Cybersecurity Club Survival Guide: How to Create a Statement of Purpose and Draft a Charter for a New Cybersecurity Club

So, we have gathered a group of passionate, like-minded individuals that are driven by a deeper desire, as we discussed before. They all have a reason for being there – but what is the common purpose?

“So, I just got back from the Student Government Association meeting. They said they can’t approve our request to form a club until we have a Charter… what is that? They said they need to have all the details before we start. How can we get that information without having a meeting, and to have a meeting don’t we need to be a club?”

Statement of Purpose

One of the first things to do will be to create a statement of purpose. One of the primary differences between a meetup or hangout is that a club has purpose. In the beginning, before you are an officially recognized club, you can have as many meetings as it takes. You can advertise them as “interest meetings” to reflect that you need contributors, not just attendants. All things begin with purpose. This may be the first decision that the club makes together. This task is not as daunting as it sounds, but it is important.

When searching for a job, experts tell you to work on your “elevator pitch”. That is, if you had only a few seconds to describe yourself, what would you say? The statement of purpose is the elevator pitch for the group. When the college administrators ask why you want to form a new club, you will give them the statement of purpose. When you need to put something on the about page of the club website, or need to describe the club on your resume, it is handy to have a few lines that accurately describe the club.

A good statement of purpose will provide the club with steering and direction. What kind of event should the club sponsor? What will the club funds be spent for? What legacy will the club be known for? The statement of purpose will live on with the club long after the founding members have moved on.

A few ideas to get you started:

  • Provide students with technical resources.
  • Provide cybersecurity awareness to the community.
  • Help students on campus affected by cybersecurity incidents.
  • Help students discover strengths.
  • Participate in and represent the college at cybersecurity games.
  • Compete with other colleges.
  • Work to affect changes in curriculum at the college.
  • Make professional contacts.
  • Help students explore careers and look for jobs.

You will notice that these ideas map out to the motivations that we discussed last week, but they make a very solid basis for a statement of purpose. The statement should be an answer to the question:

“What do we do”?

For example, our statement of purpose read:

The purpose of the Club shall be to encourage an active interest in Cybersecurity and promote professional networking, as well as support individual and team competitive sport experiences among students. Working toward this goal, the active membership of the club will endeavor to increase their own knowledge of cyber skills by means of participating in Capture the Flag (CTF) events, penetration testing labs, cyber ranges, challenges, field trips, guest speakers, and seminars.

Would you believe that three years later that the purpose is still the same? Not all activities still reflect those initial goals. Interests have expanded into crypto-mining, 3D printing, veterans’ groups, women’s professional groups, coding, and penetration testing. It is important to consider this when drafting the statement of purpose – do not make it too narrow. Instead, it is better to allow the group to subdivide into subgroups and committees to represent evolving interests.

“We took an entire meeting to just come up with a mission statement. This is going to take forever. What do we have to do next?”

Drafting a Charter

A charter is an extension of the statement of purpose. However, this is the “official” document to get things started. Don’t panic! It is easier than it sounds. Each school may have a template or specific requirements. A club charter usually consists of parts of the following:

  • Preamble
  • Name of the Club
  • Membership Requirements
  • Organization (Officers, Sponsors)
  • Major Committees
  • Terms of Office
  • Meeting Schedule
  • Meeting
  • Quorum
  • Rules of Order
  • Finances
  • Amendments / Amendment process

Just start with gathering information. You already have the preamble done – that is the Statement of Purpose. Pick a name for the Club (something you wouldn’t mind putting on a resume) and decide on officers. Generally, you will need a President, Treasurer and Secretary. You will need a place to meet, and a time that is consistent and reliable.

“I talked to the computer club and got a copy of their charter. I think we can base something off of that.”

The rest of this can vary according to the organization, and in the next couple of series I will go more into organizational makeup and leadership. Take note of attendance and who volunteers or runs for office. When a person steps forward, they should know that even if they do not get the
position they wanted, that they are still valuable to the club.

There are a few recommendations that I would make. The first is to consider the length of term of the officers. Having a leadership change in the middle of the year could cause some unnecessary disruption. Elections can cause a lot of distraction from the primary goal of the club. It also breaks the momentum of ongoing plans as it takes a while to acclimatize to the position. Changing the names on the bank account, for example, takes a bit of time and effort that may not be practical mid-year. Depending on the campus, the club may not want to meet during the summer when there are fewer students on campus and many students work or take internships.

For this reason, I would recommend that the length of term should be for the entire school year. There are some drawbacks to this, as it limits the opportunities for leadership to fewer people. However, you can always create opportunities. This is in the Terms of Office section of the Charter.
During the first year, we ran the team as co-captains. Having a Vice-President “train into” the role of president may be an option to reduce the time to get used to the position. Committees will need chairs, and subgroups can have their own presidency. It is important to detail exactly what each primary officer position is responsible for, but the charter should address only the bare minimums to give the club flexibility.

“This charter is full of all kinds of legalese and mumbo-jumbo…what is a quorum? What do they mean what kind of rules? What is the difference between a ‘regular’ and ‘special’ meeting?”

If you are unfamiliar with the term “quorum” what it means is that there must be a minimum number of members present to make any changes to the charter or conduct votes. This prevents two or three people meeting and making changes “under the table”. A quorum presence increases transparency. Official business can only happen during a regular meeting. This prevents someone calling a special meeting to run something past without everyone in attendance.

The rules of order section should specify the process to get the approval of the group on large decisions that affect the entire membership. If you are unfamiliar with “Robert’s Rules” it is a framework (albeit a very controlled one) for making a motion, getting a second, and conducting a vote. You process does not need to be that formal, but it is a good place to start.

Though this may seem overwhelming, I was proud of the charter and mission statement that we created. We tried to think of every way to eliminate unfair conditions that we had experienced before. Volunteer organizations often fail over struggles of power, hurt feelings, egos, and differences of opinion. Be clear with the club expectations.

At first, don’t worry about the language, just get the ideas down and start discussing them. Keep it brief, as each member should be encouraged to read it and agree to the terms. In the end, read the entire charter aloud at a meeting and get some signatures.

Congratulations! You have started a club!

Thanks for following this series! If you missed a post, here are the links to the other posts:

Cybersecurity Club Survival Guide: How to Create and Run an Effective Cybersecurity Club

‘Mako’ McGill

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