetings in a row, except in the case of bereavement, hospitalization, childbirth or a similar life event, shall be considered to have resigned her or his position.”

    4) Never ever complain to your officers that they are “making your life harder.” Don’t make it personal. Instead, appeal to their sense of self. Tell them you know they value commitment and trustworthiness in themselves and you want to see them able to live up to the campaign promises they made when they ran for their position. Ask if you could change your process in any way to help them contribute more – exec committee meetings at a different time/place? Reminders on a regular basis about tasks coming due? Make it a collaborative thing where you are working together to construct an organization where they are capable of helping and happy to do it.

    1. TootsNYC*

      Your one solid partner doesn’t have to be an officer!

      And I agree about changing the activities to fit the current slate of members.

  55. TootsNYC*

    managing volunteers is the worst in terms of clout or tools to use when people won’t do what is required.

    When you’re a parent, you can take away their toys.
    When you’re a boss, you can fire them or threaten their raise.

    You have nothing that you can use. And you should stop feeling bad about yourself as a manager.

    You aren’t really a manager here. You’re a president of a volunteer organization.

  56. Cameron*

    I am a senior undergrad as well. I currently lead an online student organization centered around the LGBT community and have had several similar issues. I should probably note that I am also an adult learned attending online.

    My university is awesome and provides excellent resources for student leaders. My biggest advice would be to take advantage of any resources your school may provide. Whether it’s the experience and expertise of your group’s advisors or the leader of the student engagement/success department or options for recruiting new officers, I have found the biggest help to be calling upon those resources.

    Also, it may also be worth it to re-evaluate the value you find in this endeavor. There is absolutely no shame in coming to the conclusion that although you tried your best, it may not be working out and thus may be time to move on.

    In any case, I absolutely sympathize and wish you the best of luck!

  57. Enantiomeria*

    OP, I just got out of a toxic student representative group. It was the opposite situation to yours – the group was gradually overtaken by a micromanager who spoke over others in meetings, and pushed her own ideas into proposals when said ideas had already encountered a LOT of opposition by other group members. She sent me (and other members of the group) angry emails saying that she was the only one who cared about representing students, if we really cared about the plight of PhD students we’d let her be in charge of the group and write all the proposals, etc. My own academic supervisor was supportive of me and offered me any help I needed, but he wasn’t in charge of the group or in a position to influence it at all. On top of this, the micromanaging student had a long history of involvement in student groups and was very friendly with high-ranking academic staff, so the other members of the group were afraid to say anything in case they were branded as troublemakers. I called this person out in meetings as much as I could, but it took up so much of my energy to have to constantly interrupt her to say I wasn’t finished speaking, or that the group and the student body hadn’t had time to weigh in on some proposal she’d already handed in to the head of school on her own. It was really tiring to have to gear myself up to not let Micromanager walk over me, and I didn’t feel like I was accomplishing much for the amount of time the group was taking away from my PhD studies.

    I was conflicted about leaving for the same reasons as you – I was worried about the group and wanted it to keep going, and I didn’t want anyone who replaced me to have to deal with it either. But it was so, so freeing to finally say ‘Not my problem’ and walk away. The other commenters are spot on – this is volunteer work that you aren’t being paid for, so it shouldn’t be eating up this much of your life. It’s OK to quit this for your own mental health, and it won’t make what you have tried to do for your org any less valuable.

    If you did want to try and save the group, my advice would be to talk to an academic staff member about the problems you’re having. They might be able to give you some advice, help plan your exit and talk to the problem members of the group.

    Good luck, and I hope you end up feeling better soon.

  58. Narise*

    One option is to call them all together and state that you’ve heard their concerns about being micro managed etc. You’ve decided it would be better if you were in a support role and would like one of them to step into your role. See if anyone bites. Then contribute to the group but just slightly more than they did.

    Option two is to see if your college newspaper/blog would cover these meetings with those that the work is being done for. Make sure your group understands their results will now be published. If they don’t show up or don’t do the work make that is reported publicly. Short term you may take a hit but you could also attract people who want to do the job and shame the current ones into doings it.

  59. Kfish*

    As a leader of a volunteer organisation, I will repeat the advice above that if you don’t want to get stuck with all the work, you’ll need to come to terms with letting it go undone, then letting the consequences fall where they may.
    If the work was really as important as the people around you say, then they can volunteer to do it. If they can’t volunteer to do it, then it wasn’t that important.

    We had a problem where the group wanted to run a Christmas fundraiser, but couldn’t get a co-ordinator. We told the members that if we didn’t get a co-ordinator, the fundraiser would not happen. We didn’t get a volunteer. After a reasonable wait, everyone got told that the fundraiser would not be happening, because we didn’t have a co-ordinator. There was almost no fallout from that decision. Next year, someone volunteered.

    You might want to start with the non-essential functions of the group: anything that isn’t required to keep the lights on. Ironically, the higher-profile events may be the best to cut back first, so that people on the periphery can see the impact of failing to help out.

  60. Geek*

    Read the book _Start with Why_ by Sinek.

    What’s their motivation for doing the job?

    You are not going to be successful managing peers. Instead, lead them. If your can’t speak to their motivations, you won’t do that, either.

  61. Ruffingit*

    This writer is a senior meaning he has maybe two months of school left. My advice is to give up your officership in this organization and move on. There is no reason your last couple months of college should include this kind of stress. This is especially true because this is affecting your grades. You need to let go of this organization and move on. You cannot change people who refuse to do their part and since you’ve got no real power here in terms of firing them, there is nothing you can do to ensure they shape up. Move on.

  62. Tara R.*

    The group I volunteer with is trying to figure out who’s going to be running committees next year, and I said today “Not me!!!” over and over again. I cannot guarantee reliably getting stuff done, and I don’t want to be one of these people!!

  63. Miles*

    Put simply, the officers need to know what their responsibilities are and to see that their inaction affects them directly in some way. I think just allowing their slack to show is enough. In other words, announce that you’re not micromanaging any more to get things done, and then don’t micromanage. Yeah, things won’t get done for a while but the officers who care at all about the organization are going to start picking up their slack.

    At this point, if nobody’s picked up the slack, I think you have to resign yourself to the fact that nobody else cares and it’s a futile effort.

    If some people picked up their slack but not others, start talking behind the others’ backs with the officers who do care (only about their lack of work though, e.g. “omg Jane still hasn’t designed the flyers we need to distribute”, but no “Bret’s such a slob”) until they (the remaining slackers) realize they are being gossiped about and correct the behavior/laziness, or quit the group. Again, if they don’t care then there’s not much more you can do about it. Once they’re out of the position at least you can call for volunteers to have someone appointed to fill the position (or whatever your bylaws allow you to do to fill an empty position)

  64. Milton Waddams*

    I re-built a dying group and took on a few big projects as a student — we ran an annual event with attendance in the thousands, so I think I can provide some advice.

    One paradoxical thing is that status actually tends to make the quality of volunteer worse. People who volunteer in order to put something prestigious on their resume lose their motivation once that goal has been achieved. This is especially a problem with “professional” societies, since they disproportionately attract resume-polishers.

    If formal status is a must due to bylaws or something, then you have to build the flagging motivation into the system, by keeping “officer” status as a prize one gets only after sufficient work, and then providing an always higher position. However, never let the status-seeker have the President role; that one must always be drawn from the group of people who are motivated by the work itself, and who would work for no status.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that “officer pay” de-incentivizes regular volunteers. They think to themselves, “Why should I do this? You’re the one getting paid!” When this is combined with officers who do less work when they get the title they were looking for, it can lead to a perfect storm of non-action. If it is clear that nobody is getting paid (even the officers), people are more willing to devote their time.

    There are generally two ways I’ve found that work for motivation. One is product-focused, and the other is people-focused. Which way to go depends on the personalities of the volunteer group.

    People-focused is very strong, but tends to blur the lines between personal and professional. This is when the reason they help is not because they care about whatever thing is being done, but because they aren’t going to leave their buddies to get screwed. The focus is always on the relationships, even if it involves inviting officers back to your apartment, and doing non-professional things together — building friendships that happen to revolve around this professional group thing. (Sort of a fraternal organization model.) The risk with this is that some people, even those comfortable blurring the personal-professional line, are not comfortable doing it again and again — so you end up with a strong group of people all in the same approximate class, and then the group collapses when everyone graduates.

    The product-centric method can work better or worse depending. Most importantly, the product has to genuinely matter. It depends on the True Believer type of personality that activist groups attract — people who find they gain strength from being part of something larger than themselves will often devote a disproportionate amount of time and effort to a cause that they would never devote to something they had just come up with themselves. The main drawback, of course, is that not every product is that important, it takes a special sort of person to sell the magical qualities of an otherwise ordinary item. It also depends on people feeling that certain avenues in their life are blocked; not all environments will have a lot of people like this.

    Honest self-criticism is a good thing, provided that you can tell the difference between genuine questioning and the sort of self-flagellating rhetorical questioning people like to do when they have already made up their own minds emotionally but feel that they need to backwards-rationalize their feelings through rhetoric.

    It’s important to focus on the end rather than the means. This can be a little unnerving for methodical people, who rely on their particular set of means in order to function. When they see people going about things in a different way, it can cause a lot of alarm, because they can’t imagine themselves being successful without those means, so of course they can’t imagine others either. I found a great place to start for changing that perspective is the book “Getting to Yes”, which distills the research of the Harvard Negotiation Project. If you can internalize its advice, you’ll find yourself having a much easier time moving forward.

  65. Polka Dot Bird*

    1. Let people wear the natural consequences of their actions – I.e. If someone hasn’t met their deadlines, let them be the one who calls the client to explain.
    2. Scale back your operations. Meet every two months instead of every month, or cut production, or whatever. It sounds like your org is overcommitted.
    3. Try to assign smaller portions of work?
    4. Have a think about your delegation style. Are you committed to things being done in a particular way? Consider whether you can just let people do things their way, and accept it if the end result isn’t perfect – don’t let perfect become the enemy of the good.

    I stopped volunteering at my community org because a) the time comittment was too much, and b) I kept having arguments with the president because she had really rigid ways of doing things, and wouldn’t even listen to my ideas.

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